Don't Let Thanksgiving Steal Your Gains: 3 Tips for Balancing Rest and Fitness

For athletes, Thanksgiving can be a welcome time of rest and recovery from the demands of training and/or competing. But at the same time, that rest and recovery can quickly snowball (winter pun) into overindulgence and an excuse to lose sight of your goals. Here are my 3 best tips on how to maximize your Thanksgiving respite  without sacrificing your hard-earned fitness.

1. EAT THE FOOD...just not ALL the food.

You only get to eat your mother’s homemade green bean casserole once a year! Thanksgiving is for enjoying special foods with special people, and eating a piece of pie is not going to derail your athletic goals...but eating the WHOLE pie might. The right balance can be hard to strike.

Remember: Thanksgiving is (for most folks) ONE meal, not the first of many consecutive feasts. Blowing a whole day’s calories on one dinner, in the grand scheme of things, is not going to make a difference to your athletic performance. The trouble comes when we let Thanksgiving set the tone for our pattern of eating throughout the holiday season.

Allow yourself to enjoy whatever holiday foods make their way onto your dining room table. But don’t let Thanksgiving become an excuse for wearing maternity pants to every meal. (Unless you're Coach Jace, who wears stretchy jeans every day so he can squat at any time.)

2. REST YOUR BODY...just don't neglect it.

Parking your butt on the couch for a 6-hour football marathon is absolutely 100% fine for long as you don’t do it every day. The long Thanksgiving weekend can bring a much-needed break from classes, homework, sport practice, and even the weight room  but it does not give you carte blanche to throw away the fitness you’ve worked hard to build.

If you want to watch TV all day, great  just try to incorporate some activity in there somewhere, too! Get outside (if the weather permits). Run a turkey trot. Make your cousins play flag football in the backyard with you (or tackle, if they are annoying). Help your mom in the kitchen. Take Grandma for a walk after dinner. Hey, even popping up during commercials to get your dad another beer counts! If you do get a chance to hit the weight room, keep your weights and sets light and focus on range of motion rather than heavy loads.

I personally use Thanksgiving weekend as an active rest and recovery period: I go on walks, I stretch, and I get in all the foam-rolling I’ve been neglecting since Halloween. Your family may laugh when you bust out your lacrosse ball to mobilize your shoulders during the Macy’s parade, but hey: once Black Friday’s over, my shoulders will be primed and ready to get back in the gym.

3. SLEEP...just not on your phone.

There is nothing I love more than falling into a 9- or 10-hour coma after eating my way through Thanksgiving day. And as athletes, we know there are few remedies as healing as a good night’s sleep. But don’t forget that the holidays are often filled with family and friends...and maybe your aunt’s neighbor’s cousin’s former roommate. While it may feel really good to escape to a spare bedroom and sleep through some awkward chitchat  or, more probable for the Millennial generation, fall into iPhone/Internet black hole at the dinner table  don’t let an opportunity for quality family time slip away.

All your parents want in this life is for you to be happy, be healthy, and to sit and talk with them during the holidays  trust me. It can be really tough to be fully present during large gatherings, especially when your SnapChat is BLOWING UP and your Instagram is LIT!

But turning your phone off every once in a while won’t kill you. (Plus, texting gives you HORRIBLE posture  but that’s another topic for another day!) Sit by Grandpa as he tells you the same story for the third time. Answer when someone asks you, “So, what are you plans for after school?” Read a book to your niece. Help your mother clear the table. Enjoy the time you get to share with your special people. Your bed will be waiting for you.

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Christye Estes, CSCS, ACSM-CPT, is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog. She is a CSCS-certified strength coach, a certified personal trainer through the ACSM, and a Sports Performance Specialist at Volt.
Learn more about Christye and read her other posts | @CoachChristye