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Fueling for Success: 5 Mindful Eating Tips for Athletes During the Holiday Season | LA Galaxy Performance Blog presented by Herbalife


Herbalife is the sports nutrition and presenting partner for the LA Galaxy. Herbalife Dietitians work closely with the LA Galaxy technical staff to make sure we are maximizing their nutrition to support performance goals.

The holiday season is a time for celebration, joy, and irreplaceable memories with friends and family. For many, the holiday season is also a time for indulgence, festive feasts, and sweet treats during gatherings. During this time of the year, athletes may be challenged with many tempting obstacles that may impede their ability to maintain or achieve their fitness, nutrition, and performance goals. This article outlines nutrition tips for athletes during the holiday season and explores the importance of mindful eating and sustainable nutrition.

Nutrition Tips for the Holidays

1.   Plan Ahead

Instead of “saving up” calories for a big food-centric gathering, plan to consume your regular meals and snacks leading up to any holiday event. Restriction prior to a holiday meal can cause you to be over-hungry, which can lead to bingeing, which can then result in being uncomfortably full. Fueling adequately before attending a family feast will help prevent you from overeating as a consequence of feeling famished or depleted. Eating regular meals and snacks helps stabilize your hunger levels and helps you to make better choices. Another reason to avoid this type of restriction leading up to a holiday gathering is that it leaves you with less energy available to fuel your training sessions. This lower level of energy availability has the potential to lead to both less effective workouts and less effective recovery.

Whether you have just one or you have multiple holiday gatherings to attend, it is especially helpful to go into each event with a plan. In advance, decide what your priorities and boundaries are in order to reduce the chance of impulsive or maladaptive choices that could potentially counteract your performance goals. Once you arrive at the holiday gathering, survey the options before building your plate so you can make the most mindful choices.

2.   Stick with Your Performance Plate

When in doubt, stick with your performance plate guidelines when building your plate at holiday gatherings. Prioritize colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains when possible to obtain the essential nutrients you need to support both performance and overall wellness. It is also important to stay well hydrated throughout the day, especially if attending a gathering with alcohol.

In general, using your typical performance plate as your base for a balanced meal and then adding a treat or two will ensure you are consuming the nutrients you need while also giving you the satisfaction necessary for a sustainable nutrition plan.

3.   Balance Indulgences by Practicing Mindful Eating

Leave room for joy on your performance plate by carefully selecting seasonal treats. Many of the foods and beverages you will see at a potluck or family dinner are typically only available during this time of the year.

Opt to enjoy your favorite seasonal treats rather than piling every single seasonal option onto your plate with full abandon. Think about which items will bring you the most joy and satisfaction and stick with modest portions of those foods. Balancing your indulgences in this way allows you to enjoy your favorite holiday treats in moderation and without overindulging.

Mindful eating involves being fully present during your meals, chewing each bite carefully, and savoring your food as well as the company of friends and family to get that additional psychological benefit. Slowing down while eating, waiting some time before you grab seconds, and avoiding grazing can help you to better gauge your hunger and fullness levels so you can eat to fulfillment without feeling overstuffed later on.

4.   Listen to Your Body

A major component of mindful eating is to listen to your body. This means paying attention to not only how you feel during a meal (i.e., hunger/fullness cues), but also paying attention to how your body feels in the hours after finishing a meal.

If you notice that certain foods or dishes leave you feeling bloated, sluggish, or uncomfortable later on, consider if you want to continue eating those foods at future gatherings, or consider reducing portions so you can still enjoy them. Many people will stuff themselves at holiday meals so much so that they are still feeling full and sluggish the following day. By listening to your body, you can avoid the “holiday hangover” and get back into your regular training or active lifestyle the next day without interruption.

5.   Give Yourself Grace

Finally, give yourself some grace. If you get to a point where you are over-full and uncomfortable, then use this situation as a lesson for the next event you attend. This also means that you should not beat yourself up or overcompensate with restriction or overtraining. Simply resume your normal nutrient-dense diet and restart your regular routine activity.

Rather than obsessively stressing about “staying on track,” eating mindfully and with intention allows you to be more present during the holiday season so you can focus on what truly matters to you. Remember, the holidays are a time for celebration and festivities with loved ones that athletes can partake in, especially while making mindful choices that help support overall well-being.

As you can see, your nutrition approach to the holiday season as an athlete can include all of your favorite treats in moderation without any additional stress or overindulgence. Following these tips and listening to your body can help you successfully stay on top of your nutrition plan so you can achieve your individual performance goals.