Holiday Food: Drafting a Winning Lineup

IMAGE One of the many perks of being an athlete is that when the holidays come around, you do not have to worry so much about a few—or more likely a few hundred—extra calories. First of all, your energy needs are much higher than those whose idea of a sport is a particularly cutthroat game of foosball. And secondly, any weight that sneaks on during the holidays is just as easily shed in January when athletes fall back into their normal routine of eating and working out. Although the period from Thanksgiving until just after New Years is somewhat of a nutritional black hole, there are actually plenty of foods in the holiday buffet that can fit quite nicely into an athlete's game plan. The secret is to draft the best foods for your dietary lineup. If you are an athlete, here are some of the most promising players in the typical holiday pool, and some tips for enhancing their performance.

Pre-game Standouts

Shrimp cocktail—This lean source of protein is also swimming in selenium, a potent antioxidant. Selenium may boost the immune system and, like other antioxidants, can help reduce the risk for heart disease and cancer. Go for the extra point—dip in cocktail sauce, not butter. Antipasto—The vegetables in this Italian delight—peppers, olives, artichokes, and mushrooms—are filled with phytochemicals, which are plant chemicals that enhance immunity and lower the risk for chronic disease. Nosh on a few pieces of cheese for some calcium, essential for strong bones. Go for the extra point—savor just a couple slices of pepperoni and focus more on the vegetables in this dish. Mixed nuts—Scoop up a handful of selenium, fiber, protein, vitamin E, and magnesium. Stored in bones and muscles, magnesium is crucial for endurance performance. And while nuts are relatively high in fat, it is mostly the good-for-your-heart unsaturated type. Go for the extra point—choose dry roasted over oil roasted, and add raisins or dried cranberries to the mix.

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