— by Pip Taylor
Winter, as a triathlete, can be a challenging season. For some, the allure of winter sports or the following summer season goals can shine bright. These are the athletes who bound out the door no matter the weather, continuing to train hard and stay focused. For others, snow, cold and reduced sunlight hours can impact both mood and energy.
For those winter warriors keen to get out regardless, there are a few key nutrition factors to consider to ensure maintenance of health and performance. For others, when the allure of cozying up inside with a steaming bowl of comfort food is too great, there are still ways you can ensure this doesn’t spell the end of your fitness and upcoming race goals. And it all starts in the kitchen.
ENERGY REQUIREMENTS ARE HIGHER IN THE WINTER: Increased metabolic functions, linked to heat loss, mean you will likely need to pack some extra training fuel when working out in the winter chill. And, if it’s wet (or snowing), or you are swimming in a cool pool, this will further increase heat losses, driving energy needs even higher. To combat this, eat small frequent snacks to fuel extra energy demand and generate some additional body heat as metabolism fires up.
For those with reduced winter training loads, be aware that the cold can drive our perception of hunger over and above caloric needs, increasing the desire to eat for comfort and warmth. Counteract this by turning to warm, nourishing foods, such as soups, stews, cooked fruits and roasted vegetables that are nutrient dense, yet not packed with calories.
STAY HYDRATED: Sweat in summer prompts us to stay on top of hydration. But cool weather can be deceptive. If you find you are getting back from long workouts and have barely touched any fluids, then try rehydrating with some warming fluids. Try teas, hot chocolates for post-workout recovery treats and hot soups. These might be more appealing as the temperature plummets.
BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM AND HELP WARD OFF THE WINTER SNIFFLES: Vitamin C, carotenoids and other phytonutrients increase the body’s production of infection-fighting white blood cells to help ward off viruses. Fruits and vegetables such as oranges, strawberries, spinach, carrots and green herbs are all good sources to include. Some antioxidants even increase during the cooking process (such as lycopene in tomatoes or beta-carotene in carrots), making soups such a great winter option. Zinc is also critical for immune function and found in proteins (meats, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy) as well as whole grains. If fresh produce is not readily available during the cold winter, then try the frozen foods section. Vegetables and fruits that are snap frozen when fresh in season will provide more nutrients than canned. Research suggests that including probiotics will also assist in strengthening the immune system by maintaining healthy gut flora (the main driver of the immune system). Fermented foods, such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi are the best dietary sources.
SPICE IT UP: Go with warming comfort meals, but kick things up a notch by adding plenty of herbs and spices. Chillies, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon are all great additions that will add flavour and nutrients, increase meal satiation and help stave off weight gain for those that prefer the sofa to the turbo.
GET SOME SUNSHINE: Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of illness but has also been linked with depressed mood, which in turn has the potential to lead to bored or emotional eating and especially craving high-carb comfort food. Sunlight is the best source of Vitamin D, but winter can pose a challenge for soaking up enough of it. Foods such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and fortified dairy foods are also good sources.
MAKE USE OF THE EXTRA TIME: Your training and race schedule may not be so packed, but this doesn’t mean you can’t spend some time investing in your fitness in other ways. If you lack confidence in the kitchen, then challenge your- self to improve your skills. This uptick in kitchen confidence and competence will serve you well as training loads increase and you want to fuel well, but with less time to prepare and plan.