Holiday Season Survival Guide for Athletes (and others!)

With Halloween now come and gone, yet another holiday season begins. Just like with Pavlov’s dog, a looming holiday season brings thoughts of cookies and cakes, turkey and trimmings, pumpkin and pecan pies.  Moreover, with racing season on the low down, it is easy to pack on the off season pounds.

With a survival guide and a plan of action you do not have to forego the traditions and feasts of this time in order to remain at competing weight. In essence, match your nutrition choices to the specific requirements of being in recovery at the macro level.   What this means is: eat in accordance with THAT DAY’s training levels.  The difference in energy expenditure between a day off and even a moderate training day can be enormous.

Holiday survival modifications add up and are helpful in maintaining your race weight.  Making small changes even on a daily basis helps compensate for variance in activity factor and caloric expenditure. These tips focus on the best weight management strategies during the holiday season to maintain the optimal weight or body composition for the training season.

Many athletes do not know how to reduce the caloric intake when training duration and intensity subsides once racing season is over. Caloric deficit at this time is crucial for weight maintenance because not only are you burning less calories but the holiday season is notorious for caloric dense foods.

Some simple tips to note the calories and still partake in the festivities:


  • Even if you are continuing a strength training regimen, cut out the use of sports nutrition energy bars, drinks and gels, which are formulated for endurance (such as endurox, accelerade, gu, etc).
  • Be aware of caloric dense foods versus nutrient dense foods. In place of the bars, opt for the earthy, clean alternatives such as (non-processed) fruits, vegetables and whole grains which are more nutrient dense as opposed to calorie dense bars and gels.  Dense carbs that were important for glycogen restoration, such as power bagels, can be replaced with lighter, lower calorie whole grain breads, such as whole grain English muffins or whole wheat pasta and brown rice.


  • Do not go to seasonal gatherings hungry. Hunger is a strong physiological drive and thus giving in to temptation is highly likely when your brain is not fed. Metabolism is raised when you eat every 2 to 3 hours. Keep up with this philosophy even through the season. Do not save calories for a big festive meal. Have a snack or light meal and drink plenty of water before facing a huge buffet.  Having a full stomach aids in appetite suppression.
  • Eating every few hours also means keeping portion size appropriate. You may have gotten used to eating larger portion sizes while training and old habits die hard. Remember, ½  cup cooked pasta, rice or potatoes is a realistic serving size for weight maintenance, but these portions may seem tiny when you are faced with festive meals.  PAY ATTENTION. As little as 100 extra calories per day can amount to an increase in 15 lbs of fat gain between Thanksgiving and New Year.


Being accountable to weight management during this time may seem unfestive, but that is just the point – do not use the “holiday season” as an all out excuse. After all,  it’s a  holiday, not a holimonth.

Plan ahead. Willpower requires boundaries. Create your own boundaries before you even head out the door to temptation. Be strong, give yourself some tough love. Fuzzy lines like “I will stop eating when I am full” do not work. Your boundaries have to be precise and measurable. For example: I will not eat anything fried, I will only drink 4 oz of alcohol.

Use visualization. Remember last year, when you walked away from a party feeling uncomfortably full and regretful, anticipating those extra pounds you now have to burn off in preseason. Visualize leaving the party feeling proud and liberated about your choices. Visualize preseason training days at your optimal training weight.

Journal   – Commit to keeping a food journal and an exercise journal (and for many, a parallel emotional journal is a great bonus). By writing down everything you eat and drink, not only are you self accountable, but you become aware of the hidden calories and fat grams creeping in. Journaling both food and exercise helps you monitor calories in against calories burned. This helps nip over indulgence in the bud. 

Physical Activity    – Even with a good nutrition plan, some wiggle room is necessary.  For many endurance athletes, the winter months are considered off season. Even if its minimal compared to racing season, some physical activity will help burn off some of those extra calories.

If you are completely off training, try speed shopping. Lace up your sneakers and move. Before you know it your shopping will be done. If your best laid plans take a hit, remember that it takes at least 45 minutes of high intensity cardio to burn off a small slice of pecan pie.  OUCH!

Put Alcohol into Perspective  – Alcohol goes hand in hand with celebrations. Do not forget that alcohol adds calories, in fact per gram, it has more calories than carbohydrates and protein. A 12 oz. beer is equal to 150 calories. A 5 oz. glass of wine, 100 calories, a 12 oz. wine cooler is around 180 calories, and spirits at 80-proof is over 100 calories per ounce and that is minus the drink mixers. One drink a day adds over 1000 calories per week. During the holiday season alone, this means at least 3 extra pounds of fat.

Furthermore, it is not just the caloric density and sugars of alcohol that need to be accounted for. Although alcohol is considered a carbohydrate, it metabolizes quite differently than food carbohydrates. It is converted to fatty acids -which have  a higher potential of fat storage – rather than being converted to glucose, like regular carbohydrates.  In simple terminology, alcohol puts efficient fat burning on hold. If your off season goal is to stay lean, stay off the booze.  One way to nip the unwanted fat gain in the bud – nominate yourself to be a designated driver.

Compromise  – Never give up your cultural traditions or social aspirations in lieu of your body composition goals. In other words, do not stay away from the party in fear of resisting temptation. Plan out the compromise and go to the party regardless. Remember the adage: The party does not have to be in your mouth. Staying away from temptation altogether may cause you to feel intensely deprived later down the line. Emotional eating is more difficult to control than a few slip ups at holiday parties. As a host, you can always give the tempting leftovers to guests or better yet, take them to homeless shelters.

Whether you are a host or a guest, you can always bring something to the table that is appetizing, delicious, and a substitute for high caloric, nutrient free options. Some cooking or baking substitutes in recipes include:  replacing regular butter, cream, sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, cheese,  etc., with nonfat or low fat options, replace cream with evaporated skim milk, replace whole eggs with egg whites (you may need an extra egg white or two), replace ice cream with frozen yogurt, replace heavy whipping cream with a 1:1 ratio of flour whisked into non fat milk (eg.1 cup of flour + 1 cup of non fat milk),  use apple sauce and/or cinnamon as a topping instead of cream or butter.


If you do decide to weigh yourself after a party, even if your over indulgence was minimal, keep your head in the right place. Getting on a scale the morning after may add as much as 2 to 4 lbs. These numbers could lead you into a whirlwind of regret, minimizing your chances of enjoying the rest of the season.  A few extra pounds show up after you have carbo-loaded your muscles. With each 1 gram of glycogen, 3 grams of water get stored. If you have not been able to resist all temptation, use it to your advantage. Water weight is the first load of poundage to drop off with physical activity. There is no better motivation than this for a post party work out.


It is not uncommon for athletes to get caught up in the temptations of the season, more so because of the hard core discipline the rest of the year. This mind set may make gearing up for a new season with an optimal weight rather difficult. However, be realistic, enjoy the traditions, embrace the culture, but keep your goals in focus all the time. These basic nutrition tips should hopefully provide a realistic view of the season’s offerings and thus aid in weight management post season.

Leave a comment and let us know your Holiday Weight Challenge Tips! Select Subscribe below the comment and we will send you everyone’s tips.

How to Keep a Food Journal

The number one complaint about keeping a food journal is that it is too much work for your busy schedule or that it makes you think more about food. Both of these are probably true. In the beginning, however, driving a car was a lot of effort. Eventually it became second nature and now you can probably drive while eating. By using either of these tools you can also update your food journal while in your car. (not while driving of course )

Keeping a food journal will help you improve your eating habits. No doubt about it. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. It is an old management adage that is just as meaningful to your weight control. Unless you measure something you don’t know if it is getting better or worse. If we are going to be able to help you with your weight management, we need to be able to see what you are eating and when you are eating it. SO.. we are going to do this thing, let’s make it as easy and fun as possible.

There are various apps on-line that regulate your fitness and food journal. They typically let you track what you eat with a few clicks – almost no data entry and record your workouts in minutes. Some examples are FitBit, MyNetDiary, Livestrong, MyFitnessPal, etc.

TweetWhatYouEat  is another on-line food journal – stripped down to the bare necessities.  If you use Twitter, this is incredibly easy to use.  You sign up with the service and then, using your Twitter account, send a direct message every time  you eat something.   Like this:

DM TWYE 2 eggs, spinach, olive oil

That’s it.  When you go to your TWYE diary, you will see a list of everything you entered.  The calorie counts are “crowdsourced”,  meaning that other users have given “2 eggs” a calorie count and TWYE uses that in your calculation.  If you don’t like the calorie count they used you can edit it.   TweetWhatYouEat gives you a total for the day.

You can use either of these services to send  food logs to your nutrition clinicians, or merely just for self accountability.

If you use Twitter, feel free to follow me on Twitter for our latest tips @ilanakatz.  I try to post neat stuff to share with  Twitter friends frequently.  Or of course Facebook too “Optimal Nutrition for Life – by Ilana”.


tg start



Over 200 years ago President Abraham Lincoln
declared the fourth Thursday in November the national day to celebrate
Thanksgiving. In 1941 it became a national holiday.

In 1621 the Pilgrim’s had their first successful
corn harvest, and a celebratory feast was organized. They invited the Native
American allies and had the first celebrated thanksgiving.

Every year families gather on Thanksgiving day  to celebrate family, giving to others and what they are most thankful for.
But it is also that time of year, when most of us tug a little harder at our belt buckles – a feat especially
difficult on this post-Thanksgiving Friday.

So, the turkey day leftovers will soon be
overflowing, and the holiday sweets have already started to jam your workplace
and mailbox. The next month will be filled with family gatherings, cocktail
parties, cookie exchanges and elaborate feasts. Simply put, those trying to
battle the bulge will struggle mightily.

If you are concerned about nutrition during this
time, let the tips and recipes in the up and coming newsletters help you stay
realistic about healthy nutrition, yet enjoy the season!!  Food is part of our culture, relax,
celebrate, but stay focused on your health and nutrition goals.


tg charlie



Quote for the month

“Physical activity is the currency with which you pay for food.”

gerry class



Did You Know??

  • Almost  20% of all cranberries consumed in the United States per year are  eaten on Thanksgiving.
  • Over  85% of Americans consume turkey on Thanksgiving.
  • About  $3 billion dollars worth of turkeys are sold for Thanksgiving
  • Benjamin  Franklin wanted the national bird to be a turkey.
  • Turkeys  can drown if they look up when it is raining.
  • A  typical Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy,
    sweet potatoes, cranberries, bread, pumpkin pie and one glass of wine has
    3,550 calories.




Sure to be the staple of many holiday meals, turkey is a  great addition to your diet. It’s low in fat and high in protein, and a good
source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins. Here are some tips  for turkey safety:

A frozen turkey can be bought months in advance and stored
in the freezer. Allow ~24 hours of defrost time for every 5 lbs of turkey. A
20-pound turkey takes 4-5 days to thaw! Never thaw turkey at room temperature.

Stuff your turkey just before you place the bird in the
oven. Allow ½  to ¾  cup stuffing per lb of turkey. The stuffing
must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees to be safe.

To roast the perfect turkey, place the bird in a shallow
pan. Insert a meat thermometer into the inner thigh of the bird and roast it in
a pre-heated oven set at 325 degrees. Your turkey is cooked when the
thermometer in the inner thigh reads 180 degrees, and the juices run clear. Be
sure the thermometer is not touching any bones.

On that note….  Overeating  on Thanksgiving…

Remember, it takes 3,500 calories to gain a pound. Most
people almost or actually do gain 1 pound from just one meal. Sounds crazy, huh?

Thanksgiving food tends to be exceptionally high in fat, and
body works differently with excess fat than it does with excess carbohydrate and protein.

When we overeat carbs and protein, the body’s initial  response is to use the majority of the extra food for energy, storage, and
building of tissues. Smaller amounts are stored as fat. Excess dietary fat is preferentially stored as body fat.

Also, fat consumption does not cause as great an increase in metabolism as carbs and protein as these calories are more easily stored.

But keep in mind that consistently overeating carbs and protein will also lead to weight gain.


Don’t go to the Thanksgiving dinner hungry: we often eat faster and more when we are
hungry – therefore eat a wholesome breakfast and lunch on the day to avoid overeating at dinner time.

Thanksgiving dinner is not an all-you-can-eat buffet: Fill your plate half with vegetables,
one quarter with a lean meat and the rest with a starch of your choice. Eat slowly and stop when you are full.

Turkey- go skinless: choose your 4-oz  turkey portion skinless to slash away some fat and cholesterol.

Save your appetite for the side dishes and desserts.

Make a conscious choice to limit high fat items: For instance, mashed potatoes are
usually made with butter and milk; green bean casseroles are often prepared
with cream of mushroom soup, cheese and milk and topped with fried onions;
candied yams  means cream, sugar and  marshmallows. Limit yourself to a smaller
helping size. Moderation is the key to these challenges.

Drink plenty of water: alcohol and coffee can dehydrate your body. Drink calorie-free
water to help fill up your stomach and keep you hydrated.

One of the best tips – avoid having too many leftovers as  this would mean extraordinary calories multiplied:

SOOOOOO…..  Help the Hungry:

Although the US is the wealthiest nation, 13% of the population live in poverty and hunger.

The easiest way to help, is to donate extra food to national nutrition  programs, such as food banks. It may not
solve the problem, but it will definitely help.

tg thanks



High fat food items are typically traditional for the
holiday celebrations. For instance, mashed potatoes are usually made with
butter; green bean casseroles are often prepared with cream of mushroom soup,
cheese and milk and topped with fried onions; candied yams are loaded with
cream, sugar and marshmallows.

Recipe calls for:                                                            Substitute:

1 whole egg                                                    2 egg whites

Sour cream                                                     fat free sour
cream or plain light yogurt

Milk                                                                   skim
or 1% milk

Ice cream                                                         low
fat frozen yogurt

Heavy Cream                                                  1:1 ratio of
flour to or 1% skim milk

Whipping cream                                          chilled evaporated
milk, or coolwhip

Cheese, butter or cream of mushroom             All these come in lighter versions


If you cannot control the ingredients that go in to a dish, simply limit yourself to a smaller helping size. 

Again moderation is the key.


Recipe of the Month:

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes


2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch
pieces (about 8 cups)

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange sweet potatoes in an even
layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon
juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes;
toss to coat. Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir
and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to
50 minutes more.

Makes 12 servings, ½ cup servings each.

Nutritional Content Per Serving:

96 Calories, 2 grams of Fat, 5 milligrams of Cholesterol,
118 milligrams of Sodium, and high amounts of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.




(serves 6)

1 can, 16 oz., pumpkin

1/2 cup prunes, pitted and finely chopped

1/4 cup frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed

1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

2 tsp. margarine, reduced calorie

1 cup evaporated skim milk

1/2 cup fat-free egg substitute

1 Tbsp. grated orange peel

2 tsp. pumpkin-pie spice

8 mini (3 1/2 inches in diameter) pumpkins (called Jack-be-little pumpkins)

In a med pan, stir together the pumpkin, prunes, apple, orange juice and margarine. Simmer for 15 mins,
stirring frequently. Transfer to a food processor and add milk, egg subs, orange peel and spice. Process until smooth.

Cut off the tops of each pumpkin about 1 inch down. Scoop out the seeds. Place
the shells in a 13″ X 9″ baking dish. Bake at 3500 F for
about 30 mins or until the flesh is tender but the shells are not in danger of
collapsing. Spoon the custard mixture into the shells. Bake at 350 degrees for
about 30 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center of custard comes out clean.

Nutritional information per serving:

Calories: 106                Fat: 1g

Cholesterol: 1 mg        Sodium: 74mg

Fiber 2g                      Carbohydrate: 18g


tg end



Another great muffin recipe from my sports nutrition kitchen:




OATMEAL, DRY regular or instant 1 cup


SUGAR, BROWN packed 1/2 cup





SALT 1 tsp


CARROT grated 1 ¼ cups


MILK, 1%  3/4 cups






EGG WHITE 1 large

EGG whole 1 large

strong girl


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Combine all wet ingredients in another bowl. Mix well.

4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, add wet ingredients and mix


5. Spray a muffin tin with Pam and fill to 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from pan immediately and enjoy!


Makes 2 dozen.

1 serving (1 muffin)=156 cals, 4g protein, 28g carbs, 3g fat, 179mg sodium

St. George Marathon – Race Report


Ilana Katz MS, RD, CSSD

It’s been more than a week and the obligatory race report has been calling my inner conscience. This marathon report feels especially significant to me, as it was followed by a week of  (sometimes) strenuous hiking and exploring beautiful Utah.


Believe it or not, Ironman Chatty, although two years ago for me, still feels like yesterday… I am not ready for another Ironman quite yet, although am having endurance withdrawals. This lead to the declaration of 2016 being the year of  “Just a Marathon.”  Oh yeah, there is even a hashtag for #justamarathon, for all the crazy ultra-endurance peeps who one day “submiss” themselves to just a marathon. For all those others rolling their eyes, don’t be haters, there is no real help for endurance junkies other than endurance.  I have gone on a tangent now, but: This always reminds me of the time I was giving a sports nutrition seminar to a group called “couch to 5k” and during the presentation I kept saying “its only a 5k”  – granted, I was genuinely referring to the science of sports nutrition that in a 5k one typically does not have to focus on in-depth sports nutrition so to speak, but from their point of view, I was belittling them. Oh goodness did I get schooled when one of the group raised their hand and blurted out “please stop saying it’s just a 5k.”   And I have learned a very important lesson since then… y’all know what that is. On that very note, I will certainly contest that from experience, running a marathon (and training for it) can be just as tough, if not tougher than training and racing an Ironman.  Any takers? (oh you ironman peeps, calm your hormones ;-))

The year of the Marathon began with my application via the lottery for NYC marathon. I was dropped like a hot cake. The usual “we regret to inform you that most first time applications in this lottery are turned down… so keep on trying.” Maybe in year 7 it will happen for me, maybe I will eventually get in to NYC (by which time I would more than likely be hobbling a marathon.)  So that turn down lead me to sign up for a different, lesser known, but probably almost as coveted St. George, and it too was a lottery… one that I actually won. Congratulations Runner, you are in it to win it!! And so the training began.

Many months and many long run days later: It was a gorgeous day in St. George. Started off cold, colder than expected.  I was under the false impression that early October is still warm in most parts of the country. I was waiting on the bus to transport all us eager beavers 26.2 miles up the road to the start, comparing my little running skirt and sports bra outfit to many of the over-dressed, sporting hat and gloves, long running tights, bundled in fleece. My inner laugh was “oh are y’all gonna be hot as hell.”   Fast forward 26.2 miles out and 2500 feet elevated from the last sentence. Now look whose laughing. Shivering to the bone, I was very grateful for the space blanket handed to us inexperienced Utah-in-the-Fall newbies. Get this, there were even pit fires one could huddle around, it was very well thought out and warming.

The course was wonderfully scenic, all you ever wanted in a marathon. There were a couple of tough challenges, namely mile 8 – 12ish was just one long climb with no breaks (the elevation map lied).  The reprieve was mile 16 to the end was one long downhill. Now that may sound like chocolate icing on top of a chocolate cake to a marathoner, but some of it was pretty steep, and steep downhills are the other side of the pendulum to steep uphills. Pendulum extremes, no matter which end, are extremely challenging. One really has to put the brakes on if you want to save your quads for as minimal as “walking” the next day (and don’t forget, I had a solid 5 days of strenuous hiking to follow).  I heard that little voice in my head, planted by a fellow endurance junkie, an experienced St. George marathoner, recommending some hill repeat training (and only now did the hill repeat DOWHILL ring a bell…. Oopsy daisy).

I had a difficult time around mile 11 or so, not feeling good, wandering why the hell I sign up for this stuff… I did all the required training, what the fiddlesticks? One starts going over and over in their head what could be different… yeah, could have run more during the weeks, yeah could have trained more on hills, yeah yeah coulda shoulda… but not to diss my training, because from after that bout of feeling miz I started feeling great, and the training pay off started paying off. I could have flown to the end but I had committed interval sets as a race strategy. Famous last words from coaches; Stick to the race plan. It also included some mmm…mmmm delish mocha gels every 30 – 45 minutes, and boy when you are really focused on getting sports nutrition right, you better find a flavour that you can stomach. Mocha y’all. Specially for those coffee addicts. Its my new favourite.  Sickly sweet salted caramel move over.

I was sorry I did not have my phone or a camera to capture the experience, because it was a great one. I do not have any good shots from the race photographer, because I was wearing too many race belts (fuel, interval timer, and race number all on different straps)  and all these straps tied around my waist – hence race number landed facing the back, and that’s where it stayed… co-ordinating race belts and still feeling comfortable is an oxymoron.  I have proof of all this in the marathonFoto proof:

(at least MarathonFoto captured one running pic, and one finisher pic).


I have done a few marathons to date, and this one is definitely one of the more beautiful ones. It is very well organized from the expo, to the transport, to the start area, line up and finisher experience. It was an awesome plan B to a turned down NYC entry. I recommend it. And then being on one of the most beautiful states it is worth an extended trip to get in some scenic encounters.  I stayed on, accompanied by a couple of hiking buddies, we explored some of the well known National parks around Utah. From Zion, to Bryce, on to Canyonlands and Arches. Every one of these hiking days was unique, and completely different to the day before. Every wince (don’t forget I am hiking on marathon legs) was worth it.

The year of the Marathon take aways:

–          Never belittle your goals. There is no such thing as “just a marathon” similarly there is no such thing as “Just a 5k”

–          Mocha is the new salted caramel flavour

–          Utah is gorgeous.

–          St. George is a great plan B, if not even a Plan A, for a marathon bucket list item.

–          Utah is cold in the early stages of Fall.

–          I pronate on a downhill run (and paid for it via ankle swelling and bruising all through my hiking week)

–          Downhill is just as hard as uphill, I swear!

–          Elevation maps with tiny scales can be deceiving

–          I am still good at sports nutrition 😉   – great marathon, finished strong, even though it got hot in the end.

–          Hello, my name is ilana… I am an endurance junkie