Healthy, Happy Holidays: A Nutrition Survival Guide for Endurance Athletes


By Breanne Nalder, MS, RDN, and Lauren Tamburrino, Plan 7 intern — We’re all thinking it, “I’ve worked hard all year to get my body looking and feeling great, and don’t want to throw it away to the holiday temptations” or something to that effect, right? Well, off-season months do not have to coincide with losing fitness or physique. You can avoid the winter weight fluctuations, maintain your training, and still enjoy yourself at parties. It simply takes a little planning and discipline. You are an athlete though, so you’re used to that already! Here are some tips to devise an eating plan and help you enjoy the holiday season while still meeting your performance goals.

  • Take preventative measures: If you tend to overeat at parties, try eating a low-calorie snack to help curb your appetite before leaving the house. Chances are if you arrive at the party ravenous, you will overeat.
  • Don’t rush to eat: Instead, be apart of the food making process with your loved ones and take some time before you dig in.
  • Bring the healthy dish: When contributing to the party, take something low in calories and high in nutrition, such as raw vegetables and hummus, fresh fruit, or a less guilty dessert.
  • Focus on fruit and vegetables: Find the veggie tray and use carrots or celery to taste a dip rather than crackers or bread. The fiber will make you fuller faster anyway!
  • Eat mindfully: Have the foods you truly enjoy and pass up the foods that don’t interest you.
  • Move away from the food: Socialize away from the buffet table to minimize excessive snacking.
  • Remember to hydrate – Focus on drinking water throughout the day, as well as enjoying more festive beverages.
  • Take a break: When you start to feel full get up, walk around and socialize. This will help decrease overeating.
  • Don’t vow to eat nothing at a special event: In doing so, you will just be setting yourself up for failure and subsequent guilt. Instead, limit your selections to foods you don’t typically eat and keep your portion sizes under control. Make a plate rather than standing at the table and mindlessly grazing.
  • When it comes to seconds, use the 20-minute rule: It typically takes 20 minutes after you have eaten for your satiety center to kick in and register that you are full. Thus, before going back for a second helping, wait 20 minutes. If you still feel hungry, go for seconds but keep your portion sizes small and go easy on the high-fat, high-calorie foods.
  • Share the wealth: If you host a party or dinner, have disposable containers available for guests to take home leftovers. This will help get tempting foods out of your house entirely!
  • Go easy on the alcohol: On top of the food, drinks are a huge culprit for packing in the calories. A standard 2 oz. pour typically has 100-150 kcals, and that’s not including the mixer, which can easily add another 100-300 kcals! An eight-ounce glass of eggnog with rum contains 400 kcals. Beer and wine may be smarter options, with 150 kcals for a typical serving (i.e., 12 and eight ounces, respectively). In addition, alcohol tends to distort our nutritional judgment, causing us to consume more high-calorie, high-fat foods than we would if we were not under the influence.

No one can deny that food is a big part of the holidays, but it is not the only part, and certainly is not the most important. So, when it comes to food, forget the all or nothing mindset. Depriving yourself of holiday treats or feeling guilty after eating isn’t part of a healthy eating strategy. Its up to you to keep yourself healthy and satisfied during the winter so you’re proud of your body and fit for next season!

Substitutions to lower the calories in classic recipes

  • Use two egg whites instead of a single egg to lower dietary cholesterol but keep the same flavor!
  • Make an egg with flax seeds! Mix 1 Tbsp ground flax with 2 Tbsp water and let it gelatinize.
  • Use low sodium vegetable broth in your mashed potatoes instead of butter or margarine.
  • Instead of oil/butter/margarine try applesauce. It adds a sweet moisture that will please any palate
  • Fat-free Greek yogurt or coconut yogurt are great swaps for any dip or pie topping. Yum!

Simple Healthy Side Dishes to bring to your holiday party

Pumpkin Hummus

  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste as desired
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, plus more to taste as desired
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or high-speed blender. Process or blend until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl or pitcher. Drizzle 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil over the top and serve with raw veggies, chips and/or crackers. Also, wonderful as a topping for sweet potatoes, salads and wraps.

Baked Parmesan Zucchini Boats

  • 4 zucchini, quartered lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a cooling rack with nonstick spray and place on a baking sheet; set aside. In a small bowl, combine Parmesan, thyme, oregano, basil, garlic powder, salt and pepper, to taste. Place zucchini onto prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan mixture. Place into oven and bake until tender, about 15 minutes. Then broil for 2-3 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown.

Serve immediately, garnished with parsley, if desired.

Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Cranberries

  • 6 cups chopped sweet potatoes
  • 8 ounce bag of cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (melted)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl combine sweet potatoes, cranberries, coconut oil and maple syrup. Stir mixture until potatoes and berries are evenly coated. Then sprinkle on cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and stir to coat evenly. Pour onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for 40 – 50 minutes for until a fork easily pierces through the sweet potatoes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Enjoy!

Bell Pepper Candy

  • 2 red bell peppers, remove seeds, core and membrane
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (less to taste)

Preheat oven to 150 degrees F. Slice the peppers into 1/2″ pieces, drizzle with maple syrup and toss to coat. Place a wire rack on top of a cookie sheet, cover wire rack with parchment paper. Place peppers on parchment covered rack, making sure they don’t touch. Place the cookie sheet on the middle oven rack, leave the oven door ajar, about 4 inches. Allow peppers to dehydrate until crispy enough to snap in half, approximately 8 hours to 10 hours (depending on individual ovens.

Kale Chips

  • 1 bunch Kale, thoroughly washed and cut into small pieces
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the kale with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread kale out on baking sheet evenly. Bake ~10 min, until starting to crisp, remove from oven and sprinkle with Parmesan. Return to oven for another 5 minutes.

Breanne Nalder, MS, RDN has a Master’s degree in nutrition with an emphasis in sports dietetics at the University of Utah. She is a Registered Dietitian, the nutrition coach at PLAN7 Endurance Coaching, and races for Visit Dallas DNA Pro Cycling team. For individual custom nutrition coaching, you can reach Breanne at 801-550-0434 or [email protected].

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