Like everyone else, we love the holiday season and all the good cheer and good food that comes with it. Sara and I have so many memories of long, grinding runs fueled by, and followed up with, holiday treats. But we are usually in the midst of fairly heavy training as we ramp up for spring marathons or indoor track meets, which means putting on a few pounds over the holidays isn’t part of the plan. To avoid gaining the typical holiday weight, we have a few tips that hopefully will be helpful for you this holiday season, too.
Time Your Treats
There is a period of about 60 minutes following a workout when your muscles are depleted of glycogen and are craving to be refilled. This is the only time of day that Sara and I consciously try to eat sugar. To make the magical window of time count, we aim to take in 80 to 100 grams of carbohydrates as close to finishing a run as possible. That delicious Christmas morning cinnamon roll? Have it as a recovery-boosting reward after a hard run instead of as a breakfast treat. That way it’s no longer a pound-packing punch to your body.
Upgrade Your Mashed Potatoes
One of my favorite holiday sides is mashed potatoes. But I’ve learned that white potatoes have one of the highest sugar-spiking glycemic index ratings of all foods, which can contribute to weight gain. Conversely, sweet potatoes have a much lower glycemic index, creating a much slower, more sustained release of sugar into the bloodstream—thus providing a much cleaner, longer burning fuel source for training. Sweet potatoes are also packed with other nutrients a runner’s body craves, like potassium, making it one of the best carbohydrates you can consume. So instead of making this year’s mashed potatoes out of white potatoes, simply substitute sweet potatoes in their place.
Serve Wild-Caught Salmon
Our family made salmon a holiday dinner must-have because we were getting tired of old, dried out turkey. Salmon is a nutrient-dense, superfood for runners. It’s packed with many powerful antioxidants, such as vitamin D and selenium—which significantly aids in muscle recovery and supports a healthy digestive system, hormonal function, and cardiovascular health. Salmon is also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which is an essential part of a runner’s diet. We season wild-caught, Alaskan salmon with sea salt, and then grill it over low heat on a soaked cedar plank. Try it—your body and taste-buds will thank you!
Keep the Tradition, Kick the Sugar
Growing up, I can remember making “Christmas Tea,” which was a blend of spices, instant tea powder, and Tang, an orange drink mix—basically, it was a ton of sugar. While that tea brings back many fond childhood memories, Sara and I have found we can serve something healthier and still tap into that tradition. Lately, we’ve been brewing herbal teas, in flavors like gingerbread and peppermint cookie, that are full of antioxidants and free of added sugar.
Ease Up a Little
Spending time with family and catching up with loved ones you may not see other times of the year is what the holiday season is all about. And part of that should include trying each other’s favorite recipes. Sara and I aren’t so hardcore about our nutrition at family gatherings—we give ourselves permission to enjoy an occasional seasonal goody, because it’s important to honor those who have labored in the kitchen, with the purpose of bringing smiles to our faces, by partaking of their holiday treats.
As in life during the rest year, the key to staying healthy through the holidays is moderation. As long as we are logging our steps, getting quality zzz’s, and doing our best to maximize our nutrition, Sara and I don’t worry about a cookie or two throwing us off track. And you shouldn’t either!
Wishing all the best to you and yours this holiday season!
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.