Talking Turkey for Athletes

Talking Turkey for Athletes

By Chris Rosenbloom, PHD, RDN, CSSD  | Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same without turkey. Although, if you are like me, you enjoy turkey all through the year. Turkey is a great protein choice for swimmers. A small 3-ounce portion has 21 grams of high quality, complete protein, is low in saturated fats, and contains vitamins and minerals. Twenty grams of protein is the amount recommended for athletes for recovery and snacks. And, while many athletes think they can only get the anabolic amino acid, leucine, in protein powders or shakes, turkey is a good source of this amino acid to help stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

A few facts to break through the confusion about turkey:
  • All turkeys sold in the U.S. are free of hormones and steroids, so no need to pay more for one that claims it doesn’t contain hormones for growth of the bird.
  • Turkey won’t cause you to be sleepy, as in the dreaded “turkey coma.” The idea that turkey causes drowsiness started when we learned about the amino acid, tryptophan, a brain calming compound. All meat contains tryptophan, so turkey won’t make you any sleepier than eating a burger. 
  • Deep-fried turkey isn’t higher in fat than a roasted bird….IF, you make sure the oil is at a high temperature before frying the bird (usually 375 to 400 F°, depending on the fryer). If the temperature is too low, the oil will saturate the meat, making it greasy and increasing fat).
  • Some turkeys have added saline solution which increases the sodium content of the bird. For a 3-ounce portion, that amounts to about 70-milligrams of sodium more than in a fresh turkey (or about .03 teaspoons of sodium), so not much more than those without added solutions.
  • Fresh turkeys are good, but may cost more than frozen.
  • Dark meat contains more iron and other minerals than breast meat, so mix it up and a have a bit of both.

Turkey is a versatile protein for swimmers. Enjoy your Thanksgiving meal, but don’t overlook these other ways to include turkey:

  • Ground turkey burgers, sliders, meatloaf, and meatballs
  • Turkey chili
  • Turkey sausage
  • And, my favorite, turkey breast wraps with dried cranberries and arugula

Chris Rosenbloom is a professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University and a registered dietitian. She provides sports nutrition consulting services to sports teams, athletes and coaches. To learn more, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @chrisrosenbloom.  She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents and coaches at



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