The holidays are a fantastic time to relax and recover from stressful work lives. A time to be with loved ones and reflect on the year. It’s also a great time to eat some amazing food. It can be all too easy to let that third, fourth, or fifth plate of homemade goodness get you off track for your next run, and the one after that. Before you know it the holiday food is coming between you and your running goals. But that’s not the end of the story. We spoke with Ashley Muschiatti, Performance Specialist and Dietitian, from Novant Health to get the details on how to enjoy great food during the holidays but also stay on your training plan.
Ashley Muschiatti is going to help us have our cake and eat it too!
RunCharlotte: Is there something about the holidays that makes us more likely to overeat?
Muschiatti: The holidays bring with them a social aspect. Food is a very social aspect of our lives, and therefore when the holidays come a lot of celebrations, connecting with friends we haven’t seen in a while, celebrating holidays multiple times with split families, cookie exchanges, etc. All of these correspond with some sort of eating and drinking.
RunCharlotte: Do you have any tips to keep people from overeating?
Muschiatti: Take your time! Don’t overfill your plate, stick to portions and moderation, and before going to get a second plate, wait 15 minutes. Also, don’t skip meals. Don’t skip breakfast and lunch just to be able to have a big dinner. Not eating throughout the day will lead to a higher chance of binge eating at social events.
RunCharlotte: If you were making a perfect holiday meal for a runner what would be on the plate?
Muschiatti: ½ Fruits and Vegetables, ¼ Protein, ¼ Starch… Example: 2 Slices of Turkey, Cranberry, 1 Scoop Broccoli Casserole, 1 scoop Corn or Carrots, 1 scoop mashed potatoes or sweet potato & of course some Christmas Cookies to finish off the night!
Athletes can make that starch portion slightly bigger too, especially if actively training.
RunCharlotte: Of the usual holiday foods which ones provide the most benefit for the calorie costs? Which foods are the worst?
Muschiatti: Casseroles have a lot of hidden calories, so portion and moderation are key.
When it comes to appetizers, a lot of dips have a lot of high-fat cheeses, sour cream, cream cheese, etc. Another high-calorie cost is drinks and alcohol. Alcohol has a lot of “hidden” calories and can add up with multiple drinks
If your family is Italian like mine, our holidays are filled with a lot of food and even a lot of pasta. Pasta is a good carbohydrate source, but meals tend to have little protein and color. So portion and moderation are key.
Roasted vegetables are a great go-to. They have a lot of seasoning, add great flavor to the meal, are nutrient-dense, and are easy to cook.
When given an option for appetizers, a good way to start is with a fruit and vegetable tray.
RunCharlotte: Do leftovers make sense as workout fuel?
Muschiatti: Holiday leftovers make a great post-workout meal! Our holiday meals tend to focus around a big protein dish so whether it is chicken, turkey, meatballs, etc. those, along with a little bit of leftover sides, makes a good recovery meal.
RunCharlotte: Is it ok to not worry about food during the holidays? Can cheat days actually be helpful to our training?
Muschiatti: I would not say don’t worry about it at all, I would advise being mindful. Abandoning all of our hard work for weeks at a time (because let’s face it, the holidays are basically a whole 1-2 months of celebrations), will just lead to feeling sluggish, decreased motivation, and a harder time getting back to normal day-to-day eating patterns. We are definitely all human and will indulge in food, and that should not be looked down upon or frowned upon. Allowing some “cheats” is 100% normal and perfectly fine! In order to have a healthy relationship with food, you have to enjoy eating and also know limits. Overfocusing on consumption can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Creating healthy habits throughout the year of enjoying food through moderation, not skipping meals, and making balanced plates will make going into the holidays a lot easier and enjoyable.
RunCharlotte: Is there anything else fun or interesting you can tell us about holiday eating?
Muschiatti: A lot of people will step on the scale daily or even once they get home from dinner and be shocked at the “weight” they gained. What they don’t see in that digital number is that probably almost all of that weight gained in that short period of time is water weight. Our water weight fluctuates so much and is easily affected by salty meals, foods we eat, alcohol, working out, etc. So, a holiday tip is to not focus on the number on the scale, because it is just that, a number. It does not tell you what is changing, and if anything changes in such a short time, it is mostly water weight.
RunCharlotte: Thanks for talking with us Ashley!
Gone are the days of thinking that holiday food is the enemy of a healthy lifestyle! Thanks to Ashley at Novant Health you can go into your holiday parties with confidence knowing that the food is not going to ruin the fitness that you are building. And at the end of the day, the holidays are about being happy with the people that matter to you. If having that extra plate will make you happy, you can burn it off in January!
HAPPY HOLIDAYS RUNNERS!