What does an athlete eat on Thanksgiving? Anything and everything, depending on who you ask. Of course, there are the extremes. Someone may go so far overboard their waistbands are as stretched as their normal eating patterns. After all, they don’t want to miss out on all those seasonal favorites. On the other end of the spectrum are athletes who prefer to stay on track with a year-round, so they will actively seek out healthy Thanksgiving recipes.
But must it be one or the other?
No, not at all. There’s a happy medium that can be achieved with just a little bit of planning and strategy.
Below are five holiday dishes that have traditional flavor while maintaining a balance of healthy ingredients. These festive favorites will fit into any athlete diet.
Thanksgiving has to have turkey, right? You probably know turkey is high in tryptophan, which you’ve always been told makes you sleepy. But what you may not know is tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Many studies have shown serotonin promotes a positive mood. Though more research is needed, perhaps increasing consumption of tryptophan-rich foods could be beneficial to your overall outlook on life.
As for feeling sleepy, don’t blame the tryptophan in turkey. You’ll find more tryptophan in chicken and cheddar cheese than turkey. Besides, it’s the excessive intake of carbohydrates that make you feel lethargic, because you’re inducing an insulin spike and crash.
Rosemary Apple Yam Casserole
Remember the old-fashioned sweet potato puree, topped with mini marshmallows? Traditional, yes, but not exactly healthy. Swap out the synthetic sweet with something more natural, such as seasonally appropriate Golden Delicious apples, sautéed in rosemary-scented coconut oil and placed atop a puree of oven baked yams. Yams make a great choice for any athlete’s source of starch with each serving providing 5.3 grams of fiber per cup, as well as 911 milligrams of potassium and 1,922 micrograms of vitamin A, a nutrient that your body does not produce on its own.
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Sure, it’s easy as pie to purchase pre-made cranberry sauce in a can, but most commercial brands contain high-fructose corn syrup and are often so highly processed there’s little to no nutritional value left. In their more natural form, cranberries provide anthocyanins, antioxidants that give the berries their rich red hue. They’ve also been studied for their support of bladder and urinary tract health.*
The best news of all? Making your own is incredibly easy. Simply heat berries in a pot with just enough water to cover them completely. Add a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice and a cinnamon stick for natural sweetness. Cook on low until berries pop. Remove from heat and let cool before serving.
Roasted Veggie Platter
Munching on cheese and crackers before the meal is the quickest way to overeating. If your growling stomach can’t wait for dinner to be served, choose the veggie platter. In fact, make yourself be in charge of sourcing fresh, seasonal produce and turning it into a ready-to-eat appetizer.
Roasted vegetables often have the greatest flavor. Wash your fresh produce, cut into even pieces and top with your favorite cooking fat, such as coconut oil, duck fat or grass-fed tallow. Roast in the oven at 450 degrees F for about an hour with some fresh rosemary sprigs, turning once or twice to ensure even cooking.
Yes, you read that correctly. There’s got to be a little wiggle room for something sweet, especially on a holiday. Besides, the health benefits of chocolate are aplenty. Dark chocolate has shown to be heart healthy in many ways. Plus, the naturally sweet stuff offers iron and magnesium – two minerals important in several normal body functions. You may be better off enjoying those rich, dark chocolate truffles than skipping them completely.
While these ideas are certainly not exhaustive, they’re enough to provide the framework for some basics of a healthy, tasty, seasonal meal any athlete is sure to devour!