It’s officially turkey time.
That means hundreds of teams and thousands of kids are getting revved up for their first tournament of the youth hockey season. Before they take the ice though, they get to enjoy likely their most anticipated meal of the year – Thanksgiving dinner.
From turkey to pumpkin pie and everything in between, almost every food lover has a favorite Thanksgiving dish or treat. The excitement can turn a single meal into a smorgasbord where people (including kids) eat far more than they should, sometimes taking in enough calories for two full days.
So how can athletes take in the joys of their favorite meal while still being ready to compete for tournament hardware over the weekend?
The good news is that according to registered dietician and specialist in sport nutrition, Jennifer McDaniel, Thanksgiving dinner has more benefits than people usually give it credit for.
“There actually are some redeeming qualities to this turkey day feast compared to a holiday like Halloween,” said McDaniel, who owns and operates her own nutrition business called McDaniel Nutrition Therapy. “It is a carb rich meal stocking the athletes' bodies with the fuel they need for a weekend on the ice!”
The challenge for players is to maximize those good qualities while limiting the potential negative side effects. Here are five tips that can help.
Start with a Morning Workout
If your kids’ goal is to be ready to go right when the puck drops on Friday, it’s important for them to start the day off right Thursday morning. A workout, even if it’s a quick one, can make a big difference. The heightened activity burns off a few extra calories before the big meal and can help speed up their metabolism throughout the day.
Plan an Early Dinner Time
If your family typically eats Thanksgiving dinner in the early afternoon, make sure to stick with that tradition. Science has proven that eating early in the days such as two or three o’clock can have major benefits.
“Eating earlier in the day compared to later at night gives the body more time to digest the food,” states McDaniel. “Thus, [it] minimizes annoying stomach issues the next morning yet still stocks the muscles with energy fueling carbs for hockey.”
Watch How You Eat
A great way to soak in the enjoyment of Thanksgiving food is by eating at a slower pace. Sometimes kids eat at a rapid pace, like they are in a hurry to get onto the next activity. Encouraging them to slow down and “taste their food” can help prevent overeating and the problems related to it.
This approach also enables kids to learn to cherish the most important part of the holiday season – spending time with loved ones. Try suggesting that they set their fork down between every few bites and join the conversation with family.
Portion control is another essential piece of any Thanksgiving nutrition strategy. Here’s a basic guide of recommended portions for the average adult, which can be scaled down for kids of any age.
Some things never change. The importance of athletes staying hydrated is one of them.
“Water is one of the most essential nutrients for athletes,” said McDaniel. “Just being 2% dehydrated reduces performance by 10%.”
When it comes to Thanksgiving, water plays a particularly important role. To start with, McDaniel points out that many of the dishes we enjoy at this time of year are high in sodium. Therefore, we need additional water to balance those higher levels of sodium. Water can also help regulate how much we eat and how quickly our body digests the food we consume.
Stay Active After Dinner
The post-Thanksgiving meal nap may seem nearly as famous as the food itself, but finding a way to be active afterwards is a key component of a healthier holiday and increases your chance of success over the weekend.
“Moving after a large meal can help you use some of those indulgences for energy,” said McDaniel. “Plus, most over-stuffed athletes don't sleep well, and we all know a rested athlete performs at peak!”
Whether it is starting up a football game of your own or simply going for a walk, following this year’s turkey dinner with a fun activity that gets everyone up and moving around is one of the best things you can do.