It’s that time of year: Pie season. Almost 20% of all pie eating in the U.S. occurs during the holidays, according to one report. That adds up to approximately 50 million pumpkin pies just at Thanksgiving, according to Nestle.
But if you’re training for a race or event, is it OK to indulge? Just this once? (Or twice?) We asked a few sports nutritionists who say stop fooling yourself but stop worrying about protein-to-carb ratios and — if you really want some — have a slice.
“Having a small piece of pie on occasion will not make a difference on your performance,” says Leslie Bonci, RD, a sports dietetics specialist and owner of Active Eating Advice. “In fact, if you deprive yourself of something you really enjoy, you may find that when you have that particular food, you end up over-consuming it and possibly other foods as well.”
If you’re worried about pie because you’re on a low-carb kick, you may want to rethink your eating plan. “Too many athletes tend to be carb-phobic. But they need carbs for energy — and glycogen is important for endurance energy,” says Dana White, RD, a sports dietitian and athletic trainer.
Granted, flaky crust and sugary filling are by no means recovery foods or something you should eat regularly. “A small slice of pie is anywhere from 200–400 calories,” Bonci says. “If you add in pie every day and don’t take out another food or increase your energy output through exercise, you will see your weight creep up.”
So if you’re going to have some apple pie, you may want to skip that glass of wine or go lighter on the mashed potatoes. Either way, pie isn’t all carbs, and many ingredients do have some health benefits.
“Pie is more than crusts with nothing in between — that’s a Pop-Tart,” Bonci says. “With pie, you’re getting some fruit — or when pumpkin, you’re getting a vegetable. That has some nutritional value to it.”
Here’s how that breaks down for your favorite pies:
Apples contain an antioxidant called quercetin. In addition to being anti-inflammatory, quercetin may help lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol, White says. “For athletes, it’s good to get more of this,” she adds.
A slice of this seasonal dessert has 94% of a woman’s daily vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and 73% of a man’s A. “Beta-carotene may prevent some oxidation that occurs during exercise and keep cells healthy,” Bonci says. Plus, adding ginger not only amps up the taste, it’s also anti-inflammatory.
Unless you love baking, you may not know that cherry pies are traditionally made with tart cherries. In studies, these cherries have been shown to speed recovery and reduce muscle soreness for runners, and decrease the muscle damage that naturally happens after strength training. “The anthocyanins in tart cherries suppress the production of inflammation,” Bonci says, which leads to these post-workout benefits.
This berry is also loaded with antioxidants and anthocyanins, and research suggests it may help keep your brain, heart and eyes healthy. When you bake your pie, try to use wild blueberries: Their ORAC score (a measure of antioxidant levels) is double that of regular blueberries.
Like pumpkin, sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene. And although sweet potatoes have more calories than pumpkin purée, they also have three times the fiber and more than twice as much protein per gram. You also get more vitamin C from these spuds.
Yes, nuts are a good source of healthy fats. However, pecan pie is also one of the highest in sugar and calories, White says. If pecan is your favorite, she recommends choosing a small piece.
Regardless of which kind of pie you love, it’s OK to have your pie and eat it, too — just not every single day.