Whether you’re taking a break from your endurance sport this winter, or are getting ready for an early start in the spring, it’s important to fight those pizza and ice cream cravings and keep your winter nutrition in check. Once the snow melts and the trees start budding, you’ll thank yourself.
Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics in Evanston Monique Ryan says there a few important things athletes need to keep in mind throughout the winter seasons. First, even though it is cold out, hydration and proper fueling should still be a priority.
“If athletes are going to be training outside, they still sweat in the cold, and still have to hydrate,” Ryan says. “During a long, outdoor winter run, the drinking fountains won’t be on, so you should bring water and gels.”
She also explains that by bundling up and trying to stay warm in the cold, you actually burn more calories than you think, so you do need carb replacement.
Many endurance athletes take the winter months to focus more on strength training, which is often neglected during their peak season. Ryan says fueling properly for this change is crucial; athletes need to incorporate more protein into their meals, and she suggests 20 to 25 grams after the workout.
“A lot of people try to build muscle and lost fat at the same time in the winter, but that’s hard to do, so you need to prioritize,” Ryan adds.
Nutritionally, Ryan says the colder season is a great time for athletes to explore new recipes. She understands the increase in comfort food cravings, and assures those cravings can still be satisfied in moderation. She also suggests going heavier on the vegetables, specifically root vegetables as they’re pretty accessible, and using leaner meats.
Ryan’s favorite vegetable is squash because there are a dozen different kinds. Even sweet potatoes can be made with squash, and spaghetti squash is a great way to mimic a pasta carbo-load even when you’re not preparing for a race.
While many may assume obtaining fruit to be more challenging in the winter, Ryan disagrees. In fact, she said utilizing frozen fruit is just as nutritional as fresh, as long as there’s no sugar added.
With the colder weather comes the holiday season, and Ryan understands that this is a tricky time to stick to a meal plan. She encourages moderate and controlled indulging on these days.
“It’s just one or two meals, so you don’t have to turn it into a big deal,” Ryan says. “You can try a variety of things., but watch the portions and don’t let it turn into a whole week of overeating.”
Although it can be easy to just take a week or two off of exercising to accommodate busy schedules, Ryan says those workouts should be a priority; she’s found that when people work out consistently, they tend to make better food choices.
“If your season is done, just sit down and think about what your goals are and what you need to do nutritionally to accomplish those goals,” Ryan suggests. “I know it can be harder during the holidays, but it’s so worth it when those are over and you’re getting back on track.”
Want to read more of Monique Ryan’s nutrition advice? Check out her book, “Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes,” which serves as a nutritional reference book specifically for runners, triathletes, swimmers and cyclists.