5 Tips to Successfully Navigate Thanksgiving Day Nutritionally!

Thanksgiving Day is usually characterized by a full afternoon and/or evening of eating until you hit your ‘Turkey Coma’ and pass out in front of the nighttime football game. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, twice baked potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls with cinnamon butter, carrots with a honey glaze…these are some variations of the nutritional choices you’ll most likely encounter this Thursday. The question is, how can you enjoy your absolute favorite foods and drink on Thanksgiving, and have it still work towards your fitness goals?

Here are my top 5 ways for you to guilt-free enjoy every morsel of food on Thanksgiving- from appetizers to dessert and everything in between!

  1. Keep your nutrition on point until Thursday
  2. Drink lots of water
  3. Workout like a beast Thursday morning
  4. Resist laying down after dinner
  5. Contain your leftover take home

Keep Your Nutrition on Point up to Thanksgiving

Make sure that you are pretty spot on with your nutritional choices leading up to Thursday. If you have 9 main meals between Monday morning and Wednesday evening, that minimally 8 out of 9 of them should be nutritiously wholesome- meaning you should be eating your lean protein, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and limiting your beverage intake to water, black coffee or tea.

Even though it’s a short work week for most, still do your grocery shopping, get your meal preps done on Sunday and plan for healthy meals Monday-Wednesday. You will totally shoot yourself in the foot if you chalk the whole week up as a ‘holiday’ or ‘special’ week and start eating whatever you want- this is how nutritional benders occur. If you want to minimize the caloric influx you’ll most likely have on Thanksgiving, be on point with your nutrition starting Monday.

Drink Lots of Water

A healthy lifestyle always involves drinking water as opposed to sugary drinks. The adage of 8 cups of water per day is largely being scientifically debunked because everyone has individual requirements, however, the fact is: the more water the better (The CDC doesn’t officially have a “water only” intake guideline- only liquids in general). Aside from hydrating you, water also provides satiation- meaning it gives you the ‘feeling full’ effect.

Being hydrated upon arrival to Thanksgiving Day is imperative- so when you wake up on Thursday, start drinking water! Rather than set guidelines for the amount of water intake (because again, everyone is different), the best barometer for proper hydration would be when your urine turns clear you can claim to be hydrated.

Once you get to Thanksgiving dinner, be sure the H2O consumption doesn’t stop. Especially if you’re drinking any type of alcohol, you will feel infinitely better the next day if you match your alcohol intake with water- every 8 oz of alcohol should be matched with about 8 oz of water. Being satiated, doesn’t mean you’re going to bypass all food, however, the “feeling full” effect from drinking water may prevent you from circling back for round 3 or 4 of your favorite dish.

Workout Like a Beast Thanksgiving Morning!

Using your workout as a way to channel a cheat meal is a great way to find yourself in the gym on a day you wouldn’t normally – such as Thanksgiving. Take advantage of the fact that most gyms are open on Thanksgiving, rather than just writing it off as a holiday. No matter how your workouts are normally broken up, or what your goals are, your holiday workout routine should have 2 components: relatively high volume and a metabolic finisher.

High volume means more sets and more reps- so anything from 4-6 sets and 5-20 reps per exercise, with 45-90s. rest would fall under this category. Personally, I almost always do a lower body workout on holiday lifts because the compound moves (Squats/Deadlifts) have such a great metabolic effect (in other words they cause you to burn fat long after you’ve left the gym).

Even though Squats and Deadlifts are classified as lower body moves, you’re also engaging your upper body and core to perform them properly, so they provide more bang for your buck than if you were to just do isolation moves. After my compound move(s) are done, I hit a wide variety of single leg work, which again, has a much greater metabolic effect. When the workout is all said and done, a good goal volume-wise would be 20-30 total working sets…excluding the finisher!

Your finisher can involve anything from kettlebells, battle ropes, medicine balls, tire flips, TRX straps, bands or even light dumbbells. Whatever exercises you choose, you should arrange in a circuit and perform for a set time for a set number of rounds. The benefit of a finisher again is metabolic. You’re going to be burning fat hours after you’ve left the gym by doing a Tabata style finisher..I usually recommend the following parameters:

  • 6-8 exercises
  • 20-30 second working sets
  • 10-15 s. rest between exercises
  • Repeat 2-5 rounds
  • 60 seconds rest between rounds

Walk it Off!

As badly as you want to lay down on a couch after you’ve devoured your Thanksgiving meal, I urge you to resist it- at least until you go for a short walk.  A German study in 2008 found that a walk as brief as 15 minutes after a meal increases the rate at which food moves through the stomach. And a 2009 study found that a 20-minute walk, 15 minutes after eating, led to lower blood sugar levels across the board.

The benefit of lower blood sugar levels is that you will avoid the full crash that usually comes with a carb filled meal. Now this may be difficult to implement in a family setting such as Thanksgiving, however, my recommendation would be after you’ve done the bulk of your eating, get outside and move around a little bit. It doesn’t need to be a full 20-minute walk, but even something as simple as tossing a football around will be better for you than just immediately succumbing to your ‘turkey coma.’

Limit the Leftovers!

The nutritional rabbit hole that is Thanksgiving, is rooted in the abundance of leftovers that usually result from Thursday. That usually carries over at least into Friday if not further into the weekend. Be aware of how many leftovers you either take home or keep in the house, because one of the simplest nutritional laws is- if it’s in your house, it’s only a matter of time before you eat it. The easiest thing would be to politely decline leftovers and get back on track nutritionally on Friday.

If you do wind up with taking food home, be sure to limit your consumption to normal, healthy portion sizes- as opposed to the Thanksgiving mindset of: ‘fill your plate up until you can’t fit any more food on it.’ The more you can contain Thanksgiving to just Thursday, the more successful you’ll be in staying right on track with your fitness and nutrition goals!

Final Thoughts

Being able to fully guilt-free enjoy Thanksgiving Day, starts with the groundwork you lay for yourself beginning on Monday. Take the proper steps with grocery shopping and meal prep to ensure your meals leading up to the holiday are healthy. Resist the temptation of treating the entire week like a holiday.

Next, make sure you are properly hydrating all week and especially on Thanksgiving Day itself, because this will make all the difference with how you recover on Friday. Before you hit the road to travel anywhere, try your best to get a high-quality workout in, hitting some of the parameters I laid out above. The better your workout, the better your body will absorb the abundance of calories.

After your meal’s concluded, resist the food coma as hard as you can and get outside- go for a walk or throw the football around- which will immensely help with the digestion process. And finally, be careful with the leftover take home, as this will extend some of the poor Thanksgiving eating habits far longer than your body needs. Keep in mind, the quicker you can get back on track nutritionally (hopefully first thing Friday morning), the less of a negative impact Thanksgiving will have on your fitness goals.

Follow some of the guidelines I laid out above, and enjoy the holiday absolutely guilt-free!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your friends and families from the bottom of my heart!

Yours in Fitness and Health,


Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

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