Athletes & Dancers: How to Eat, Drink & Still Be Healthy Over the Holidays

Photo by @BruceMars

The winter holiday periods present dancers and athletes with some unique challenges. There can be either higher dance demands (such as Nutcracker performances) or limited commitments due to holiday studio closures. Many holiday gatherings may be associated with opportunities for excessive food and drink intake. Here are some sensible recommendations for more health-conscious holiday choices.

  1. Holidays can be a Needed Recovery Time: If you had a particularly demanding Fall dance season, taking a break from dance can be the best gift for overall health. Now, I’m not advocating a total shut down status, but rather recommend taking any available opportunities for cross training, including yoga, Pilates, and gyrotonics. If you “must” dance, think about working on technical and strength skills that you don’t usually have time to address.
  2. Strike a Solid Balance: Many traditional holiday dishes aren’t perhaps the most nutritious offerings. However, if you try to balance out the table with other selections that are more beneficial for overall health, you can still enjoy the unique offerings of the holiday.
  3. Limit the Pre-Meal Snacking: Leave plenty of room for that holiday feast by reducing pre-meal snacks that might be tasty but commonly are full of unneeded salt, sugar, or unhealthy fats.
  4. Slow Down and Slim Down at Mealtime: With a bounty of tantalizing foods, many people load up plates with large servings and then hurry through a first course to get to a second (or more) course. Use the size of your fist as a guide for a more proper serving size. Try to slow down between bites and wait for at least 20 minutes before going for another plate. Giving more time allows for a sense of fullness and less chance of overeating.
  5. Make choices to Boost your Immune System: Vitamin C (commonly found in citrus fruits) can be beneficial for fighting infection, as can other anti-inflammatory items such as fish oil, flaxseed, ginger, and turmeric. Reducing processed foods and high sugar-content foods (can be tough with holiday sweets) can also be good for the immune system. Remember that moderate levels of exercise (4-5 days a week, 30-45 minutes a day) can support a stronger immune system.
  6. Take the Family for a Turkey Walk Off: Speaking of exercise, rather than succumb to that post-Turkey nap, gather up family and friends and go for a brisk walk between meal and dessert. This will help overcome that food coma and give you more energy for the rest of the day.
  7. Shop for Good Fitness: From grocery store runs to finding perfect gifts, shopping trips are another beloved staple of the holidays. While many might covet that prized close parking spot, parking the car farther away and getting in more steps can be a fitness bonus. If you are one to line up for precious deals, don’t be afraid to pass the time with exercise (push-ups, air squats, and even balancing on one foot) rather than just sitting or standing around. If you aren’t rushing to a particular sale, take time to window shop for 10-15 minutes before entering stores. Use the stairs instead of escalators or elevators and step up your shopping fitness for all year round.
  8. Keep regular bedtimes and good sleep habits: During breaks from dance, school, and work, getting out of usual sleep routines can lead to less sleep and nightmares for the immune system. Younger children with less than 9-10 hours of sleep a night and teenagers with less than 8 hours of sleep are at higher risk for both illness and injury.
  9. Be Truly Thankful: Part of good holiday health and fitness is the mental and emotional boost that comes from taking time to give appropriate thanks, especially for important people in your life.
Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills, CA. He is a team physician for USA Volleyball (including participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics), the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Medicine Network, Cal State Fullerton Intercollegiate Athletics, Chapman University Dance Department, and Orange Lutheran High School. He offers a comprehensive blend of general pediatric and sport medicine care with an individualized approach to each patient and family. Please visit or follow him on Facebook (, Instagram (, or Twitter (@dockoutures).

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