8 Holiday Nutrition Tips For Athletes

Place meals in your box of happy memories, rather than on your waistline, with these holiday nutrition tips.

By Matthew Kadey, MS, RD | December 18, 2015

Hit the gym before hitting the town.
Credit: Hit the gym before hitting the town to keep you on track this holiday season.

’Tis the season of indulgences as party season revs up. Healthy diets typically fly right out the window when faced with a dizzying array of fatty meats, gooey dips, greasy chips and tempting sweets. But double dip too often at soirees and you could say sayonara to all the hard work you put in at the gym over the past year. And here’s the real bad news: A study in the New England Journal of Medicine determined that most people don’t shed all of their holiday fat gain once it’s packed on. So you don’t emerge from the holidays feeling (and looking!) like a stuffed turkey, here are some tips to follow this feasting season.

1. Pump up before partying.

Consider hitting the gym before you hit the town. Pie à la mode or spoonfuls of stuffing will be less likely make an appearance as flab if consumed shortly after a spirited workout since more of their calories will be used for muscle recovery purposes. Training at lower intensities on an empty stomach — such as a long run, or a low-to-moderate weight workout — helps to create a good calorie deficit heading into your get-togethers. But if you insist on getting the most bang for your buck with a heavy weight session or an interval-based workout, the normal rules of pre-workout nutrition still apply. Mix in a modest portion of fast-digesting protein and complex carbs to avoid the bonk in workout ahead.

2. Plan ahead.

To make it less tempting to overindulge at a get-together, never arrive to a party famished and ready to tackle the hors-d'oeuvre table. Fill up before you head out by snacking on nuts, vegetables, fruit or even a protein shake. Want to stay full from that shake longer? Mix in some casein, which clots in the stomach and takes longer to digest. No casein on hand? Use a little less water or milk to thicken your normal helping of whey.

3 Get in the kitchen.

If you’ve got a lot of family meals and parties coming down the pipeline pull on that apron and make some of your own healthier grub that you can bring along. These events are less likely to wreak havoc on you physique if you’ve got some better-for-you dips, meatballs and desserts to feast on and share with a hungry crowd. These healthy yams are a good example of physique-friendly fare that you can work on.

4. Raise fewer toasts.

One of the best ways to cut back on empty calories this season is to imbibe in less alcohol. Try bluffing your way through cocktail hour by sipping a wine spritzer where some of the caloric wine is replaced with club soda. Bidding adieu to just two ounces of the wine can save you 60 calories towards that bigger slice of pie (or you can just bank those calories to keep your goals on track). Also, swap out the calorie-laden eggnog for less damaging warm apple cider or low sugar hot chocolate.

5. There’s an app for that.

Make it a point to eat the best-for-you offerings first. An appetizer of broth-based soup or crudités can serve to start filling you up to help stop you from stuffing yourself silly on the biscuits and gravy. When you arrive at a party, scan everything that is on offer first so that you can be in a better position to select less damaging grub.

6. Spice is nice.

So-called “warming spices” such as cinnamon and nutmeg are rich in body-friendly compounds, so use them liberally to add calorie-free flavor to your holiday fare. Cinnamon has a positive effect on blood sugar levels, which comes in handy amid a sea of sugar cookies.

7. Pound 16 ounces.

Water has mass and takes up space. This applies not just to 10th grade science but to your holiday noshing as well. Studies show that consuming 16 ounces of water ahead of meals can significantly reduce the overall number of calories consumed.

8 Choose your company wisely.

A pretty face at a party could lure you into a second slice of cake. A Cornell University found that guys tend to stuff in significantly more food in the company of women than they will with other dudes. (Who knew?) The study authors surmise that men tend to overeat to show off. So if you’re talking up a member of the fairer sex, show off your pipes instead of your eating powers.



About the Author

Matthew Kadey MS RD

Matthew Kadey, M.S., RD, is a Canadian-based dietitian, nutrition writer and recipe developer. A regular contributor for Oxygen and Muscle & Performance magazines, he is also the author of Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Foods for Sports and Adventure (VeloPress, 2016), Muffin Tin Chef (Ulysses Press, 2012) and The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook (Ulysses Press, 2013). An avid cycle tourist, Matthew has pedaled his bike through Thailand, Cuba, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.