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December 8, 2022

Holiday Warmth: Balancing Nutrition and Fun

By Brandi Givens, RD

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The holidays are here again, right along with the inclement weather. Avid pickleball players are flocking south or crowding onto covered courts to beat the anti-outdoor-ball conditions. With the frigid temps in mind, here are some warm-you-up recipes with nutritional benefits to help keep you fired up on and off the court.



It can be challenging to eat healthfully during the winter months. Fewer daylight hours can lower mood-boosting serotonin levels, causing us to crave simple carbs that are low in nutritional value. You may help boost your serotonin with foods that contain tryptophan, like turkey, dairy, soy, nuts, seeds, and salmon.


To avoid being the cranky person on the court, here are a couple of tryptophan-loaded recipes that are easy to pack in an insulated container for long play days.


If you’re looking for a holiday gift for your favorite pickleball player, here’s a tip: An insulated food jar is a practical present that can help keep your buddy fueled for many tournaments to come!


Hot Holiday Oatmeal

Oats are truly a superfood, with their power to lower cholesterol and feed your gut microbiome. If you think you don’t like oatmeal, try this. By using steel-cut oats and cooking them in milk or soy beverage, you’ll greatly improve both texture and flavor.


½ cup steel-cut oats

1 cup milk (or soy beverage)

¼ cup chopped apples or dried cherries

¼ cup walnut pieces or pumpkin seeds

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Cook oats according to package directions, using milk or soy beverage instead of water. Mix in your favorite fruit, nuts or seeds. Sprinkle with cinnamon. 1 serving.


Turkey Rice Soup

Don’t let that tryptophan-packed leftover turkey go to waste! With a bone-broth base, this soup is rich in collagen protein for muscle and joint recovery, vitamin A to keep your dinking sight sharp, and whole grain for gut health.


8 cups turkey bone broth (made from leftover turkey carcass)

3 minced garlic cloves

1 chopped yellow onion

4 large carrots, peeled and sliced

4 stalks celery, chopped

4 cups chopped turkey meat

3 cups cooked brown rice

Over medium heat, gently sauté garlic, onion, celery and carrots in two tablespoons of olive oil for five minutes or until onions are soft. Add turkey meat and sauté two more minutes. Add bone broth and simmer for 30 minutes or until carrots and celery are tender. Add cooked rice and heat through. 8 servings.



Whether you’re commending a holiday or a tournament win, drinks are what most of us reach for first during a celebration. These festive beverages have a nutritional twist and the option of alcohol to help keep you warm. Cheers!


Mulled Pomegranate Cider

Both tart cherries and pomegranates have powerful anti-inflammatory benefits that may help your heart, brain and muscles. Tart cherry juice seems to be especially helpful in muscle recovery.


1 quart pomegranate or tart cherry juice

2 cups apple cider

1 orange, thinly sliced

2 cinnamon sticks

5 whole cloves

3 oz. spiced rum (optional)

In a large saucepan, bring juices, orange slices, and spices to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove spices and oranges with a strainer. Stir in rum if desired. Serves 4.


Golden Latte

Both milk and turmeric can be beneficial for athletes. Milk provides protein for muscle building and recovery, and the curcumin in turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory whole-body benefits. Turmeric is better absorbed with a little fat and pepper, included in this recipe.


2 cups whole milk (or nut beverage of choice plus 1 tablespoon coconut oil)

2 inches fresh turmeric root, grated

Pinch of black pepper

1-2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup, or agave sweetener

1 oz. Irish cream whisky or rum (optional)

Gently heat milk, turmeric, pepper, and sweetener. Stir constantly on low heat until it begins to simmer. Remove from heat and strain out turmeric. Stir in Irish cream or rum, if desired.


I wish you all warm and healthy holidays, and may 2023 be your best pickleball year yet!


Keep in mind that alcohol is a dehydrating toxin and can negate the benefits of the nutrients found in these drinks. Overconsumption (more than two drinks daily for men, one for women) may be detrimental to your health and pickleball performance.

Brandi Givens has been a registered dietitian since 2010. Questions or comments can be posted to her blog at

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