We’re closing in on that season of family, friends, parties and yes, overindulging. Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are favorite stopping points for runners looking to refuel following a long, hard season.
There are plenty of foods that can deliver what your body needs to repair muscles and get ready for the next cycle of training. Think of lean turkey, squash and sweet potatoes as powerhouse foods you can use for long lasting fuel. But holidays also a time for a little indulgence, no? Mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie and warm latkes topped with applesauce are all high on most runners’ lists.
According to Torey Armul, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the average American will eat between 1,000 and 2,000 calories at a holiday dinner.
“Surprisingly, the big meal isn’t the biggest problem with holiday overindulging,” she says. “Far worse are the following days and weeks of leftovers, desserts and holiday parties.”
Armul wants you to know that one meal will never make or break a healthy lifestyle. “Your overall eating and exercise patterns are most important,” she says.
Her best tip? “Exercise and stay active over the holidays.”
Up for the challenge? Here are eight holiday classics and eight fun activities for keeping the exercise level high while enjoying all your favorites:
1) Turkey: One 4 ounce serving tops out around 190 calories.
Fun activity: Go for a bike ride with friends. Riding at about 14 mph will burn about 48 calories per mile. Plus, the fresh air will serve you well post-football game viewing.
2) Stuffing: Who doesn’t love stuffing? One cup runs about 355 calories.
Fun activity: Football is a constant throughout the holidays, how about a game with the kids? You can burn 328 calories in just a half hour of playtime.
3) Mashed potatoes: Served without gravy, expect to consume around 238 calories per one-cup serving.
Fun activity: One hour of moderate weight lifting can burn about 112 calories, plus add muscle, which can help prevent imbalances and injury down the road.
4) Green bean casserole: A tasty dish that also provides a serving of vegetables, a serving of green bean casserole has a mere 143 calories per serving.
Fun activity: Yoga. A restorative 45-minute long hatha yoga class will not only loosen you up from all that sitting around the table, but burns 135 calories to boot.
5) Biscuit with butter: The meal isn’t complete without the bread, no? Grab a biscuit for 106 calories—add a tablespoon of butter for another 100 calories.
Fun activity: Swimming. If you’ve got a pool nearby and the weather outside is frightful, swimming 1,000 meters (or about 40 laps in a 25-meter pool) will torch 250 calories.
6) Sweet potato casserole: Nutrition hiding in a very sweet package, one serving totals about 276 calories.
Fun activity: A high intensity interval training (HIIT) session. Whether at the local gym or via a YouTube video, these workouts get the heart rate up and burn off 314 calories in a 30-minute session.
7) Gravy: Because what are turkey, roast beef or mashed potatoes without it? A half-cup serving amounts to about 178 calories.
Fun activity: Jump rope with the kids—they will love it and you will get a killer, heart-pumping workout that takes care of 125 calories in just 10 minutes.
8) Pumpkin pie: A dessert that provides a healthy dose of vitamins, a slice of pumpkin pie weighs in at about 323 calories.
Fun activity: A family-friendly game of basketball will burn about 204 calories in a 30-minute time frame.
If none of these alternate activities appeal, there’s always the local Turkey Trot or Ugly Sweater Run. A typical 5K run at a 10-minute pace will crush around 228 calories.
At the end of the day, Armul says, don’t worry about splurging on a holiday meal. “Weight and health problems arise as a compilation of many poor choices and long-term calorie surplus,” she says. “Exercise is a great motivation to feed and fuel your body properly.”
She also reminds runners not to let themselves go hungry, whether in prep for a big meal or throughout the holidays. “When you feel like you’re starving, it’s easier to make poor food choices and miss your body’s fullness cues,” she says. “Plan ahead with healthy protein- and fiber-containing snacks every three to four hours to keep your appetite in check.”
Her final tip: “Save your calories for the foods you love most, foods that are special and unique to you this time of year,” she says. “Skip the stuff you can find year round, like crackers, candy, donuts or ice cream.”
Keep active, enjoy that big meal and then return to your daily, healthy lifestyle.
READ MORE: How to Train for Your Holiday Dinners