At Christmas, we tend to indulge in traditional favorites. The table is filled with pies, hot chocolates, cookies, fluffy rolls, and rich sides. Normally healthy options are drenched in flavor, fat, cream, and butter. An aunt or two may even be filling your plate insisting you eat too little or have grown too thin. But if all you can think about is--“how will this Christmas food affect my run?”--you will not enjoy the meal.
This is not the day to refuse seconds. Rather than push yourself away from the table, why not try some holiday classics that will actually improve your running performance?
Instead of skipping the family feast, be strategic when loading up your plate.
Prep and prepare as well. Run hard the day before you indulge. It will increase your metabolism. Then burn off that carb stash you’re working on at the table and plan a nice long run for the day after.
Reach for the fat pre-meal
Shying away from fatty foods isn’t always the right answer. Plus, where is the fun in that? When you eat fat with your meal, your blood sugar won’t spike as dramatically.
Reach for the healthy fats. Grab a handful of nuts or snack on olives as your grazing pre-meal. Dip veggies into ranch or one of those many fancy cheese dips that are nearby.
When you choose filling foods, you’ll be less likely to over-indulge on the sweets at the end.
Turkey or ham
Protein is essential to rebuilding muscles and promoting recovery after a hard run. Two classics often offered at Christmas are turkey and ham. But as a runner is one better than the other?
Turkey is a lean meat, high in protein while ham, also high in protein, is a processed meat, higher in fat content. Turkey contains tryptophan and will help you fall into a calming sleep after a day filled with family and friends. And we all know sleep is an essential part of preparing your body for optimal performance and also in boosting recovery.
Now, we’re not saying skip the ham. By all means, if you love ham on Christmas, go for it. However, turkey does have a few advantages.
If you’re looking for an alternative, why not substitute the traditional protein for roasted lamb? Lamb is a rich source of high-quality protein. It is packed full of vitamins and minerals that promote muscle growth and performance.
Did you know that cranberries are packed with health benefits?
Don’t pass on the cranberry relish. Find ways to incorporate this small fruit into more dishes. The tart-sweet berry pairs nicely with oranges, and is an excellent addition to salads. Cranberries are also tasty in deserts, like poached pears and apple crisp.
Cranberries are beneficial for your heart. If consumed regularly, these berries may help raise your good cholesterol (HDL) and decrease certain risk factors for heart disease.
Found at nearly every holiday table in America is a nice big bowl of roasted potatoes. To increase the nutritional value of the plan potato, substitute with or add sweet potatoes. Leave the skins on for added fiber and roast them in olive oil or duck fat. Finish with a seasoning of sea salt and rosemary. If mixing with regular potatoes, cook the sweet potatoes separately and then mix together before serving.
Potatoes are a complex carbohydrate that is just as effective as pasta for getting runners ready for a long or hard run. For example, a russet potato contains 63 grams of carbs, zero grams of fat, eight grams of protein, and seven grams of fiber as well as a large dose of your daily vitamins and plenty of antioxidants. Switch completely to sweet potatoes and get a significant vitamin boost, including more than 700 percent of your daily need for vitamin A. Vitamin A helps with new cell growth and repairs microtears in the muscle making it the perfect dish of leftovers to grab after a run as well.
Roasted brussels sprouts, glazed carrots, layered salads, creamed spinach, green beans, whipped cauliflower, sweet potato casserole, and more all find their way to the holiday feast. Sure, they are slightly amped up from your everyday garden variety but they are still veggies. Plus it’s Christmas, live a little!
When it’s time to go back for seconds, or yes even thirds, pile the plate first with the veggies and then the lean proteins. Fill up on the main dinner bust save room for at least one slice of pie.
Enjoy, eat slow, and stay hydrated
Remember, Christmas and all its trimmings only comes once a year. While you try to maintain your goals by choosing Christmas foods that boost your run, remember to soak in the day. Enjoy your favorites! Eat slow and really taste the food. Stay well hydrated, and don’t waste your calories on empty sugary drinks that tempt you all year round. Reach for that sugar cookie instead! Don’t worry, you can run it off tomorrow.
You can even enjoy the leftovers! You will have post-run recovery food waiting for you in the fridge after a long run. Held together with whole wheat bread, turkey, cranberry relish or an avocado added in, leftovers make a healthy sandwich. Even better after a long run, fry up an egg and put it over a bowl of leftover roasted potatoes.
Carving out moments and memories with loved ones is essential to your overall health. Learning to take the time to pause and enjoy life is important. Don’t become so focused on your goals that you forget how to enjoy celebrations.
These moments matter. Enjoy them. Cherish the day. Savor the food. You’ll run again tomorrow.