Thanksgiving for the Athlete 

The holiday season is among us! After my time competing as a collegiate swimmer, I have learned to allow myself to indulge on holidays and special occasions. It is important to transition from a competitive and often strict lifestyle as an athlete to one with more balance and leeway. 

With that being said, there are a lot of athletes and individuals out there looking to maintain their healthy diet on Thanksgiving and through the coming months. In swimming, for example, many big meets like ISL meets, college invitationals and US Open take place just days after Thanksgiving. Therefore, it is important athletes training for those particular events fuel their bodies to be ready to compete at peak performance within 48-72 hours. Indulging in lots of stuffing and apple pie is not going to have the body optimally fueled for fast racing.

This blog post is dedicated to those looking to still celebrate and indulge on Thanksgiving, just in a healthier way. 

Starters

Healthy

Cheese board. Cheese boards can be nutritious, if done correctly. Cheese is generally high in vitamin K2, A, B12, zinc and riboflavin. It also is a probiotic. Try using mozzarella, feta, blue cheese, ricotta, parmesan or Swiss (higher protein, and lower fat/sodium than other types). Add lightly or unsalted almonds, grapes and/or strawberries. For your cracker, slice and bake some whole wheat pitas with light EVOO in the oven on low temp for 10-15 min keeping an eye out for burning – delicious with cheese and/or hummus. Eat cheese in moderation as it is high in fat and can cause digestive issues. Remember to save room for the main event! 

Unhealthy

Dips. Most are unhealthy, but hard to avoid over the holidays as a common item on the dinner/party table. Many dips contain high fat and calorie content. Some to avoid specifically are French onion (even with veggies), buffalo chicken, spinach artichoke, queso, five-layer bean dip and corn dip. Hummus, edamame and beet dips are good swaps and better options. Incorporating beets is an awesome choice for an athlete as a superfood high in nitrates, which the body converts to nitric oxide. This provides the muscles with more blood flow, which helps with endurance and recovery. 

Here is a go-to beetroot dip recipe:
https://myfoodstory.com/egyptian-beetroot-dip-recipe/ 

Mains

Healthy

The staple – Turkey! Turkey is a fine choice for an athlete or individual looking to eat healthy on Thanksgiving, as a lean meat. Make sure when purchasing a turkey at the store, it is marked as “natural” or even better, “organic”, to ensure there are not any additives. Try an herb roasted recipe that does not drench the bird in unhealthy oils and remove the skin when eating. Pick white meat over dark and go sans gravy. If competing 24-48 hours upon consuming, eat a small amount. Turkey is high in tryptophan which can cause low energy levels. Roasted chicken would be another good option, as well.

Unhealthy

Avoid deep fried turkey, which seems to be the new trend in the American household. Also, most Turkey Day ham dishes tend to be marinated in brown sugar sauces high in sugar and fat. Additionally, ham has higher sodium content than turkey or chicken. 

I recommend this turkey recipe:
https://healthyfitnessmeals.com/easy-turkey-roast-recipe/ 

Sides

Healthy

Roasted vegetables like brussel sprouts and asparagus are great options. Brussel sprouts are high in vitamin K, C and A. They are also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, folate, and manganese. Asparagus provides vitamin A, B6, C, potassium, and fiber. Baked potatoes are another good choice. They are high in potassium and the skin is a good source of iron. Just do not load them with butter and sour cream. Baked sweet potatoes or yams are also an option. While higher in sugar and calorie content than a baked potato, they are higher in protein, vitamin A and K. If adding salt or butter, go lite with either option. Adding cinnamon to your sweet potato can provide many health benefits, as well.
(Refer to last BWB blog post – https://beinewellnessbuilding.net/a-little-spice-makes-any-meal-nice/ )

Unhealthy

Sadly, most Thanksgiving Day staples are very unhealthy. Avoid casseroles like sweet potato casserole which is high in fat and sugar content, and green bean casserole (deceivingly unhealthy). Green beans have great nutrients; however, all other ingredients in the recipe do not (creamy canned soup, sour cream, soy sauce, milk, fried onion). Try a roasted green bean recipe instead. Canned cranberry sauces are usually high in sugar, though if done correctly cranberry sauce is a great side to enjoy. As a superfood, cranberries are high in antioxidants, improve immune function, lower risk of UTI’s and decrease blood pressure. Check out the recipe below, which is a perfect option for an athlete training or competing over the holiday. To round out sides to avoid: stuffing, ambrosia salad, potatoes au gratin, and mashed potatoes of any kind. Stuffing is a popular and beloved one, so if you absolutely need to have some, go with whole wheat bread and try not adding as much salt and butter. 

Cranberry sauce recipe: https://foodbabe.com/dont-get-your-cranberry-sauce-out-of-a-can/ 

Drinks

Healthy

As an athlete hydration is extremely crucial. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day and alongside any other drink at dinner. Hot herbal teas, decaf coffee, sparkling water, and fresh pressed juices are some good options to mix things up. Maybe start the morning with a nutritious smoothie, so you are not starving yourself only to  overindulge at the big meal. 

Unhealthy

If you are an athlete training (and of age) or a common adult, it is probably best to avoid alcohol altogether if trying to maintain a healthy diet. Alcohol provides empty calories, impairs your thinking and recovery time. A lot of alcoholic drinks are high in sugar and calories. If you are not in a high training time and do not have any important competitions coming up, enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner. Red wine can provide antioxidants, lower bad cholesterol, regulate blood sugar and some studies show it can help keep your heart healthy in extreme moderation. Non Alcoholic holiday beverages to look out for include apple cider, sparkling fruit ciders, punches, eggnog, hot chocolate, and pumpkin spice lattes. They all have extremely high sugar and/or fat content. 

Revisit this BWB blog for some good smoothie options to start Thanksgiving Day!
https://beinewellnessbuilding.net/why-smoothies-are-beneficial-during-spring/ 

It says for spring, but we all know smoothies are great anytime of year! 

Dessert 

Healthy

Let’s face it, desserts are a treat for a reason and not very good for our bodies. If competing the week or two after Thanksgiving, be cautious of which dessert(s) you are choosing. To stick to a healthy plan, try warm cooked apples with coconut oil, cinnamon, a little honey, and vanilla. You could add  in some healthy cooked overnight oats to add substance. If you really need a holiday classic, go with pumpkin pie. It has half the calories per slice than most other pies and pumpkin is rich in vitamin A. Try a lower fat/sugar recipe.

Unhealthy

Pecan pie is one of the worst foods on the table during the holiday. It is packed with sugar and fat. Other pies such as apple, cherry and blueberry are not much better in terms of the amount of sugar. If you eat pie, grab a small slice, and skip the toppings (whipped cream, ice cream, cheese etc.).

Check out this healthier pumpkin pie, it is a hit!
https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/healthy-pumpkin-pie-recipe/

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