Triathlon Training: Thanksgiving Meal Alternatives for Ironman Athletes


By Chris Carmichael

With last week’s Ironman Arizona race, the year’s big events have wrapped up. And to everyone who competed in Kona, Coeur d’Alene and points in between, I congratulate you. If you’re like me, you’re likely going to sit down to a big meal with family this Thanksgiving and express your gratitude for family, friends, and health.

Some of you, however, may have already started training for next year’s Ironman. And you’re wondering how to negotiate the dietary minefield that is the holiday spread. Easiest tip: Eat in moderation. There’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy a bit of everything, but just don’t go overboard. Weight to you gain needlessly during the Holiday season is weight you have to work to lose all through the spring.

To help you create some alternatives to high-calorie, high-fat, low-nutrient dishes that are so plentiful at this time of year, here are a few dishes from a cookbook I put together with Arizona-based chef Mark Tarbell a few years ago, called “Chris Carmichael’s Fitness Cookbook”. They’ll ensure that your table contains a well-balanced, nutrient-dense choice of foods that will taste great, fill you up, and leave you fueled for a couple strong training days over the long weekend.

Seven-Layer Turkey Casserole with Brown Rice and Sweet Corn

Serves: 6

Prep/cooking time: 2 hours


  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 1 can (15 oz.) organic spring peas, drained, or 1.5 cups frozen organic peas
  • 1/2 cup organic chicken broth
  • Dash salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped tomato
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 12 oz. ground turkey
  • Dash salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato
  • 4 tbsp organic chicken broth
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese


  1. In a 2- to 3-quart casserole dish, layer all ingredients from the brown rice through the spinach in the order listed above.
  2. Bake covered for 1 hr. at 350 degrees F.
  3. Remove cover and spread cheese on top.
  4. Bake uncovered for 30 more minutes.


  • 254 Calories
  • 33g Carbohydrates
  • 17g Protein
  • 6g Fat


Sweet Potato Mash

Serves: 4

Prep/cook time: 45 minutes


  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed, skins left on, and cut into 2-inch pieces.
  • 1 small onion, halved, each half cut into 3 pieces
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place a 4-quart saucepan over high heat and add potatoes and onions, enough water to cover them by 2 inches, and 2 tsp of salt.
  2. Bring to a boil, then turn to a low boil for 25 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are soft when tested with a fork.
  3. Remove from the heat and drain, leaving 1/2 cup of cooking water.
  4. While still warm fork-mash the sweet potatoes with the butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper. The mash can be chunky. Stir in the reserved cooking water to reach the desired consistency.


  • 171 Calories
  • 25g Carbohydrates
  • 2g Protein
  • 7g Fat


Warm Fig and Arugula Salad

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Serves: 4

Prep/cook time: 15 minutes


  • 4 cups baby arugula (can substitute baby spinach, mizuna, or mustard greens)
  • 1 head butter lettuce, cleaned dried, and torn into smaller pieces
  • 8 fresh figs (sub dried figs if out of season), stems removed, cut in half
  • 8 small shavings of Parmesean cheese, or 2 tbsp grated Parmesean cheese


  1. Preheat broiler on high
  2. Place all the lettuce in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Place fig halves on small baking sheet and place under broiler for 3-5 minutes, until warm and slightly browning. Turn off broiler.
  4. Mix lettuce with just enough of the dressing (see recipe below) to moisten leaves.
  5. Arrange lettuce on four salad plates with warm figs and cheese placed on top.
  6. Place extra salad dressing in a serving vessel for guests.


  • 105 Calories
  • 21g Carbohydrates
  • 3g Protein
  • 1g Fat
  • * Doesn’t include salad dressing calories


Good Basic Salad Dressing

Serves: 8-10

Prep/cook time: 5 minutes


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • Salt to taste


  1. In small bowl, combine ingredients and thoroughly mix together.


NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION (Single Serving (2 tbsp))

  • 174 Calories
  • 3g Carbohydrates
  • 0g Protein
  • 18g Fat

Chris Carmichael is the Founder and Head Coach of CTS, the Official Coaching and Camps Partner of Ironman. For information on coaching, camps, and the new CTS Triathlon School in Tucson, AZ, visit 



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Comments 2

  1. Why can’t I just workout for 3 hours in the morning to counter the calorie intake? From a 390 pounder who just signed up for next year’s Arizona Ironman 🙂

    1. Post

      If you have the time to go out for three hours on Thanksgiving, go for it! But from working with a lot of athletes over the years, we’ve learned that holidays are one of those times when people typically prioritize family over training, so it’s more likely that people will be able to squeeze in a quick run or spin (maybe an hour) early in the day on Thanksgiving, or maybe go for the traditional post-dinner walk around the neighborhood.

      – CTS Coaching Staff

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