While the holidays are a time to eat, drink, and be merry, those who are in training or regularly exercise may be more likely to steer clear of the festive foods. Why? It’s not always so much that those who exercise are more conscious about not allowing themselves treats (though that is unfortunately the case often enough). Many times it’s the fear that that consuming something “different” from their norm may throw off their digestion, energy levels, and performance.
Never fear! There are plenty of holiday recipes that you can make part of your fitness routine. I’ve collected recipes from registered dietitians for two posts of options that fuel your active lifestyle while ensuring you aren’t missing out on the holiday fun.
Here in part one, I wanted to start with recipes that are great before a workout or after. What makes them different than other holiday recipes? They meet the needs for what you should aim for in a pre or post workout meal or snack.
I by no means am trying to convey that you shouldn’t eat other traditional holiday recipes that have more fat, sugar, or anything else! For example, Christmas cookies have a special place in my holiday eating pattern, too. I just caution you about when you eat them. Some of you reading may be able to eat a Christmas cookie walking into a workout and feel great since it provides you with necessary carbs, but for others you may metabolize the sugar at a different rate and/or wind up with some digestive distress. If you’re the latter (like me!) save the cookies for after dinner. Use trial and error and find what works for you!
You need to eat enough to prevent hunger but not so much that you’ll experience gastrointestinal distress. You also need to top off your carbohydrate stores. If you plan to exercise above 65% of your max effort or max heart rate, you’ll be using mostly carbohydrate to fuel those muscles. Without enough, your intensity will plummet. We want to keep fat lower and protein low-moderate. Same goes for fiber. All three of these things will make food sit in your stomach a bit too long, increasing intestinal discomfort, and keeping the energy from carbs from getting to your blood stream and muscles quickly enough for your workout.
These Gingerbread Waffles from Kaleigh McMordie at Lively Table are a festive way to fuel a late morning weekend workout. Or, make ahead and have them on hand as a grab-and-go pre-workout snack on an early weekday or for an afternoon pre-exercise snack. To amp up the nutrient density, use a whole wheat flour instead of whole wheat white.
Like the gingerbread waffles, Kara Lydon, The Foodie Dietitian’s Gingerbread Pancakes are great as a meal or as a snack. Grab one to top with PB before an afternoon workout during the week.
French toast more your speed than waffles and pancakes? Try this Apple Cranberry French Toast Bake from Caitlin Perez of Nourished NCE.
These Cherry Power Balls via Judith Sharman RD of Foods with Judes are made with tart cherries, which give you energy for your workouts, but also are shown to reduce muscle soreness.
My Gingerbread Energy Bites work not only pre-workout but also during long endurance races. And, like most energy bites you can make them in minutes.
Julie Harrington of RDelicious Kitchen has a great Whole Grain Orange Cranberry Bread Recipe. Have a slice pre-workout, or have it on the side with a veggie omelet post-workout in lieu of bread or potatoes.
Elizabeth Ward of Better is the New Perfect has great ideas on how to make her No Added Sugar Fruit and Nut Quickbread more than just a snack, but I think it’s great to eat if you have 1-2 hours before your workout on it’s own.
Apple Pomegranate Bread can be a great pre-workout snack. This recipe from Ann Dunaway Teh uses applesauce to reduce fat content which is important before exercise so food doesn’t sit in your stomach.
Grab my easy Pumpkin Gingerbread Muffin recipe for another grab-and-go snack option before exercise. Great in the morning or to pack for the afternoon. Sometimes I’ll even pair 2 with eggs post-workout!
Want holiday flavor in a pinch? Halve this Apple Mug Cake recipe from Chrissy at Snacking in Sneakers for a snack that will be an 45-90 minutes before you workout.
Now, you need to replace the carbs you used up, plus ingest quality protein for recovery. (The carbs even help protein most efficiently enter your muscle cells, so don’t skimp here!) Wait too long after your workout to eat these things and you’ll not only compromise recovery, but your appetite will probably be off for the rest of the day and even tomorrow depending on how intense and long your exercise is. We also want to keep fat lower than normal post-workout, again so that we get nutrients to our blood stream and muscles faster for repair.
Still riding the pumpkin train after Thanksgiving? Me too. These Pumpkin Coconut Flour Pancakes from Kelli Shallal of Hungry Hobby are actually a good protein source from the high egg content, so they’ll help you recover from your morning workout.
To me, Italian food has always been a big focus of holiday meals. This Protein Packed Vegan Lasagna means you can feel the comfort of the holidays while recovering those muscles.
Prep these Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans from Jennifer Hunt of Healthy Inspiration Blog and pair them with your favorite lean protein. On top of all the antioxidants in the sweet potatoes that are great to combat the stress on your muscles, Maple Syrup actually contains some carbohydrates that support gut health. Even better, this recipe includes cayenne – excellent for joint health!
Depending on your tastes, the sweet potatoes could pair with this White Cheddar Cranberry Apple Stuffed Chicken from Amanda Hernandez of Nutritionist Reviews. It works for a holiday dinner party or even just after a Wednesday night workout. Not into pairing it with the sweet potato dish? Pair with a serving of brown rice, quinoa, or roasted potatoes to complete the meal and get all the energy you need for recovery.
Today’s Dietitian has a great blog post featuring a variety of recipes. Scroll down for the low fat Potato Latkes by Bonnie Giller. Pair them with a veggie omelet after a workout any time of day, or with one of the chicken dishes above.
This Gingerbread Dessert Dip from Emily Holdorf or Empowered Nutrition is creamy, but contains a balance of carbs and high quality protein for your post-workout snack. Dip pretzels or apple slices and be sure to have a full balanced meal 1-2 hours later.
Part Two: Holiday Recipes to Support Your Fitness
Check back in on Wednesday for holiday recipes perfect at other times of the day due to their content of nutrients that extra active individuals need a tad more of! You’ll even get a few holiday cocktail recommendations 😉