9 Thanksgiving Dishes and Their Sports Nutrition Benefit

by Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
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9 Thanksgiving Dishes and Their Sports Nutrition Benefit

It’s easy to get anxious about the holidays wreaking havoc on your healthy, fit lifestyle. Tables full of rich, comforting meals, tempting desserts and time spent away from training can put any athlete on edge. Instead of fretting this holiday season, use it to your advantage.

Holiday meals might come with a bad reputation, but there are dishes that have nutritional benefits that can be used in your favor. So, be confident that you can still fuel your fitness, in a festive way.

Here is a holiday menu that can actually help fuel your body:


Shrimp is low in calories and high in protein. Eating this appetizer can help fill you up, build muscle and not add much to your overall caloric load. Beyond the quality protein, shrimp contains zinc and selenium which help strengthen the immune system, something every athlete needs for strong training all winter long.

A handful of spiced holiday nuts is a great way to boost intake of healthful fats which provides satiety and fuels endurance activities. Mixed nuts also provide a plethora of vitamins and minerals including vitamin E which works as an antioxidant to help limit muscle soreness.


This holiday dinner table staple provides high-quality lean protein rich in the essential amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan works to balance mood and promote quality sleep — two things athletes need to mentally recharge between holiday stress and hard training sessions.

This flavorful meat has a healthier fat profile than typical animal proteins. Part of that fat profile is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is thought to stimulate fat metabolism and reduce fat stores. Besides fat and protein, there is a high amount of vitamin B12 in lamb which is involved in metabolic enzymatic processes that provide the body with more energy to use.


You can’t go wrong with a plate loaded with roasted vegetables — holiday or not. These boost your fiber and phytonutrient intake without weighing you down. A little maple syrup won’t hurt as this natural sweetener contains potassium, zinc and even calcium.

This classic holiday side dish might be heavy, but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided. Potatoes are loaded with potassium which helps runners maintain blood pressure, cardiac function and prevents cramping by regulating electrolyte balance. They also provide energy to burn by supplying easy-to-digest carbohydrates.

Swap the fried onion topping for ginger, and you’ll have a meal fit to fuel your active body. Ginger can help stimulate metabolism and calm the stomach (which we all need after a heavy holiday feast). Green beans may seem basic, but this vegetable is loaded with B vitamins, fiber and vitamin K to keep energy levels high, hunger levels low and bones strong.


Like white potatoes, yellow hued sweet potatoes are rich in athlete-needed potassium. However, what makes them uniquely healthful is the vitamin A content which is roughly 400% higher than a white potato. Vitamin A is vital for a high-functioning immune system. While these vegetables might be turned into a dessert, the high fiber content of the potatoes helps stabilize blood sugar.

Sipping this holiday beverage helps promote a calm, happy feeling (due to boosting serotonin levels), but the benefits go beyond mood enhancement. Cocoa is loaded with antioxidants and flavonoids that have been linked with improved cognition and improved nitric oxide levels (just like red beets do to boost how much oxygen can be delivered to working muscles through blood flow).


At the end of the season, you want to make sure you enjoyed the holidays. So don’t be afraid to indulge a little and remember the holidays are about more than just food. To keep fueling your health throughout this season, turn to the dishes listed above to provide your body with the nutrients needed to run that extra mile.

If these exact meals aren’t on your menu, focus on loading your holiday plate with whole ingredients that are minimally processed, seasonal, bright and colorful.

About the Author

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD

Lori, MS RD CSSD is an accomplished sports dietitian; she holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Certification as a Specialist in Sports Nutrition. As a current professional road cyclist and previous elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Lori knows firsthand that food can enhance or diminish performance gains. She understands the importance of balancing a quality whole food based diet with science-backed performance nutrition and strives to share this message with others. Learn more about her @HungryForResults.


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