Eden Morris (@gardenofeden_rd) is a registered dietitian based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She’s a former collegiate athlete turned mountain athlete who encourages everyone to eat all the foods in order to climb all the mountains – instead of the other way around.
In this article, Eden discusses the most important nutrients you need to stay healthy, no matter your winter sport.
As the days grow shorter, there are certain nutrients we can add into our daily intake to maintain our health during the winter months. Some of us may experience mood shifts or even Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that’s believed to be caused by the changing seasons. If you’re one of those whose mood is impacted by the seasons (hi, it’s me), let’s outline some nutrients we can include to improve our moods.
Make sure you’re eating enough
The first thing I would recommend is to make sure that your meals include enough energy or overall calories. When we eat enough and our bodies have enough energy availability to support our activities, this will support the production of hormones and neurotransmitters than impact our mood in a positive way! Make sure your meals include carbohydrates, protein, and fat since all three are required for optimal bodily function.
5 Nutrients to Combat the “Winter Blues”
Unsaturated fats like Omega-3’s
Studies have shown that foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce depression symptoms. You can obtain these fatty acids from a variety of sources including salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
Foods that contain antioxidants can reduce stress by preventing the overproduction of cortisol during stressful times. Berries are a great source of antioxidants - blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
You can buy berries fresh or frozen, add them to smoothies or yogurt, or eat them while you train with MUIR Energy fast burning gels. Fruits and veggies that are vibrant in color also contain antioxidants and other micronutrients.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Including foods like whole grains, high protein Greek yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi is a good idea since they nourish the gut microbiome.
Fun Fact: over 70% of your immunity is in your gut, which is why fiber (prebiotics) and probiotics are so important. Eating foods that support your gut health will also improve your immunity through the winter months AKA cold and flu season.
It is more difficult for us to synthesize vitamin D naturally during the winter months since we’re usually wearing layers that cover our skin. The dormant form of vitamin D is in our skin, but it needs UVB light rays to be activated.
November and December are good months to get your vitamin D levels checked to see if they’re at or below baseline (40-50 ng/DL for athletes).
Food sources of vitamin D include dairy, egg yolks, mushrooms, and certain kinds of fish like sardines, halibut, and mackerel. You can also supplement with vitamin D, but just make sure to choose a supplement that is 3rd-party tested for safety.
All foods fit into a performance nutrition plan, and this treat actually has some mental benefits as well! Some studies have shown that including dark chocolate daily can improve mood due to the high polyphenol content, which is a type of antioxidant.
MUIR Energy Cacao Almond is the perfect way to satisfy your chocolate craving, plus get a protein boost to keep you satisfied.
Eating a variety of foods, especially ones that provide multiple nourishing benefits is a natural way to support your health during the winter months. Also, remember that exercising helps your body produce and release endorphins. These “feel-good” neurotransmitters produced during exercise will positively impact your serotonin levels. Engaging in meaningful movement (movement you actually enjoy) and using food to fuel that movement will promote better long term health - no matter what time of year it is.
Yang, Yongde, et al. “The Role of Diet, Eating Behavior, and Nutrition Intervention in Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Systematic Review.” Frontiers in Psychology 11 (2020): 1451.
Deacon, Gelinda et al. “Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the treatment of depression.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition vol. 57,1 (2017): 212-223. doi:10.1080/10408398.2013.876959
Pase MP, Scholey AB, Pipingas A, et al. “Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2013;27(5):451-458. doi:10.1177/0269881112473791