We’re talking about: Holidays & Food

Published On: December 14, 2023

The holiday season is upon us, which can mean many things. While we often talk about the holidays as a time of joy and connection, it can also be stressful with changes from our routines and a decrease in training. We also may find ourselves being exposed to different food and treats than we would normally choose to eat.

The CSCM team has compiled some tips and reminders to help you prepare for the holiday season and equip you to make the best decisions for yourself.

“The holidays only come once a year, enjoy this time with family and friends and take the opportunity to eat foods that you only see once a year!  For example, we have mashed potatoes through the year, so enjoy more of the stuffing instead… And the same for cookies, we can have cookies any day of the year, and so choose to enjoy the Nanaimo bars or those special dainties that Grandma makes!”

– Janelle Vincent, CSCM Sport Dietitian

Tips from our nutrition team:

1. Quantity & Quality of Sleep Affects Your Willpower

Studies have shown that both inadequate sleep and poor sleep quality changes neurotransmitters and hormones that can increase your drive to eat… and food cravings are not going to help you to make wise food choices.  Limit temptations by getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night.  Alcohol may make you feel relaxed or even sleepy.  However, alcohol does not allow for quality of sleep as it prevents you from reaching the “deep sleep” zone that is thought to be a restorative phase for athletes.

2. Eat Regular Meals Throughout the Day

Starving yourself all day long so you can let loose later that evening will not work in your favor.  If you have a holiday dinner in the evening, follow your regular eating schedule to avoid overeating by including balanced meals and small healthy snacks throughout the day. High fibre, lean protein and healthy fats/oils help keep your appetite inline.

3. Keep Active

You don’t need to reach personal bests in your holiday workout routine.  Rather, aim to include activities over the break that allow for movement and keeping you in a healthy mindset. Try something different from what you do in training and competition.  Perhaps some good old bowling, family trail walks/hikes, wall climbing, skiing, snowshoeing, ice-skating or yoga.  Keep it fun!

4. Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is a major cause of poor performance and can be misinterpreted for cravings!  Aim for 8-10 cups of fluid each day. Drinking water before each meal will curb your appetite and keep you from overindulging. Limit intake of high calorie drinks such as eggnog and those fancy coffee beverages made with whole milk, syrup, sugar and whip cream. Have water with frozen berries and or lemon, try lighter options of hot beverages by substituting whole milk for lower fat milk or alternatives such as a Steamer (add cinnamon/vanilla/hazelnut flavoring).

5. Limit your alcohol

Remember, alcohol is a diuretic. Be sure to limit your intake of alcohol for safety, health and sport performance reasons. Alcohol can increase spontaneity and lead to over-indulgences in eating choices.  Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages can be high in calories and simple sugars.  Choosing lower sugar drinks such as a wine and soda mix or carbonated water with a splash of fruit juice can be simple ways to decrease sugar intake. For every 1 alcoholic beverage consume 1-2 non-alcoholic beverages (steamer, chocolate milk, water, sparkling water, etc).

6. Take Ownership of the Situation

When bringing or making something for the party, bring a healthy option.  Chances are everyone else will be glad you did!  Fruit platters/salad, hard-boiled eggs stuffed with hummus (yolks removed), mini yogurt parfaits, date & nut bites, or a box of oranges are just a few ways to remind you to stay on track. Keep reading for a couple recipes. Don’t forget, you can mingle away from the food display!

7. Everything in Moderation – 80/20 Rule

Staying mindful over the holidays does not mean you have to drink your vegetable smoothie all night long.  Follow the 80/20 rule. This means eat planned and on purpose healthy meals and snacks 80% of the time and enjoy holiday treats 20% of the time. At a party or event, scan the food and dessert arrangements first, and then decide what is worth putting on your plate.  Don’t forget to load up on raw or steamed veggies, have 2-3 ounces of turkey or another lean protein option and opt for roasted potatoes or light mashed potatoes with low fat milk and light sour cream. Save some room on your plate for the less nutrient dense foods (perogies, gravy, stuffing, etc), but choose these options less often. Don’t forget to slow down (chew – don’t swallow whole!), savour your food and just enjoy the moment.

8. Keep Your Routine!

The spontaneity and loose routines of the holiday season often takes its toll on your normal schedule.  Most of us do well when we are in a routine and maintain sleep, eating and exercise habits.  Try to keep as much of your routine or create purposeful structure within your holiday season as much as possible.  Plan your meals and snacks, eat regularly, set up which days and when you will get a workout it – even if the workout is not quite what you normally would do.  Make sure to wake up and go to bed as consistently as you can.

Tips from our Psychology team:

For many people, the holiday season conjures thoughts of baking, treats, and lots of social events. If you’re an athlete with particular nutrition goals for supporting your training and performance, this may cause feelings of stress or anxiety. Here are some tips for navigating the holidays in a way that lets you balance your athletic goals with the rest of your life:

  • Remember: you’re a human being first, and an athlete second. Enjoying time with loved ones, participating in valued cultural practices or traditions, and connecting with parts of your identity beyond that of an athlete are important aspects of supporting overall health and well-being – which is actually beneficial for performance!
  • Before going to a social event, make a plan for how you want to approach the food and drink offerings. Thinking through a plan ahead of time, away from social pressures and the many options that may be available makes decision-making easier.
  • Make thoughtful choices. Are there certain special treats that only come out during the holidays? Choose those over the ones that are available at your local grocery store year-round.
  • Practice mindful eating. Paying attention to what you’re eating using all five senses can help you slow down and avoid mindless over-eating.
  • “None for me, thanks. It looks delicious, though.” Lots of people worry that they are being disrespectful to their host if they turn down what is offered, but sacrificing your own goals for the sake of being polite is equally disrespectful to yourself. Communication can be both assertive and respectful. Bonus tip: steer clear of common favourites like “I shouldn’t” or “I’d better not”. Phrasing things in this way can carry a tone of judgment or criticism while leaving your choice up for a debate, making it neither assertive nor respectful!

At the end of the day, be gracious with yourself. Holidays can be tricky and even the best plans can go sideways. Criticizing and judging yourself doesn’t make things any easier, and in fact can make subsequent decisions even more difficult.

Heading to a potluck?

Consider making one of these surprisingly quick and easy recipes so that you can snack on a sweet treat that is more likely to fit within your nutrition goals.

Date & Nut Bites

In a food processor or strong blender, combine about 20 medjool dates (pitted), 1/2 cup slivered almonds, 1 cup shredded coconut and process until smooth. Check your mix – depending on the moisture content of your dates; you might need to add a tablespoon or two of water (or a splash of vanilla extract) to get a consistency that will stick together. Scoop up a spoonful at a time and press/roll together to make a ball. Store the bites in a sealed container in the fridge.

You can easily add or change your ingredients, depending on your preferences. We like to stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips (dark chocolate has several health benefits when consumed in moderation). Adding cocoa powder would make a chocolate bite.

🎁 Holiday Idea 🎁
To make these look fancier, try rolling the bites in additional coconut and call them something festive like a Date & Nut Snowball.

⭐️ Substitute different nuts or seeds for different flavours. Try walnuts or cashews.
⭐️ Substitute 1/2 cup of dates with raisins or other dried fruit to increase Vitamin C.
⭐️ Add in a scoop of protein powder and a bit more water to give an additional protein boost (athletes, make sure you are using a sport approved protein powder).

Why these are great:
⭐️ They taste amazing.
⭐️ They are easy to make and customize to your taste.
⭐️ You can take them on the go with little mess.
⭐️ They last a few days in the fridge or about a month in the freezer.
⭐️ The combination of fibre from the dates and fat and protein from the nuts takes your body longer to break down and digest, meaning you will feel full longer.

No Bake Energy Bites

In a large bowl, combine about 1/2 to 3/4 cup peanut butter, 2 tbsp honey, 1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup Rice Krispies, 1/4 cup chocolate chips and stir until mixed. Check your mix – depending on the moisture content of your nut butter, you might need to add a splash of vanilla extract or extra cereal to get a consistency that will stick together without being too sticky. Scoop up a spoonful at a time and press/roll together to make a ball. Store the bites in a sealed container in the fridge.

You can easily add or change your ingredients, depending on your preferences. If you might be bringing these to an event where someone might have a peanut allergy, try using almond butter or Wow Butter.

🎁 Holiday Idea 🎁
To make these look fancier, instead of stirring the chocolate chips into the mixture, try melting the chocolate and dipping or drizzling it on the balls. You don’t need fancy tools – melt the chocolate in the microwave (stir every 30 seconds until smooth), transfer it into a ziplock bag and cut a tiny bit off of the corner. Squeeze the bag to control your chocolate drizzle.

⭐️ Substitute different add-ins for different flavours. Instead of (or as well as) chocolate chips, you could try adding raisins, craisins, coconut flakes, chia seeds, hemp hearts
⭐️ Adding in a bit of cocoa powder would make these a more chocolatey bite!

Why these are great:
⭐️ They taste amazing.
⭐️ They are easy to make and customize to your taste.
⭐️ You can take them on the go with little mess.
⭐️ They last a few days in the fridge or about a month in the freezer.
⭐️ The combination of carbohydrates and protein make it a great recovery snack!