Struggling to train as the mercury drops? Here’s how to face winter head on!
Author: Tina Chantrey for Women’s Running December Issue (20 November 2014).
The dark gloomy season is upon us. The days are short, the evenings dark and chilly and the echoes of ‘Santa Baby’ in our local store remind us that it’s that time of year again. And when the icy rain is coming down in sheets, the last thing we feel like doing after a draining day at work is stepping into a dark evening for a run. That’s why we’ve compiled our top tips for facing winter head on, helping you to keep on top of your training and reap the rewards when spring arrives.
1. Eat Right, Train Well
Emma Patel, a healthy eating advisor, believes a good diet is key. ‘Eating the right amount of protein helps to balance blood sugar, which in turn avoids energy fluctuations,’ she says. ‘Also, avoid processed “white foods” high in refined sugar. Select lower glycaemic index grains, such as whole grains that have not been refined (e.g kamut, spelt or 100 per cent whole wheat), sweet potatoes and brown rice to keep your energy up.’ This will avoid the ebbs and flows of high sugar energy bursts and subsequent dips. We all know that once the summer ends, there’s a temptation to ditch the salads and fill up on starchy foods. ‘You’ll have more energy, though, if you include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your comfort meals,’ advises Emma, ‘and try to eat raw wholefoods as much as possible.’
2. Supplement For Strength
Even if you have a balanced diet, it may be worth considering a probiotic. ‘Those with an imbalanced gut flora tend to experience more fatigue,’ says nutritional therapist Natalie Lamb. ‘Healthy digestive function, absorption of nutrients and removal of waste could make you feel lighter and more energised,’ she suggests. ‘Try to consume fermented foods or a daily probiotic supplement.’ Natalie recommends Bio-Kult (£14.95www.bio-kult.com).
3. Don’t Deplete Vitamin D
Vitamin D levels are often low in those experiencing depleted energy. ‘The lack of sunshine over the winter months can mean you don’t get enough vitamin D, making you feel tired,’ says Emma. ‘The main source of vitamin D is sunlight, but in the UK we can’t make vitamin D from winter daylight between November and March, so it’s especially important to get vitamin D from your diet.’ Good sources are oily fish (salmon, sardines and mackerel), eggs and fortified breakfast cereals.
In the last of the summer months, try to top up your fat-soluble vitamin D stores to see you through the winter. ‘Just 15 minutes of midday sunshine without sunscreen (longer exposure without protection could lead to sunburn and possibly skin cancer) is now recommended,’ says Natalie. Running outdoors in your lunch hour will maximise exposure to sunlight and boost your spirits.
4. Go Into The Light
One of the main reasons for lethargy during the winter is a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD); nearly 20 per cent of adults suffer mild symptoms, known as the “winter blues”. Over-eating and over-sleeping are the two main indicators. Periods of dark, gloomy weather reduce the amount of light we receive through our eyes. A body clock that isn’t receiving the right light signals produces more of the hormone melatonin, which leaves you feeling tired, moody and sluggish. Supplementing with 10-20mcg of vitamin D daily may help, as well as sitting in front of a light box, which emits light far brighter than a normal light bulb. Contact the SAD Association (www.sada.org.uk) for a list of reputable suppliers.
5. Take a Friend To A Yoga Class
Yogic postures work on your internal organs, glands and nerves. Due to the release of physical and mental tension, they set free vast resources of energy – ideal for the winter months.‘Yoga greatly reduces the level of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases the flow of positive neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, creating a feeling of wellbeing and harmony,’ says Wilmien Bos, a yoga teacher (www.oneflow.guru). ‘This allows energy to circulate in a balanced way and greatly increases heat in the body, too, making winters feel much warmer and energising.’ Regular yoga throughout the winter may improve sleep patterns, too.
6. Rise to the challenge
‘Staying psychologically tough as the dark, shorter days creep up requires focus, dedication and a winner’s mind-set,’ says Sloan Sheridan-Williams, a life coach and wellness consultant (www.sloansw.com). ‘You are going to need to master your focus. The long-term pleasure you get from being fit and healthy will outweigh the short-term pain of the weather conditions. Concentrate on the rewards of staying active when you feel like skipping a workout.’ Sloan says success can be enhanced by motivational and inspirational images. ‘Add these to your phone wallpaper or computer screen-saver, or create a vision board, as this activates the goal-seeking part of your brain, helping you move towards the results you desire.’