Fueling the Holidays

To a sports dietitian, nothing says “the holidays are here” like the sound of athletes pleading for a cheat code to holiday eating.  From sweet to savory or appetizer to dessert, food brings family and friends together to celebrate with gratitude for one another and the kindness in their hearts.  While human nature tries to make us believe otherwise, the dessert table need not be the Scrooge to your holiday.  When I am asked how to navigate the challenge of a large buffet of home-cooked deliciousness, I simply remind the athletes with whom I work to treat holiday meals as they would treat a meal on any other day.  While the menu may look a little different, their aspirations remain the same:

  • Choose foods that have a purpose, but don’t restrict food and enjoyment so that you are a bystander to your family fun by practicing food optimism. One slice of pumpkin pie can contain up to 33 percent of your requirement of vitamin A.  
  • Avoid FOMO (Fear of missing out).  Take a meal to-go to avoid the need to eat until you feel sick.  Packing leftovers or bringing your own containers with lids is a great way to fuel for the WEEK!
  • Drink responsibly.  Alcohol is not only going to add unnecessary calories, but will also disrupt sleep quality making muscle growth nearly impossible.  High sugar drinks that have concentrated sweets need to be balanced with protein and vegetables to prevent inflammation in your circulation or in your joints.
  • Balance your plate. This means to have all macronutrients accounted for – carbohydrate, protein, and  fats (mostly unsaturated).  Add some “helpful” foods with the “indulgent.” Take our beloved pistachio for instance. Adding pistachios to your favorite baked good instantly turns it into a higher protein, fiber and nutrient-dense treat.
  • Get out and move!  If you know that you’ll be having a big meal, plan to get out and move in order to balance energy output with energy intake.  


For those with lofty goals that require intense training over the holiday season – plan ahead.  Bring a dish or two that you can comfortably eat to share at your gathering.  Just remember that your commitment to training and fueling should not leave you isolated during the holidays.  Foods are neither healthy nor unhealthy.  Portion sizes can be excessive or nutrients might be consumed at an inopportune time – but a food, on its own, is just a tool to accomplish a task.  The key to successful fueling is understanding food and its role in health so that habits can be created to move closer to one’s goals.      

Find joy this holiday season by looking for the benefit in the foods that you love, give yourself the gift of great health by choosing moderation when indulging, and commit to balance at every meal.