Over the winter months our physiology has to adapt to a change in daylight, temperature and the change in which foods are available due to seasonal impacts on farming. As such, we too need to match these changes with appropriate nutrients to offset seasonal effects on our hormones and immunity. It's all too easy - especially when you have a body building background - to carrying on eating the same diet you have come to find that works for you but in this article we're going to take a look at some reasons as to why you should tweak your diet when the clocks go back.
The most obvious change that happens during winter is a change in daylight and if you understand the role that sunlight plays on our recovery, sleep hormones and nutrient communications it's easy to see why we are more prone to over training, common colds and why perhaps our mood drops. Sunlight is the way in which we get all but very small amounts of Vitamin D into our bodies, with food sources being pretty poor. Those of us whose lineage points towards countries that enjoy long, hot summers are likely to rely on vitamin D more so, just as those of us who come from Northern European countries might be less effected but the winter months. The fact is, in this day and age most of us have different parts of one continent in us and it's equally as common that we might have emigrated to another region of the world - so most of us need to consider adding vitamin D to our diet over winter. Another reason we need vitamin D is that it has a synergistic relationship with calcium - it is well reported that ethnic groups that emigrate from hot climates such as East Asia to colder climates with less sun light enter high risk groups for osteoporosis. Low calcium compromises vitamin D and low vitamin D compromises calcium. So how can you get it into your diet? As I have already mentioned food sources are poor but foods such as wheat germ oil and sweet potatoes are the highest counts. The best bet is either to supplement with vitamin D capsules/oral sprays or, if done responsibly, monthly artificial UV exposure is also an effective tactic. Getting calcium into your diet is also necessary and this can be done far more effectively with foods - white bait, sardines and dairy products are all solid sources with the two fish examples being by far and away the greatest sources. Dairy products are satisfactory but do not come close to levels found in white bait and sardines.
Another way in which the change in daylight affects us is sleep hormones. Our sleep hormone, melatonin, is released from the pineal gland in response to day light meaning the earlier the sun goes down the earlier our sleep hormones are released. As such, it's worth considering bringing your workouts to early morning or lunchtime because when we exercise into the evening we disturb the release of our melatonin by causing a false cortisol release with exercise. If you’re working day permits it leave the evening for recovery or lighter workouts like rehab work that is less demanding.
Invariably over the winter months you are going to be exposed to the odd cold here and there - eating a wide range of rich antioxidants and immune supporting nutrients like zinc, B vitamins and vitamin C will help, but sometimes it just gets us! When you do get size don't fight it, listen to your body and rest when it tells you to. After a couple days I always find getting some fresh air and doing some light cardio helps start get my circulation going and there are a few good nutritional tips to take on board. Our appetite tends to take a bit of a hit so switching to more liquids can help get around this so you don't feel bloated but likewise don't miss out on getting the calories and nutrients in. Juices and smoothies are a great bet as these are generally laden with fantastic nutrients from fruit and veg, and animal broths are your best way to get in some protein. Broths also contain gelatin that is leached from the bones of the animal - this substance is ideal for healing your gut that boosts nutrient absorption in the process. Making your own juices and broths can be a pain and is sometimes the last thing you want to do when you're sick so at least aim to eat as fresh a juice or soup as possible - generally anything with a shelf life longer 3-5 days is going to contain a fair amount of preservatives.
Zinc is a powerful immune supporting mineral that is best found in crab and other crustaceans such as shrimp and prawns. As with any of the vitamins and minerals I speak about animal sources are generally best unless I say otherwise! Don't interpret this as me saying fruit and veg are worthless, I am most certainly not, but minerals such as calcium and zinc are in overwhelmingly richer supply in seafood sources than in fruit and veg. You'll also remember I spoke about vitamin C earlier - this is best found in vibrant fruit like oranges, lemons, limes, kiwi and pineapple.
As I said, getting a cold over winter is hard to avoid but you can try to preload your immune system with antioxidants found in berries (the darker the better, think blueberries and blackberries) and freshly ground espresso. Eating a wide range of coniferous veg such as broccoli, Brussels, cabbage and kale also makes sure your B vitamin count is high.
- In the winter our bodies have to adapt to changes in day light, temperature and what kind of foods are available to us.
- We can adapt our diet to make this job much easier for our bodies, enabling us to carry on training without injury or picking up illness.
- Eating a wide range of foods with an emphasis on Vitamin C, B (multiple), D, calcium and zinc keeps our immune system supported.