An Athlete's Guide to Thanksgiving (and all holidays)

An Athlete's Guide to Thanksgiving (and all holidays)

Many people struggle with fueling properly around the holidays and athletes are no exception. You may feel like you need to withhold from eating earlier in the day on Thanksgiving so that you can eat more of your favorite holiday foods, but this can lead to GI distress and unbalanced habits that can impact your energy levels for training in the future. Giving yourself the space to enjoy your holiday meals will help improve your mindset around food, allow for greater enjoyment of the holiday classics, and improve your athletic performance short and long term. 

An important step in mindfulness and proper fueling as an athlete during the holidays is eating consistently throughout the day. It is increasingly more common to wait out until Thanksgiving dinner so that you can enjoy more of the delicious holiday food. And with many significant holidays around November and December, skipping meals and overeating at dinner for a sustained period can impair your digestion. Skipping meals can cause GI distress issues such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and stomach cramping. That is because waiting too long to eat between meals can cause a stress response in the body which can make your digestive system react irregularly1.

Eating consistent meals throughout Thanksgiving day and the holidays will also help you stay on track with your fueling plan so that you can continue with your training goals. Skipping meals while training can lead to under-fueling and low energy levels. Increased carbohydrate intake promotes increased muscle glycogen storage, therefore providing the body with increased glycogen to be converted into glucose for energy during training. Additionally, consuming enough protein for muscle protein synthesis allows the body to properly recover from high-intensity training by repairing damaged tissue2. When you don’t consume enough protein to promote muscle protein synthesis, muscle breakdown occurs instead, which is not great during the holiday off-season because this is the perfect time to focus on gaining muscle mass and strength. Gained strength now during the off-season will aid to prevent injury and increase power and speed when you are back in season and competing more3.

Another step to implement is building your Thanksgiving plate like a "performance plate." Split your dinner plate into thirds and incorporate carbohydrates, proteins, and color from fruits/vegetables of your choosing. No food is off limits, including dessert! However, be mindful of your alcohol intake because it worsens dehydration due to its diuretic effect on the renal system, increases caloric consumption without added nutrients, and impairs athletic performance for up to 72 hours4,5. Even though it is the off-season, you may still be competing at a smaller capacity, and it is better to not negate your training and fueling plan by drinking a significant amount of alcohol leading up to a competition/race. 

Finally, if you feel like you overindulged on Thanksgiving, know that one day and one meal will not critically impact your athletic performance and does not require calorie restriction the next day to compensate. As long as you return to your normal nutrition plan with balanced meals/snacks, and properly fuel and hydrate throughout training, you will be able to continue training at your optimal capacity and progressing towards your performance goals.


Blog article by Yana Gurevich, B.S. Clinical Nutrition, UC Davis.
Photography by Tiare Bowman and Steven Mortinson








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