How many athletes out there find themselves succumbing to the temptations of holiday treats? Without looking, I see a complete show of hands. Unfortunately, figuring out how to navigate the abundance of processed and refined foods offered during the holidays has become a subset of one's off-season training program.
This is the time of year when athletes need to begin a recovery phase for the repair and re-building of muscles. It's a time when the body needs rest from the physical stresses placed upon it, and when one's dietary intake is adjusted by eating a little less and a little differently. It's the same time the natural rhythms of the earth also slow down.
It's a synchronicity that athletes have with the seasons and one that suits their lifestyle. However, just as this is happening, society hears the holiday start gun go off. Between a busy party schedule, celebratory libations and sweet and processed foods, an athlete can really become derailed from this important time in their training cycle. Follow these guidelines to avoid the holiday pitfalls.
1. Eat before you leave. Going to a holiday party hungry is setting yourself up for a serious challenge. Be sure to have a solid meal before heading out for the evening's party hopping. Try to include some complex carbs that will slowly digest as well as some healthy fats to keep you feeling full. If you are going straight from work, plan ahead. Bring a snack or stop somewhere for an apple, pear or quick salad with hard veggies (carrots) to add some bulk to the stomach.
2. Small plate, small napkin. Most holiday parties are buffet style, so it's all up to you. Instead of taking a big dinner plate, choose a cocktail or dessert plate. The less space you have, the less food you can take. There is also no need to eat multiple meals. Take a napkin for hors d'oeuvres and go light.
3. Choose wisely. This may seem obvious but the foods you choose are the ones you eat. Making wise choices will go a long way in you leaving the party feeling good and light. Root vegetables, squashes and leafy winter greens will leave you satisfied. Choose fish or chicken over heavily sauced and glazed meats.
4. Mix it up. For most, the desserts wreak the most havoc on holiday nutrition. If you keep restricting yourself, it becomes an ongoing battle that, if lost, generally turns into a big and ongoing defeat. It's hard to stop once you start. If you see something you've gotta have, eat it first. Get it out of the way and then squash the resulting sugar-spike with a good meal.
5. Be the jetsetter. No one wants to offend a party host or hostess by not sharing in his or her offerings. Good excuses are hard to come by, but everyone can relate to multiple parties. So, when asked, 'How come you're not eating anything?," thee correct response is, "I've just come from another party and have to be at my boss's later, but your food looks so good I'll just go and have a little taste.''
Adam Kelinson is the creator of Organic Performance, an innovator in helping athletes eat for a competitive edge by providing personalized guidance for shopping, food preparation and maintaining health. A lifelong athlete himself, Adam is a three-time Ironman finisher and has competed in many backcountry endurance events. Recognizing that people with active lifestyles were calling for help and guidance with their nutrition, Adam has written The Athlete's Plate: Real Food for High Performance, published by Velo Press in December 2009.