Holiday Recipes for Athletes

The holiday season can be difficult to navigate for not only athletes, but also highly active adults. While there are plenty of wonderful things about the holiday season, stress builds as schedules are even more packed than normal and rearranged. When training routines, travel and dietary changes bring anxiety, it can feel like food is something you can control. But, restriction does more harm than good, both physically and mentally. These holiday recipes for athletes ensure you’re getting what you need and enjoying the flavors of the season!

holiday sports nutrition

Eating for Training and Performance

It’s also important to note that fitness nutrition is not just for serious athletes. If your activity level is higher than the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, the extra (helpful) stress that you put on your muscles, joints, cardiovascular and respiratory systems, will need a bit more nutrition. This extra stress from exercise is beneficial: in response to it, our body wants to adapt and become stronger. But, we put ourselves at higher risk of injury and illness if our diets aren’t adequate to support our recovery needs.

Adequate nutrient intake and timing are important for training, recovery and performance, but food intake doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Athletes and fitness fanatics can enjoy the festivities while still maximizing training and performance. You can also read more about the best ways to navigate eating during this joyous, but busy season.

While I do have a post dedicated to holiday recipes that are great pre-workout and post-workout, the truth is what we eat all day long impacts energy levels and recovery! If you eat enough calories pre-workout, but not the rest of the day, your pre-workout snack or meal won’t make that big of a difference. If you eat protein after a workout but never have it in breakfast? That’s a problem.

Nutrients Crucial to Performance

In addition to enough energy and protein, you want to aim for getting lots of color in your diet from plants. The more colors you eat, the wider variety of antioxidants you’ll get. This helps to manage inflammation and support recovery. Still, there’s one mineral, a couple of vitamins and an essential fat you’ll want to pay attention to, and that doesn’t change during the holiday season.

Iron needs go up with increased activity, and females especially should be aware of this. Iron is what transports oxygen in your red blood cells so it can get to your muscles for energy metabolism. It also is a main component of our body’s major energy generating system (the electron transport chain!). The more you move, the more you need. When you don’t have enough, you’ll be feeling more fatigued during workouts and throughout the day!

Vitamin C is especially important for endurance athletes and anyone who participates in cold weather sports. I’m looking at you runners, cyclists, hockey players and skiers! Those activities put added stress on the lungs that some extra vitamin C can support. Help reduce the chance of seasonal upper respiratory tract infections when your diet is adequate in energy, carbs, protein and immune nutrients like C.

Your joints and vascular system have more stress on them than the average American, too. Consuming enough Omega 3 fatty acids is important, and most Americans do not get enough. While we use the blanket term “omega-3”, there are actually different types of this fat. EPA is the type most important in adulthood for regulating inflammatory processes, thereby supporting joints, heart health, and muscle recovery, as well as brain health. We know we can consume enough of this by eating fatty fish twice per week. While chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts are good sources of omega-3 ALA, we don’t know how much converts into DHA. You still want to eat those sources, but if you don’t eat fish, may want to consider adding an algae supplement.

Those fatty fish also provide plenty of vitamin D, which is not in many foods and is important for fast twitch muscle fibers, antioxidant functions, bone health and mood.

Holiday Recipes for Athletes

Balanced in macronutrients and rich in one or more of the nutrients covered above, these recipes and their add ons provide the flavors of the season. The meals in the post-workout holiday roundup are sufficient for lunches and dinners. So, here we’re featuring salads, snacks, and even beverages that might sit a bit better when eaten outside of pre and post-workout eating windows. Go ahead, eat, drink and be merry while you nourish your body!


holiday broccoli salad

Broccoli Pomegranate Salad Shaw Simple Swaps

This salad is also rich in Vitamin C and iron, but myself and Liz recommend you add a protein to make this a more complete meal. Tofu, chicken, salmon, whatever! Need a bit more for your training? Throw some quinoa in, too, or have whole grain bread on the side.

Make Ahead Cranberry Orange Kale Salad – Grateful Grazer
This salad increases your intake of important antioxidants to lower inflammation and speed recovery, as well as Vitamin C and Iron. For a perfectly balanced meal, I recommend prepping tofu or chicken in advance as well as your favorite grain and mixing them in when packing lunches.

Christmas Tree Salad, – 20’s Nutrition

This salad is bursting with vitamin C, too, but the dressing has kombucha in it! Gut health is something athletes should pay special attention to since their GI tract and bodies experience more stress than the average person. Kombucha contains good gut bacteria. Feel free to finish the bottle for a gut boost and carbs, too.

Maple Swiss Chard Salad with Turkey – It’s a Veg World After All

If you enjoy turkey on Christmas, this salad is perfect for your leftovers! With maple, cranberry, and nuts, it’ll feel so festive while maintaining high nutrient density. Add in your favorite whole grain or pair with some bread!



holiday nuts
Holiday Spiced Nuts from Dixya Bhattarai at Food Pleasure Health have cinnamon which has shown to be good for circulation (think nutrient and oxygen delivery to muscles!) and has been shown to get glucose into your cells a bit more effectively. The latter can be good for energy replenishment if you pair the nuts with a piece of fruit. If you add walnuts into the mix, you’re getting some omega-3 ALA.
Keep these Cinnamon Spiced Roasted Walnuts via Liz Weiss of Liz’s Healthy Table around this season as a nutrient rich snack. Nuts contain vitamin E, a really important antioxidant that most American’s slack on.
For one last nut recipe, you can try my Maple Chia Spiced Pecans and Walnuts. They’re a staple from Thanksgiving through the new year in my house and both the walnuts and chia seeds provide lots of omega-3 ALA.
Believe it or not, night time snacks are important for recovery! Growth hormone is it’s highest right after a workout and right after you fall asleep. If nutrients aren’t hanging around, it won’t be able to do it’s job as well.

Pomegranate Crunch Dark Chocolate Ricotta Cups via Amy Gorin, RD.
These give you a little bit of sweet plus a few grams of protein to replenish energy stores and repair your muscles even when you’re enjoying dessert. I recommend piling a bit more ricotta into the recipe for more protein, and pairing with a glass of low-fat milk or soy milk.

Cran-Almond Energy Bars  via Champagne Nutrition
These may be a bit high in healthy-fats for pre-workout, but are great any other time of day!


The cookies below may work for you as a pre-exercise snack! it totally depends on your digestive health. If you know you’re a bit sensitive to GI cramping during exercise, save these to snack on other times of the day. Stomach of steel? Go ahead and grab one before you move and top with some nut butter if you’ll have more than 45 minutes.

soft chewy vegan cookiex
Christmas Cookies with White Chocolate, Cranberries and Pistachio via Whitney E. RD.

If you throw in some extra pistachios, you’ll make them a bit more rich in minerals essential for blood and immune health like zinc, copper, and iron. This recipe uses “flax eggs” instead of real eggs for an ALA omega 3 boost.

Oatmeal Raisin Peppermint Cookies.  via Bucket List Tummy.
Mint is not only a holiday flavor but is great for calming your stomach and can act as an antibacterial to support immunity. Bonus if you’re exercising in the cold weather a lot!

Vegan Cranberry Macadamia Cookies via Kelly Jones Nutrition.
A personal favorite, these even work pre-workout for me, and I have a somewhat sensitive stomach. If you don’t love cranberries, add some pumpkin spice seasoning and chocolate chips!

Cocktails and Mocktails

While alcohol in excess can impair muscle recovery and lead to dehydration, both harming your progress and performance, yes, you can enjoy cocktails, too! While a glass of red wine might be my first recommendation, it can get boring and this season is all about fun and festivity. Just practice moderation and stay hydrated with water when you’re imbibing too. Staying away from the alcohol? You can skip the alcohol in any of these and add some extra club soda or sparkling water.

Non Alcoholic Cranberry Spritzer. A drink recipe that is the perfect signature cocktail for any party, holiday, shower, or graduation. Can be made with alcohol or as a non-alcoholic drink recipe. A cranberry drink recipe that is low calorie.
Cranberry Spritzer Cocktail or Mocktail via Create Kids Club.
You you can make in a big batch for a holidays celebration! It includes a touch of nutmeg which has great antioxidant potential.

Gin Ginger Beet Cocktail via Champagne Nutrition might as well have been made for athletes (yes, you still should practice moderation). Beets contain natural nitrates to dilate blood vessels, increasing blood flow and therefore nutrient delivery to the muscles. Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory that is great for your gut, may reduce muscle soreness, and has been shown to benefit heart health.

Pomegranate Orange Mulled Wine via Whitney English
Don’t just pour a boring glass of red. Try this to get in the holiday spirit!

Hope all you active readers enjoy the holiday season with these
festive eats, treats and drinks!

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