Loving the BITE: Vitamin D and More to Shed the Winter Blues
As we head further into Winter, many athletes feel the drag of the Winter Blues. Why? While there’s not any one conclusive cause, there are many contributing factors that can bring you down when the days are short and the weather is cold.
A few include less vitamin D production, more darkness during your wake hours, less outside exercise, and more reliance on “comfort foods.” This week, we’ll tackle each of these downers and look to a high-vitamin D recipe to get us started.
Recipe of the week: Warm-You-Up Happy Salmon Chowder
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 tbsp organic unsalted butter or coconut oil
- 1/4 cup flour (rice, wheat, coconut, etc.)
- 3 cups organic chicken broth
- 2 cups organic whole milk or coconut milk
- 1 large sweet potato, diced (about 1.5 cups)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 pound skinless salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup cut broccoli pieces
- In a large, heavy saucepan, over medium heat, cook the onion in the butter until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the flour and stir until smooth. Whisk in the broth and milk, then add the sweet potato, bay leaf, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are just tender, about 8 minutes.
- Add the salmon and broccoli and simmer until the salmon is cooked through and the broccoli is tender, about 5 minutes more.
So how does this salmon chowder keep the Winter Blues at bay? It’s a great way to get in more vitamin D. There are very few foods that naturally contain vitamin D (fish being one), and a handful that have vitamin D added (dairy, for example). Vitamin D is a very important vitamin for mood hormones, and we acquire it both through diet and through a reaction when sunlight comes into contact with our bare skin. Since less ultraviolet rays make their way to the Earth’s surface during Winter, there’s a higher occurrence of Vitamin D deficiency. What’s more, as athletes generally need more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients than your average human, the combo of athletic training and less sunlight are a perfect recipe for deficiency and downer moods. Here’s more on Vitamin D, other depressive Winter contributors, and what to do about them.
Vitamin D: I recommend that most all my endurance athlete clients supplement vitamin D year round unless they at the latitude of, or more south than Atlanta, GA. If this is the case, the only supplementation that may need to take place is in the winter. For the rest of us, I recommend 800-1000 IU during the Spring and Summer, and1500-2000 IU during the Autumn and Winter.
Healthy Fats: Healthy fats, and especially the DHA and EPA from fish, can impact moods. I recommend trying to eat 12 oz. of fatty fish per week (salmon, tuna, wild trout, anchovies, mussels, etc.). If not possible, or simply not happening, supplement. Look for concentrated pills or liquid – if you get 6 oz. per week, supplement with at least 500 mg DHA and EPA (in combo) per day, if 0-6 oz. fatty fish, supplement with 1000 mg DHA and EPA (in combo). Other healthy fats can help too; regularly eat avocados, unheated olive oil, nuts and seeds, hemp, and organic coconut oil.
Serotonin: Next, it’s important to pay attention to Serotonin. And, like most aspects of nutrition, you don’t want a quick fix, but a steady flow of this hormone throughout the day. While it’s true that many foods like refined carbs, chocolates and others may give you a serotonin boost, they can cause a peak and then a crash. Instead, avoid the refined, and eat a diet throughout the year of long-lasting whole food carbs (whole starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, whole fruits, and whole, intact grains like oats), lean proteins, very high cocoa chocolate, and healthy fats.
Exercise: Especially for those accustomed to the endorphins afforded with exercise, it can be a huge downer to allow weeks to go by without a consistent routine. I have two suggestions: 1) Even when it’s cold, as long as it’s not dangerous, get outside in appropriate clothing. I’ve lived in many very, very, cold places (San Luis Valley and Gunnison Valley in Colorado…-20 for lows and highs around 10 much of the Winter…buy hey, at least it’s a dry cold and usually sunny with these temps!). And, while there were times that you simply shouldn’t exercise outside, with the appropriate clothing, many times you could just fine. It can absolutely be rejuvenating and keep the blues at bay; 2) Have a back-up plan in place. Trainers and rollers are great. Or, for variety, an in-gym, or at-home workout can get you through the Winter, when needed. If you don’t know where to start, I offer a great in-home fitness plan (5 Cycle Fitness) that can help you blast fat, increase explosive power, tone-up, and feel great.
Sleep: Sleep is ultra-important for recovery, hormone cycles and balance, lean weight, and well-being. Do your best to get at least 6 hours per night. Eat lighter at night (focus on protein, healthy fats, and vegetables with minimal carbs), use techniques like reading, meditation, or journaling to slow your mind, and establish a regular routine or sleep and wake times.
Oxytocin: Oxytocin is the hormone that’s released when you cuddle, love, hug, and feel close to someone. I realize it can be a hard time of year if you’ve experienced loss or don’t have someone readily available for a hug. If not, do what you can. Giving of your time, helping others, and caring for a pet all work well, too!
It’s cold, it’s dark, and it can be a bummer. However, with a good diet and a few other strategies in hand, you can make it through the Winter unscathed by the Winter Blues. Don’t let unbalanced hormones and negative cycles bring you down. Rather, stay positive, cycling, and healthy this year.
Fuel Your Ride. Nourish Your Body.