Most runners around the country (even if you live in Texas or Florida) can agree that winter is upon us, with its cooler temperatures and shorter days. Even if your Orlando “winter” resembles the Seattle “summer,” the reality for all of us is that we are running in colder temperatures now than we do any other time of year. Extra layers are added to your training attire, headlamps are adorned, and cramp-ons are secured. But beyond the increase in warm-weather gear, do any of us think how the cold may affect our daily training?
Most of us subconsciously drink less water during the winter. It’s cold outside, so cold water sounds less appealing. We also sweat less and don’t feel the same need to replace fluids. Pair this with increased alcohol and sugary seasonal hot beverages from November through January, and you set yourself up for fat gain, dehydration, illness, and muscle injury. Why? Dehydration reduces production of saliva, which is one of our first lines of defense against infection. Hydration is also a form of appetite regulation, and provides lubrication to working tissues. To find your daily recommended ounces, multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.5-0.6. If heating up your water and adding a tea bag helps, go for it! Other hydrating beverages include kombucha, milk and non-dairy milk, and low-sodium broths and stocks.
Your calorie needs will vary based on your winter training. If you are having more of an “off-season,” your calorie needs will likely be lower. If you are working on long slow base miles, or strength training and gaining muscle, you will want to ensure you are taking in adequate and quality calories to support lean muscle gain. Regardless, when we exercise in cold weather, our caloric needs go up. Without replenishment you will increase the body’s cortisol (stress), which suppresses testosterone and results in sore muscles and poor recovery.
With goals of leaning out, many individuals restrict carbohydrates. As a runner, especially in the winter, this is a poor decision. Not only do carbohydrates fuel our training (both endurance and strength training), but our need for them actually increases in the winter months. This does not mean you should dig into that box of Ritz crackers, bag of bagels, or pre-run carb-load with mounds of pasta. Choose nutrient-rich carbohydrate sources such as vegetables, fruits, beans, sweet potatoes and winter squashes, and whole grains such as wild and brown rice, quinoa, and oats. If you are aiming to lean out this winter, focus carbohydrate intake in the morning and afternoon, and limit carbohydrates in the evening. Recommendations for daily carbohydrate intake:
- On days of light training <1 hour: consume 1.4-2.3g carbohydrate per pound of body weight
- On days of hard training 1-2 hours: consume 2.3-3.2g/lb
- On days of hard training lasting 2-3 hours: consume 2.7-4.5g/lb
- On days of very hard training last >4 hours or with multiple sessions: consume 3.6-5.5g/lb
Recovery is a critical time for runners, and involves nutrition, hydration, soft tissue work, sleep, and temperature regulation. When it comes to nutrition, consuming easy-to-absorb calories as soon as possible after a workout is crucial. The gold standard is a liquid source of 25g whey protein + 25-75g simple carbohydrate within 15 minutes of training. The key factors to focus on: a combination of protein and carbohydrate, with minimal fat. Cold weather inhibits blood flow, and increases the likelihood of cramping, soreness, and injury. Consuming foods and nutrients that enhance blood flow can speed your recovery. These include cocoa, cinnamon, caffeine from coffee and tea, beets, tart cherries, and cayenne. Soreness can be reduced by consuming anti-inflammatories, such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, omega-3 fats, resveratrol (found in purple and blue fruits and vegetables) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy). Even consuming your recovery meal hot versus cold can help to increase blood flow and aid digestion.
Athletes are more susceptible to upper respiratory infections than the general population, due to the added inflammation and stress put on the body by exertion. However, by varying the type of exercise you do during the winter months, you can improve your chances of avoiding the bug. Moderate exercise, which is known to benefit all aspects of health, decreases our chances or getting an infection. However, as intensity and load increase, the risk of getting sick outweighs the health benefits of moderate exercise. The window of increased risk can last up to 72 hours post-workout. The takeaway: be smart about when and how often you engage in high-intensity workouts or heavy-load days during the winter months. When you do – prioritize the items discussed in this article, and boost your immunity with the following nutrients:
- Elderberry: fresh, frozen, syrup, or herbal tea. Use frozen berries in smoothies, take a spoonful of syrup at night, or sip on herbal elderberry tea.
- Bone broth: homemade or store-bought. Drink as a hot beverage, or use in soups and stews.
- Pre- and probiotics: a healthy gut means a healthy body. Sources include fermented foods such as kombucha, plain Greek yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, artichoke, and raw jicama and leek. Aim for one prebiotic food and one probiotic food daily.
- Garlic: Chop up a couple fresh cloves and swallow the pieces. By not chewing, you avoid the dreaded “garlic burp” and the anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties can directly access your immune system. Include garlic in daily cooking, and infuse cooking oils with garlic.
- Sleep: A nutrient? Most definitely. And one of the most important when it comes to immunity. Aim for at least 7 hours. Research shows that we engage in the deepest sleep from 10pm-2am.
Winter Tips While Running
- We need less fluid and more calories when exercising in the cold. Exercise less than 60 minutes should not require anything. Anything between 90-120 minutes and fluid is recommended. Fluid and calories are suggested for anything over 2 hours. Focus your calories on those that are easy to digest, in order to preserve as much body heat and as many calories as possible. Aim for 100 calories per 6-10 ounces of fluid if using a carbohydrate drink. In COLD temperatures:
- <1 hour: you don’t actually need fuel, but using a carbohydrate mouth rinse has been shown to stimulate the brain and muscles and improve performance.
- <2 hours: consume 90-100 calories of complex carbohydrate (maltodextrin) per hour
- 2-5 hours: consume 100-200 calories/hour
- >5 hours: consume 200-250 calories/hour
- Base your fueling on the type of workout you are doing. Running at a faster tempo uses more of your carbohydrate stores, whereas slow miles use more fats as fuel, and you can go longer (up to 2-2.5 hours) before replacement is necessary.
Specific Foods and Nutrients to Include Daily
- Vitamin D: sardines, wild sockeye salmon, mackerel, herring, Asian mushrooms (especially dried), dairy products, cod liver oil, egg yolks
- Vitamin A: orange vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, bell pepper, tomatoes)
- Iron: grass-fed red meat, clams, oysters, spinach, legumes, unsulphered blackstrap molasses, tofu
- Magnesium: nuts/seeds, legumes, cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, halibut
- Zinc: nuts, legumes, oysters, grass-fed red meat
- Omega-3 fats: salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring; walnuts, hemp, chia, ground flax
Try one or several of these easy, make ahead, recovery recipes after your next long run:
Recovery Aztec Hot Chocolate: combine unsweetened cocoa powder or melted dark chocolate, cinnamon, instant espresso or brewed coffee, milk or non-dairy milk of choice, and cayenne pepper to taste. Use a chocolate, vanilla, or mocha flavored protein powder to increase protein content.
Hot Ginger Tea: simmer cinnamon stick, fresh ginger, lemon, apple slices, and water on the stovetop. Drink with local raw honey, or Manuka honey.
Shalane Flanagan’s “Can’t Beet Me” Smoothie: 1 cooked beet, 1 cup frozen berries, 1 small frozen banana, ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt, knob of fresh ginger, 1 T almond butter, and unsweetened non-dairy milk and/or coconut water to thin.
Heidi’s Crock Pot Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili:
One white onion, chopped
4-5 Garlic cloves, crushed (or 2-3 Tablespoons minced, jarred garlic)
The following vegetables, chopped: Green, red, yellow, or orange bell pepper; carrots; celery (3-4 cups)
1-2 sweet potatoes, cubed
1 cans black beans
1 can pinto, garbanzo or kidney beans (or another can of black beans)
1-2 cans diced tomatoes, with juice
Vegetable stock (vegetarian) or bone broth
Spices: combination of chili powder, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa powder, oregano, basil, ginger, smoked paprika, mustard powder, bay leaves, onion flakes, cayenne.
Cook on low 4 hours or high 8 hours. Serve with plain Greek yogurt, green onion, fresh jalapenos.