Hatty Bates outlines five ways nutrition can help optimise your training during the winter months
Winter brings colder temperatures and shorter days. For rowers, being able to train consistently and illness-free throughout the winter is important to optimise performance, especially with races and regattas soon approaching in the summer. So, how can you stay healthy throughout the winter months?
Tip 1# Have your five-a-day
Fruit and veg contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which help support the immune system. One particularly important vitamin to be included in the diet during the winter is vitamin C. Research indicates that vitamin C could reduce the risk of getting respiratory infections. Food high in vitamin C includes citrus fruit such as oranges, kiwis, and grapefruit as well as bell peppers and broccoli.
As a minimum, aim to consume at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. In general, aim to consume at least two portions of vegetables with every main meal as well as some additional fruit-based snacks throughout the day. Enjoy seasonal fruit and vegetables such as apples, pears, leeks, and curly kale. If you find that your fruit and vegetables go off quickly, stock your freezer with frozen alternatives as well.
Tip 2# Stay hydrated
When it becomes cold outside, drinking enough water to remain hydrated can sometimes become challenging. However, good hydration is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer, especially when it comes to maintaining a healthy immune system. Saliva contains proteins with antimicrobial properties which prevent virus and bacteria entering the mouth. Therefore, it is important to avoid a dry mouth and remain hydrated throughout the day.
In general, aim to drink a minimum of 2L (or 35ml/kg) of fluid per day. Remember you will need to drink more than this on days you train to replace the fluids you have lost through sweating. Good hydration behaviours include having a glass of water when you wake up and alongside every main meal, always carrying a water bottle with you and sipping on water throughout a training session.
“Ensure that your meals look colourful when on your plate”
Tip 3# Support the gut microbiome
Did you know that 70-80% of our immune cells are located in the gut? Therefore, having a healthy gut microbiome could lead to less frequent bouts of illness throughout the winter. But how can we support the gut microbiome through our diet?
Rowers should try to eat a wide range of food which is rich in fibre and prebiotics. Adults should eat about 30g of fibre per day which is typically found in plant-based food such as starchy carbohydrates, fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, beans, and pulses. As part of the recommended 30g of daily fibre intake at least 5g of this should be prebiotic fibre. This is a non-digestible fibre, typically found in onions, asparagus, and bananas, which healthy gut bacteria feed upon.
Probiotics (live microorganisms), the most common being lactobacillus and bifidobacteria species which can be found in fermented dairy products may also improve gut health and immune function and can be a useful addition to your diet.
Tip 4# Consume healthy fats
Omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on some of the immune cells and therefore should be part of a well-balanced diet. The main omega-3 fatty acids to be aware of are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fat, meaning our body cannot synthesise this alone and therefore we need to get it from foods such as walnuts and flaxseed. Our bodies can make EPA and DHA from ALA, but this is very limited. Therefore, it is important to consume foods such as salmon and mackerel which are rich in EPA and DHA.
How much omega-3 should you be having? The NHS recommends consuming two portions of fish per week, including one portion of oily fish. If you don’t eat fish, then adding one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds to porridge or smoothies is a good alternative way to include omega-3 fat in your diet.
Tip 5# Consider vitamin D supplementation
Vitamin D plays an important role in supporting the immune system and bone health. Although you can get some vitamin D, albeit limited, from food such as wild mushrooms and egg yolk, the main source of vitamin D is from the sun when we expose our skin to UVB radiation. However, due to the long winter months and less time spent outdoors, those living in the UK may be deficient in vitamin D and therefore appropriate vitamin D supplementation may be required.
Government advice is that adults should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the winter months from October to March. Following consultation with a registered nutritionist or medical doctor, if you feel you need a supplement you should read more about the risks of supplements, how to reduce them, and our Supplement Policy on our Clean Sport website. Remember to check the Informed Sport website to ensure that the product has been batch-tested to minimise the risk of breaching any anti-doping rules.
Nutrition plays an important role in reducing the likelihood of becoming ill throughout the winter months. Ensure that your main meals contain plenty of vegetables and that meals look colourful when on your plate. In addition, aim to drink water or squash alongside meals and snacks to support your hydration status and include a portion of oily fish in your diet each week.