by Karen Schroeder Kassel, MS, RD, MEd
Athletes do not have to worry about extra calories when the holidays come around. Any weight that sneaks on during this time is easily shed in January when they fall back into their normal routine of eating and working out.
There are plenty of foods that can fit quite nicely into an athlete's game plan. The secret is to draft the best foods for your lineup. Here are some food choices you can make this season.
Shrimp cocktail—This lean source of protein has an antioxidant called selenium. It may boost the immune system and lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. Go for the extra point—dip in cocktail sauce, not butter.
Antipasto—Peppers, olives, artichokes, and mushrooms are filled with plant chemicals called phytochemicals that boost the immune system and lower the risk of chronic disease. Eat on a few pieces of cheese for some calcium to help build strong bones. Go for the extra point—eat only a few of slices of pepperoni and focus more on the vegetables in this dish.
Mixed nuts—Scoop up a handful of selenium, fiber, protein, vitamin E, and magnesium. Stored in bones and muscles, magnesium helps with endurance performance. Nuts are high in fat, but it is the type of fat that is good for your heart. Go for the extra point—choose dry roasted over oil roasted, and add raisins or dried cranberries to the mix.
Roast beef—This choice is a solid source of protein, iron, and zinc. In the blood, iron carries oxygen to working muscles, and zinc speeds healing and injury recovery. Endurance athletes are often low in these two minerals. Go for the extra point—trim fat before eating and go light on the gravy.
Turkey—Carve off a slice and you will get a good dose of protein as well as some iron with each serving. Dark meat contains more iron than the lighter parts. Go for the extra point—top slices of turkey with cranberry sauce instead of gravy.
Stuffing—This is the ultimate dish for carbo-loaders. And if it is made with celery, raisins, cranberries, apples, nuts, or any other goodies, you will get extra fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
Cranberry sauce—This rich, tart sauce is good on its own or as a topping for turkey, stuffing, or potatoes. It also has fiber and phytochemicals.
Squash—Squashes are full flavor, vitamin A, and phytochemicals. Go for the extra point—go easy on the butter; a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg is enough to bring out squash's natural flavor.
Green peas—These little guys will give you a shot of protein, carbohydrate, and fiber, as well as potassium and vitamin A in a mini, bite-size package.
Sweet potatoes—Vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants, carbohydrates. All this and it can satisfy your sweet tooth with barely any calories and no fat too.
Pumpkin pie—This is a pumpkin's time to shine. It has vitamin A, potassium, calcium, and carbohydrates. Go for the extra point—skip the whipped cream or go for the lighter version.
Apple pie—This pie is as close as most people will get to eating fruit for dessert. It is often lower in calories than other desserts like cakes or pastries. Go for the extra point—top with low-fat frozen yogurt (for calcium) instead of ice cream.
Sugar cookies—Yes, they are full of sugar, but they are still carbohydrate. Trail runners can get away with eating jelly beans and gum drops, so enjoy a couple of these sweets at the office holiday party. Go for the extra point—eat your cookies Santa-style! A glass of skim milk is a great source of carbohydrate, protein, calcium, vitamin D, and several other vitamins and minerals athletes need a lot of.
Beer—Athletes often really like their beer. Limit beer to one per day for women and two for men. Go for the extra point—drink it with a few glasses of water, since alcohol can lead to dehydration. If you do not drink, you do not have to start to get any benefits.
Red wine—Red wine gets a healthful punch from the phytochemicals in grapes. Go for the extra point—limit wine to one glass per day for women and two for men.
Hot apple cider—Hot apple cider adds a few extra phytochemicals—you can never have too many of these.
Athletes need nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, D, E, B6, and B12. As you can see, it is easy to get these during the holidays. With all these great foods to choose from, bench the scale this holiday season and enjoy your favorites. Just be sure to work in a few runs, walks, or pick-up games in between meals.
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
US Department of Agriculture
Dietitians of Canada
Common questions about diet, activity, and cancer risk. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/healthy/eat-healthy-get-active/acs-guidelines-nutrition-physical-activity-cancer-prevention/common-questions.html. Accessed June 29, 2021.
Iron. Office of Dietary Supplements—National Institutes of Health website. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional. Accessed June 29, 2021.
Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle? American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/alcohol-and-heart-health. Accessed June 29, 2021.
Magnesium. Office of Dietary Supplements—National Institutes of Health website. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional. Accessed June 29, 2021.
Selenium. Office of Dietary Supplements—National Institutes of Health website. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional. Accessed June 29, 2021.
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 6/29/2021