Eat Like a Pro Athlete at Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving and the entire holiday season can be a nutritional nightmare for weight and performance conscious endurance athletes. While fear over gaining performance robbing pounds is certainly a concern, most athletes also understand that sugar and fat laden diets can further undermine performance. Nutrition is certainly a secret ingredient to boosting “in-season” performance. Off-season nutrition, as we’ll see below, should be viewed in a similar light but with a focus on maintaining the status quo and not undermining improvements made in the previous season.

Rather that reinvent the wheel, we asked some of our favorite Doc’s Skincare sponsored athletes for their tips and tricks on how to enjoy the holidays without getting behind (too much) on the upcoming season. We found their responses to be spot-on and very practical. Their insight will be sure to help you this holiday season and you too can eat like a pro athlete at Thanksgiving.  What you will find is MORE than just “what to eat on Thanksgiving Day” or “what to eat on Thanksgiving that is healthy”.  This stuff is pure gold and will help you avoid any nutrition snafu during any holiday, party or sport-eating event.

Top advice from someone who should know

Breanne Nadler is a professional cyclist with DNA p/b K4 Racing. In addition to being an all around phenom on the road, she earned a BS in Biology AND a Masters degree in Nutrition and Sports Dietetics from the University of Utah. She is licensed as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). The bottom line is:

  • She’s fast on a bike
  • She’s smart as heck
  • She knows something about the stuff your putting in your mouth

Her on-the-bike accolades include being the top amateur finisher in the US Pro National road race in 2014, NRC podium finishes at the Cascade Classic and Mt Hood stage races, overall UCA points leader 2013, and Utah state time trial and hill climb champion 2013 and 2014.

When we asked Breanne for a little help with “how to eat like a pro at Thanksgiving”, it turns out that she’d already written an entire article on the subject. As she puts it, an athlete’s focus over Thanksgiving (and the whole holiday season in fact) shouldn’t be weight loss but focusing on how to “better manage their training and eating throughout the holiday season and, thus, be ready to ramp up their training in the spring (vs simply trying to undo all the damage they did over the winter months!)”.

Interestingly, Breanne tells that most people do not gain as much weight on average as they assume. Instead of the 7-10 pounds that most people guess, the average amount of weight that people gain amounts to only a single pound. The overall health and weight issue develops because that single pound is rarely lost so “that seemingly small amount of weight gained over a given holiday season can add up over the years”.

Make sure you check out her favorite athlete-friendly treats here.

Here are some of her “tried and true strategies” for maintaining sound nutrition over Thanksgiving and the rest of the holidays:

• Take preventative measures: If you tend to overeat at parties, try eating a low-calorie snack to help curb your appetite before leaving the house. Chances are if you arrive at the party ravenous, you will overeat.
• Don’t vow to eat nothing at a special event: In doing so, you will just be setting yourself up for failure and subsequent guilt. Instead, limit your selections to foods you don’t typically eat and keep your portion sizes under control.
• When it comes to seconds, use the 20- minute rule: It typically takes 20 minutes after you have eaten for your satiety center to kick in and register that you are full. Thus, before going back for a second helping, wait 20 minutes. If you still feel hungry, go for seconds but keep your portion sizes small and go easy on the high-fat, high-calorie foods.
• Share the wealth: If you host a party or dinner, have disposable containers available for guests to take home leftovers. This will help get tempting foods out of your house entirely!
• Bring the healthy dish: When contributing to the party, take something low in calories and high in nutrition, such as raw vegetables and hummus, fresh fruit, or a less guilty desert.
• Go easy on the alcohol: Most people are well aware of the added poundage that can be brought on by mashed potatoes and gravy or pecan pie. Don’t underestimate that alcohol itself is chock-full of calories (kcals). For example, a typical two ounces of alcohol (such as might be found in a typical mixed drink) contains approximately 141 kcals, and that’s not including the mixer, which can easily add another 100-300 kcals! An eight-ounce glass of eggnog with rum contains 400 kcals. Beer and wine may be smarter options, with 150 kcals for a typical serving (i.e., 12 and eight ounces, respectively). And research suggests that those additional alcohol calories are stored as fat instead of used for energy. In addition, alcohol tends to distort our nutritional judgment, causing us to consume more high-calorie, high-fat foods than we would if we were not under the influence.
Exercise! While it is a good idea to balance your energy intake with the appropriate amount of exercise on a regular basis, it is particularly important during the off season. Unfortunately, many cyclists use the excuse of a “hectic holiday schedule” to sideline their exercise program. Colder temperatures and shorter days can also make cycling (outside) uncomfortable and even unsafe. Rather than ditch the training programs altogether, cyclists should explore the multitude of winter sports in their area, preferably those that compliment or enhance their cycling such as Nordic and/or alpine skiing, ice-skating and snowshoeing. This would also be a good time to get back into the weight room and work on your strength and power (not to mention your bone health!). And, of course, there are numerous indoor cycling options ranging from group spin classes to stationary bikes and trainers that you can purchase for your own personal use at home.

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Learning from a notorious “sport-eater”

Troy Wells races for the Team CLIF Bar Mountain Bike & Cyclocross squads. Per his team’s website: “Troy can also eat a ridiculous amount of food. On the way to CrossVegas one year, Troy downed a burrito that was the size of a large house cat. The folks who ran the restaurant all came out to meet him when they’d heard he cleaned his plate. It was pretty impressive. And a little gross.” So we figured that Troy would know a little something about eating well and keeping that endurance athlete physique in check.

Troy’s tidbits include:

  • Get your workout in early on thanksgiving. People love to eat at crazy times. Who eats dinner @ 2 p.m?
  • Don’t eat what you don’t enjoy. Just because its on the table doesn’t mean you have to eat it or sample it.
  • Don’t stress about eating to much food. It’s not like you are going to gain more than one pound off of one meal.
  • Just go to sleep let the tryptophan do its work.
  • Eat the leftover pies as your recovery meal after training for the next couple days.
  • I normally only have a leftover meal the day after. You can only eat the same turkey meal so many days in a row.
  • Lucky for me I’m normally in the middle of the season so I don’t need to find motivation to train around the holiday.
  • A great time of the year to do the thanksgiving 5k or go for a hike in the a.m

Sometimes the best advice is simple

Jacob Rathe is an American professional road racing cyclist who rides for Jelly Belly-Maxxis and lives in Portland, OR. His accolades include 2nd in the 2011National U-23 Road Race Championships, 3rd in the 2011 Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, 7th in the 2014 National Road Race Championships and 9th in the 2014 Philadelphia International Championships. We’ve had the great opportunity of spending a little time with him since Doc’s started sponsoring Jelly Belly in 2015.  Noticing his wit and pragmatism, we thought his advice would be perfect and to-the-point.

Not one to disappoint, his advice is simple: “Do as big of a ride as possible, then eat as much as possible, then fall asleep at 6. ”

Putting it together

Surviving the holiday season for a nutrition-conscious athlete doesn’t have to be daunting or centered on self-denial. Even professional athletes enjoy themselves when sweets and treats appear around every corner, meeting, party and meal. Keeping one’s body primed and ready for the upcoming season can be as simple as using a few simple strategies.

What are your strategies for surviving the holiday season? Post your comments below or let us know at