Despite the night’s drawing in earlier, the torrential rain, wind and obvious chill factor, winter isn’t all that bad really. In fact for many, winter is a joyous time for snuggling by a warm fire, shopping for a new winter wardrobe, cooking a hearty evening meal and enjoying the festive season. Above all this though, winter is a time to start increasing your dietary intake which for some could mean eating 3000+ calories to help you gain overall size when your body is in its optimal condition for doing so! Granted, there is no doubting the nutritional and physiological strains winter can place on our bodies ranging from the much publicised deficiencies in Vitamin D, increased Cortisol levels, and the reduced peripheral blood flow (due to blood preferentially shifting to our major organs when it’s cold) which can worsen existing aches, pains and cause you to feel lethargic and low in energy. So as Captain Jack Sparrow liked to put it, stay ‘savvy’ in the winter months and make sure you get the nutritional composition of your diet right!
A great place to start is the ‘Eatwell’ plate which illustrates the optimal proportions of the 5 main food groups.
(Food Standards Agency, 2011)
We should all try to meet these recommendations over the course of a week, granted it may not be possible to meet the requisite food groups every meal per se, but if it balances out over the week then all should be dandy! More specifically though, we should ensure we include optimal amounts of key Vitamins and minerals which will play a big part in our winter bodily functions, mood and wellbeing. Getting up early when it’s dark and invariably cold and wet, is not pleasant for most, therefore we have listed some of the vital, widely known Vitamins and Minerals and their respective dietary sources. Starting then with Vitamin C:
This water- soluble Vitamin limits the secretion of Cortisol in those who are repeatedly subjected to stressors i.e. physical or mental. Cortisol is the hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stressful situations. Recurrent high levels of this stress hormone can cause exhaustion, memory/learning impairments and an increased susceptibility to depression. Cortisol is one of the main contributors to the dreaded overtraining syndrome, research by the ISSN (2009) has found that cortisol levels increase significantly after 60-90mins of exercise, meaning training for longer than this can often be deleterious to both your gains and your health.
Acai berry, Papaya, Bell Peppers, Strawberries, Oranges, Pineapples, and also curly Kale and potatoes as a savoury alternative.
NOTE: Vitamin C is by far the most unstable Vitamin there is, if exposed to air and heat for too long, and if mixed with certain metals such as Copper and Iron, Vitamin C can be damaged and its benefits lost! Interestingly, the simple process of cutting up fruit leads to the release of an enzyme resulting in the oxidation of Vitamin C which could render it useless. Extra care should be paid to the cooking processes used i.e. the heat from frying is too intense and boiling can cause the Vitamin C to leach out into the water, which unless you drink it, the Vitamin C will be wasted!
Vitamin B boosts serotonin levels increasing the body’s ability to cope with stress and anxiety. Deficiencies can cause mental confusion, neurological changes and make it difficult to cope with stress.
NOTE: Cooking and reheating damages the integrity of B Vitamins, in fact you can lose up to 20% through these processes alone! For an added tip, combine B Vitamins with a source of menthol such as peppermint; this is a calming oil which can help clear your mind and aid digestion.
Pork, vegetables, milk, cheese, peas, fruit, eggs and wholegrain bread and cereals.
A potent antioxidant, phytonutrient and a pro-Vitamin A which helps to soak up damaging free radicals (atom with unpaired electrons) that accumulates during training and in the winter months. If free radicals are allowed to accumulate, damage will occur to our cells including our organs, veins, arteries and muscle. The end result can be any or all of the following:
- Impaired energy
- Increased physical stress
- Drops in motivation
- Impaired immune response
- Overall weakness
- Neuromuscular fatigue (fatigued mind/muscle connection)
- Severe plateaus/declines in your training and health including heart disease and some cancers
(Gibson and Edwards, 1985; Lehman et al. 1993).
To limit the onset of the above, we must provide protection through adequate rest and diet, therefore consuming foods such as Liver, milk, cheese, carrots and green leafy veg as well as orange coloured fruits is a great way to get some Beta-carotene. However, not everybody consumes enough of these on a regular basis to deliver adequate protective antioxidants; therefore a supplement is a more than viable option. According to the Department of Health Dietary reference values for food energy, the average recommended intake of Beta- Carotene is 5,000-25,000 IU per day.
Vitamin A is not widely found in food because it is stored in the liver, which naturally makes liver an extremely dense source. Other key sources include eggs, oily fish, milk and yoghurt, whilst margarines are fortified with Vitamin A (Vitamin A added to it) by law.
One of the main consequences of the dark mornings and the even darker nights is the effect this has on our Vitamin D levels! We synthesise Vitamin D through the ultraviolet radiation we get from sunlight via a precursor of cholesterol in the skin. To avoid this vitamin D deficit ensure there is adequate amounts in your diet.
Cod liver oil, salmon, egg yolk and liver, but if none of these take your fancy, vitamin D supplementation is a fast and effective way to maintain healthy levels!
The fat soluble Vitamin E helps protect the neurons in your brain from oxidative stress. The increased levels of stress hormones can increase free radicals leading to oxidative stress. Therefore key sources of anti-oxidants such as Vitamin E, A and C are integral to overall health and wellbeing. Vitamin E is widely found in food but most notably in plant based foodstuffs such as fruit and veg.
Plant oils e.g. vegetable, olive, rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, wheatgerm (cereals and cereal products), meat, poultry and dairy products.
Increase your Carbohydrates to help regulate serotonin which is a mood controlling hormone known to promote feelings of happiness and suppress anxiety. Complex carbs release energy slower which helps balance mood and avoid the mood highs and lows associated with simple carbohydrates.
Sweet potato, potato, pasta, whole grain bread, wholegrain cereals, wholegrain rice, rice, legumes, corn on the cob, oat cakes, oatmeal cookies, popcorn, pretzels and Ryvita.
Health Aid’s Vitamin A & D Complex delivers the key fat soluble vitamins A & D in the optimal ratio’s needed for good health.
To stop the cold from penetrating deep into your joints this winter, consider the use of an omega oil blend such as Optimum Health Omega oil blend for optimal ratio’s of the anti-inflammatory, anti-catabolic, and lubricating omega 3, 6 and 9 omega oils.
Try some Chi 100% Pure coconut water! It is high in lauric acid (MCT) which delivers energy and boosts metabolism. It is also very low in calories, low in saturated fat, high in fibre and potassium, and almost exactly mirrors the electrolyte composition of human serum. Not only this, the abundance of lauric acid is converted into a fatty acid compound called monolaurin which has anti- microbial and infection fighting properties (Walling, 2009).