FOCUS on Festive Foods for Runners

December 9, 2021

A FOCUS ON Festive Foods to help your training plan

We are going to fast forward to Christmas Day and chat about ENJOYING a traditional Christmas meal, getting the BALANCE right knowing that we are getting lots of amazing as well as delicious nutrients.

During our last episode, E79 Running through Christmas we talked about some simple tips and practices to apply to your food and drink choices over the full festive period, and how to realistically plan and manage your exercise and running over the holiday period.

Today, we’ll talk about the wonderful seasonal foods which tend to be included as part of a traditional Christmas meal and showcase their nutritional value.

Today we’ll share with you our suggestions for:

  1. A balanced Festive Plate
  2. An 80:20 approach! A little of what you fancy!
  3. Socialising (in a healthy way) with friends and family

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 What food to include on your Festive Plate

Christmas is a celebration, so enjoying traditional festive foods is part of that celebration, so we personally think we all should embrace that. Many of the festive foods at this time of the year are full of nutritional value so we should embrace that too. In “running through Christmas”, we touched on over-eating and the tendency to have extra large portions – so perhaps it’s not what foods we choose to eat but how much of it is a problem regarding potential weight gain, feeling bloated and sluggish after we’ve eaten which may have a knock-on effect on our energy next day and on our next training run.

The easiest thing we can do is follow everyday plate balance at every mealtime – which is ¼ plate of protein, ¼ plate carbohydrates and ½ plate of non-root veggies. We think on Christmas Day portions may be a little bit bigger but it’s key to get all 3 elements on your plate in proportion.


Protein Choices for your Festive Plate

The obvious choice here is TURKEY! Turkey is a lean low fat meat which is protein rich – Nutrition Data lists a 100g portion of turkey breast containing approx. 17g protein.


Turkey contains BCAA’s Branch chain amino acids which are important for muscle building and it’s also rich in tryptophan. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and melatonin which help to regulate mind/mood/cognition and sleep. Turkey also contains B3, B6, B12, choline, selenium and zinc.  So, if you’d like a larger portion for your meal or to snack on later this would be a good choice!

Suggestions for other protein choices;

On Christmas Day most people will choose a food they regard as a luxury – so choosing any kind of meat like beef/lamb/pork or poultry such as duck or goose or fish perhaps salmon or trout cooked in a way you love or if you’re vegetarian of vegan perhaps a nut roast made with chestnuts, walnuts, sage and cranberries all of which are seasonal.


Carbohydrate Choices for your Festive Plate

On a traditional Christmas meal your carbohydrate will come from root vegetables – potatoes, carrots, parsnips are the traditional choices but you could try roasted beetroot, celeriac, sweet potato. The good news about these root vegetables is that they contain lots of fibre and nutrients such as Potassium, folate, vitamin A and C, B vitamins and manganese.

We all know that Carbohydrate is important for fuelling our running however if you are choosing to have lighter exercise and activity on some of the holiday days it’s best to focus on smaller portions of carbohydrates.

For everyday nutrition, you’d focus on ¼ plate in total of these vegetables or a larger portion depending on your training. Realistically you may decide to eat a bigger portion on Christmas Day. Just remember to leave space for other festive foods!


Christmas Vegetables Choices for your Festive Plate

It wouldn’t be Christmas without Brussels Sprouts … people either love or hate brussels, however if you are creative with your recipes we think everyone can love them.

Brussels Sprouts are a great cruciferous vegetable containing;

  • Vitamin C– for immune health
  • Vitamin K– for bone health (as well as blood clotting)
  • Potassium– for electrolyte balance
  • Indole-3-carbinol promotes liver function which is important for hormone balance i.e. detoxification and excretion of old hormones

There are so many Christmas recipes using brussels sprouts. You may like to par boil them then slice and mix with chopped nuts or flaked almonds or chopped sun dried tomatoes, if you eat meat then add some chorizo or smoked bacon

Another festive favourite of ours is to make a hug pot of SPICED RED CABBAGE with apples, cranberries and a mix of spices (nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves) and some apple cider vinegar. We make it in a slow cooker and then freeze it in batches so it’s easy to add to any meal. Cranberries contain compounds known as pro anthocyanidins which have anti-bacterial properties and may help prevent urinary tract infections.

So, on the whole if we follow a balanced plate for a traditional festive main meal we are having a healthy meal providing macro and micro nutrients. However, it may be all the extras that are potentially not so healthy or perhaps tempt us to overeat! Let’s no talk about how to use the 80:20 approach so you can enjoy a little of what you fancy …


How do you have an 80:20 approach around food and drink at Christmas?

Try some of these healthy eating strategies to stay on track

  • Have one treat every day so you can enjoy festive goodies like Christmas Cake and Sweet Mince Pies
  • Choose to eat anything you’d like to on Christmas Day and Boxing Day but then very much aim to get back to normal until New Years Eve.
  • Have a small amount of foods you love rather than totally miss out.
  • Eat homemade and avoid processed foods which are often loaded with trans fats and additives and extra sugar e.g. a homemade sweet mince pie over a shop bought one!
  • Be aware of the hidden extras that may affect body composition, energy and digestion;
  • The pre-dinner nibbles – nuts/crisps/savoury pastries/bread – swap for olives/crudites with hummus
  • The accompaniments and trimmings – small tastes/portions
  • Second portions – do you need it? Try very small portions.
  • Desserts – Christmas Pud and others!! Small portions – natural yoghurt
  • Chocolates – do for dark chocolate
  • Alcoholic calories and non-alcoholic calories

Don’t go without – set your own personal boundaries. We usually suggest an 80:20 approach for everyday nutrition – so allowing yourself 20% of the time off plan – in a normal week that would equate to 4 meals out of 21 meals if you eat 3 meals a day.

Maybe that’s not realistic over the festive period – everyone has to make their own judgement. An approach you may consider is to keep on plan for breakfast and one other meal and aim not to nibble/graze between meals, then you’ll have more freedom to choose whatever you’d like at the other meal and perhaps enjoy a drink too.


Socialising in a Healthy Way

It can be tricky to stay healthy when there is a lot of socializing and friends and family are offering hospitality – on these occasions it can be really difficult to stay on plan.

Our TIPS can be applied all year not just at Christmas.


Ask yourself “where does this occasion fit within my 80:20 approach”? Will you be off plan or on plan? If you’re eating out can you influence choice of food/restaurant? If you’re being a guest at someone’s home can you check menu ahead of occasion and offer to bring a dish which will complement the meal and your health. Keep your blood sugar balance in control by

  • Eating and drinking normally all day (no skipping anything) and the next meal/day too
  • Eating a nutritious snack before you arrive so you don’t go crazy on the nibbles


Aim to stay away from pre-dinner nibbles and bread try swapping with olives. Set a limit on alcohol and drink lots of water. Follow plate balance principles and portion control, especially of you can self serve.


Consider are you making choices for your benefit i.e. to feel GREAT today and tomorrow and to support your health goals or are you choosing foods/drinks to “fit in”? Remember your friends and family will LOVE you whatever you have on your plate! Enjoy the occasion and the company.



Festive Ingredients


  • Chestnuts contain protein, fat and carbohydrate – 100g include 2g protein, 36.6 g of carbohydrate and 2.7g fat (low fat content compared to other nuts e.g. 30g walnuts contains 18.5g fat). With nut roasts I’ll add lentils and a plain protein powder to increase protein content.
  • CHESTNUTS also contain fibre, Vitamin C, potassium (important for regulating blood pressure and for electrolyte balance).
  • Chestnuts also contain polyphenols such as gallic acid which may promote insulin response which will help with blood sugar balance.

 TIP use pre-cook chestnuts from a sachet or if you are roasting them remember to score the bottom of the nut with a sharp knife so when they bake steam is released or you’ll find the chestnuts will explode in the oven!! I make a lovely chestnut and mushroom soup.


WALNUTS contain good fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), and are a source of the essential fatty acid omega-3 which has anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Walnuts also contain a range of micronutrients such as biotin, manganese, vitamin E and B6.
  • The nutrients in walnuts may support brain health, mind/mood and heart health


Sage is medicinal and culinary herb, usually used in small amounts – it contains Vitamin K, magnesium, zinc and copper.


Cranberries are small dark red berries, they have a very sharp, sour taste, so are rarely eaten raw; they tend to be dried or juiced but at this time of year you’ll find fresh or frozen cranberries available to add to seasonal recipes. Traditionally a cranberry sauce is served alongside turkey or cold cuts of meat. Be aware that cranberry sauce maybe sugar-laden so go easy.




  1. A traditional Christmas meal has all the ingredients for a healthy plate
    • Turkey is lean and protein rich and supplies tryptophan an essential amino acid which is a precursor for serotonin and melatonin
    • The main source of carbohydrates on the festive plate are root vegetables e.g. carrots, parsnips and potatoes. You may also consider beetroot, sweet potatoes and celeriac
    • Our favourite traditional non root vegetables are brussels sprouts and spiced red cabbage
    • Add seasonal ingredients such as chestnuts, walnuts, sage and cranberries to your recipes
  1. Follow an EVERYDAY PLATE BALANCE of ¼ plate protein, ¼ plate carbohydrates, ½ plate non root vegetables for your Festive Meals unless you are following a moderate or hard training plan.
  2. Set your personal boundaries around what/when and how much you choose to eat and drink over the festive period.
  3. Plan when you will return to your food and running plan.
  4. When choosing food and drinks – ask yourself – will this make me feel good today, tomorrow and next week!
  5. Enjoy celebrating with festive foods and drinks when you are spending time with family and friends – as far as possible follow an 80:20 approach.

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The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.

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