A 6 AM alarm feels very different in October to how it felt in July. Staying in bed is clearly tempting during both months, but when the sun is rising and you throw your duvet off to warm weather, a run doesn’t sound that bad. Right now, keeping the warm blankets on wins over getting out of bed to darkness and 5°C weather.
Even if you don’t train in the morning, motivation and energy for exercise can be low during these months. “Due to reduced exposure to sunlight some people experience a general slowing down as a result of our natural hibernation response. Symptoms can include tiredness, sleepiness and overeating with carbohydrate cravings,” explains Dr Sarah Brewer, nutritionist and medical director at Healthspan.
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While fuelling properly is essential at all times, what we eat can be particularly beneficial during winter to energise us before training. “Oily fish also provides omega-3 oils that have beneficial effects on the brain and mood regulation, with some evidence suggesting they may reduce depression in general,” says Dr Brewer, so if winter is making you feel a little more flat than usual, consider getting in more fish such as salmon and sardines. She also advises that following a lower-glycemic diet and says avoiding excessive consumption of stodgy foods can stop us feeling sluggish and have a bit more get-up-and-go to hit the gym.
You might also need to consider how much you’re eating during the colder months, particularly if your training involves being out in the thick of it. “During winter we may need more calories to help us stay warm – although this is less of an issue in modern centrally heated homes and offices than it was for our caveman ancestors. This will also depend on the extent of your workout and whether or not you are trying to gain muscle mass,” says Dr Brewer.
Remember that getting in enough protein is also crucial to support your muscles during and after training. “Vitamin D is also important for muscle health,” Dr Brewer says. “While you can obtain vitamin D in your diet from foods such as oily fish, animal liver, eggs, butter and fortified milk, current advice is that everyone takes a vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter months.”
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What to eat before training for an energy boost
To help get you in the mood for training, we need to concentrate on energy boosting carbohydrates that will see us through our session. Dr Brewer recommends:
- wholegrains, such as porridge, brown rice and quinoa
- root vegetables including carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes
- beans and lentils
- fresh or dried fruit
When it comes to pre-workout meals, Dr Brewer suggests making porridge with nuts and berries, or if you’re looking for a snack then opt for nut butter on rice cake or fruit and nut energy bars.
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