Eat, drink and be merry

Staying healthy through the winter months,
by Nicky Gilbert, dietitian and registered sport and exercise nutritionist

Making sound healthy and nutritious food and drink choices can be even more challenging during the cold winter months with short daylight hours. This article aims to support you in keeping well, active and healthy throughout Xmas and into the New Year.

How much do you really know about nutrition for healthy living and performance?

Have some fun with and your friends and family, by answering ‘Truth’ or ‘Myth’ to the following 6 statements.


"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day"

"Sports drinks improve physical performance"

"It is fine to eat sugary foods after physical activity as it helps recovery"

"Drinking milk after exercise helps with both rehydration and recovery"

"A healthy balanced diet can provide all essential nutrients for health"

"It doesn’t matter when you eat as long as you eat and drink the right food to meet all your daily needs"

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day: MYTH

Breakfast is just one of three important meals of the day! Eating at regular intervals throughout the day prevents us from getting hungry and provides a steady supply of fuel for both physical and mental performance. So, lunch is just as important as breakfast, allowing us to fuel our endeavours in the afternoon.

If you are not hungry when you wake, it is fine to eat your breakfast within two hours but you could try eating a smaller evening meal and/or eating a little earlier in the evening to trigger your appetite for breakfast. If you miss breakfast because it bores you, take time to experiment with your breakfast choices and make them a little more appetising.

What will you put on your porridge in the morning?

Banana and walnuts, coconut and tinned pineapple, chopped apple and cinnamon,

walnuts and raisins, frozen berries and granola, or passion fruit?

Sports drinks improve physical performance: MYTH

Many people may choose to drink a sports drink for hydration and/or an energy boost or simply because of the taste. However, simply drinking a sports drink won’t guarantee you hydration or an ‘improved performance’ – an active lifestyle with optimal sleep and a healthy balanced diet are the main determining factors.  

In most situations, refilling a bottle with tap water alone or with a sugar free flavouring is a cheap, effective and environmentally friendly approach to keeping hydrated.

It is fine to eat sugary foods after physical activity as it helps recovery: MYTH

Carbohydrate rich foods which are rapidly absorbed and referred to as ‘high glycaemic index’ or high GI, have long been promoted to aid recovery with sugary confectionery, cakes and cereal bars being popular choices. However, eating immediately after activity is rarely necessary, unless you participate in intense training more than once a day, most days of the week. For most people a regular healthy meal pattern will simply do the trick for any activity!

Drinking milk after exercise helps with both rehydration and recovery: TRUE!

This is true. Milk is not only a good source of fluid for rehydration but provides essential nutrients which nourish and aid recovery.

Top tip! Try drinking skimmed milk – it serves as a nutrient rich snack and a tooth friendly rehydration drink! You can also try flavoured milks or plant based options too.

A healthy balanced diet can provide all essential nutrients for health: TRUE!

Plant-based eaters and vegans do not need to despair – we can get all our essential nutrients provided by eating a varied and well-planned diet.

It doesn’t matter when you eat as long as you eat and drink the right things to meet all your daily needs: MYTH

Our mood and resilience is influenced by a steady supply of nutrients to the brain – so help yourself by keeping to a regular meal pattern, starting the day with a nutritious breakfast and choosing nutritious meals, healthy snacks and hydrating drinks at regular throughout the day.

Five top tops for a healthy Christmas and New Year

  1. Plan your social activities
    Plan your social activities making sure that you still allow yourself time to eat healthily, be active and sleep well!
  2. Keep well hydrated
    Keep well hydrated and ‘stay in control’ by drinking less alcohol and more low calorie soft drinks and water throughout the day and with meals.
  3. Take time to prepare your meals
    Take advantage of any holiday you have from work and take more time to prepare your meals. Try out different meal patterns too; if you usually eat a main meal in the evening experiment with a larger breakfast, brunch or lunch for a change - it might suit you better or simply be a refreshing change.
  4. Maximise daylight hours
    Maximise daylight hours and consider a walk, cycle or jog before enjoying your breakfast. Alternatively arrange to catch-up with friends for a ‘walk and talk’ before meeting up for a coffee break or lunch.
  5. Avoid stockpiling food
    Resist the special offers and only buy enough food for the bank holidays. Avoid ‘stock-piling’ food that you later feel obliged to eat or consider donating any unused, non-perishables to local charities.

Tips for a healthy Christmas Dinner

  1. Keeping with tradition, roast turkey is a good choice for your Xmas dinner being lower in fat than many other meats, especially if you eat the breast meat without the skin
  2. Avoid basting the turkey with oil, butter, margarine or lard. If you wish to add a little oil, simply brush the turkey with a light covering of oil rather than pouring or spooning it over
  3. Enjoy traditional seasonal vegetables such as red cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts, swede and cauliflower. Try steaming your vegetables rather than boiling them, and avoid adding extra oil, butter or salt
  4. Use less fat to roast potatoes and parsnips by parboiling them first, and then brushing them lightly with oil before oven baking. Keeping them in large pieces also helps to reduce the amount of fat absorbed
  5. Drain the fat from any meat juices before making gravy. If you have boiled any vegetables, use the vegetable water to make gravy
  6. If you are using a packet mix of stuffing, avoid adding the recommended knob of butter. Alternatively, you could make your own stuffing with sage and onions or chopped chestnuts. Use only a spray of oil to fry any onions to add to the stuffing
  7. Buy low-fat chipolata sausages and lean back bacon to make the sausage and bacon rolls that are traditionally served with turkey  
  8. Be aware of all the extras such as cranberry sauce, bread pudding and white sauce – serve yourself smaller portions
  9. Similarly, serve yourself a smaller portion of Christmas pudding or your preferred dessert with a just a tablespoon of brandy butter or cream
  10. Eat slowly and enjoy!

Recipe of the month: Spicy Bean Burritos

Quick and easy to prepare, low GI for slower release energy and perfect for before or after training.

You can put all types of fillings in your burrito – spicy chicken, chilli con carne - made with meat or Quorn, and as well as the below, you can try adding sweetcorn, peas or chopped peppers to your rice, too.

Ingredients for 2-4 people: 

4 large flour tortilla wraps (try wholegrain)

4 large lettuce leaves, shredded

3 tomatoes, chopped

½ cup grated reduced-fat cheddar

4 tablespoons low-fat natural yoghurt


Spray of oil olive or rapeseed or sunflower

1 onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

440 g can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

400 g can crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato puree

2 teaspoons chilli sauce

  1.   To make the filling, spray a non-stick pan with oil and heat.
  2.   Add the onion and cook over a medium heat for 3 minutes or until soft and add the spices and stir for a minute.
  3.   Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato puree and chilli sauce.
  4.   Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes - until heated through and thickened slightly.
  5.   Divide the filling into four and place on each of the tortilla wraps.
  6.   Roll up and top with lettuce, tomato, cheese and yoghurt

Serve with generous portion of basmati rice and a larger mixed salad for a more substantial meal.


Work with your family to answer the following questions about hydration and keeping healthy throughout the festive season

Remember that words can be vertical, horizontal, upside down, reversed or even diagonal!

  1. Failing to keep hydrated can make you irritable. Find another word for grumpy
  2. You may regularly suffer from these if you don’t drink enough water.
  3. You may feel…………….and …………..if you don’t eat enough starchy foods or miss meals.
  4. Doing this is infectious and you’re not getting enough sleep!
  5. When your urine is …………… this is a good sign that you’re drinking enough.
  6. A drink that is nutritious, hydrating and tooth friendly
  7. If you get a chance to take a one of these during the day it can help you feel refreshed and power on.
  8. Sound drinking and eating habits every day will help you to repair and ………….








7. NAP


Merry Christmas!

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