The Ultimate Winter Fitness Survival Guide
Unless you’re reading this from the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll no doubt be aware that Fall is now right upon us. Hot summer sunshine, barbeques, and beach days seem like distant memories now. What’s more is the fact that for many, things are only set to get worse. We’ve still several weeks of Fall left, and winter has not yet reared its ugly head. While it’s true that Fall is one of the most beautiful seasons, in terms of health, fitness, and motivation, it can be a challenging season. With the days growing shorter, daylight savings, and the drop in temperature, getting motivated to get off the couch and step out into the cold to get some much-needed exercise, can be a real challenge. During the colder seasons, many of us want to curl up into a ball, light the fire, throw on our sweats, and lounge on the sofa for the night. A lot of us also suffer with what is known as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, which causes us to suffer from depression-like symptoms, due to the darkness, cold weather, and lack of vitamin D. Yes, even for the fittest and healthiest of individuals, getting fit in the winter is a real challenge. Thankfully, because we’re so thoughtful, we’re here to help. Below you’ll find the ultimate winter fitness survival guide, as we cover pretty much every aspect of getting and staying, fit and healthy during the winter. We’ll be looking at diet and nutrition, exercise, motivation, and much more besides. So, get yourself nice and comfortable, throw another log onto the fire, and let us help you get fit and healthy this winter.
- Diet and nutrition
To begin with, we’d like to start by looking at motivation. As you know, when the days begin growing shorter and the weather begins turning colder, a lot of us suffer from a distinct lack of motivation and energy. When the sun is shining outside and it’s nice and warm, we’re full of energy and motivation and we can’t wait to go the gym, or for a run, or for a bike ride, or however else we like to exercise and stay in shape. When it’s wet, windy, icy, or even snowy outside, not to mention the constant darkness, that’s a whole new matter completely. If your get up and go has got up and gone, you’ll probably be looking for ways of getting yourself motivated and fired up in order to exercise. Below we’ll be listing a series of tips designed to help you stay motivated during the colder months of the year. But first, before we so, we’ll begin by looking at why so many of us struggle to find motivation during the winter.
Why do we struggle to get motivated during the winter?
Many people out there love Fall and Winter, and consider them their favourite seasons of the year, yet even people who like these times of year often struggle to get motivated to exercise and eat right at this time of year, but why is that? Actually, it all comes down to biology and evolution. You see, even though we’ve been evolving for millions of years, at the root of it all we’re still cavemen and women at heart. Back then in Paleolithic times when our Neanderthal ancestors roamed the earth, we obviously didn’t have any central heating, we had no insulated walls, fluffy clothing, hot water, and wood burning stoves. If we were lucky, we had a cave that at least kept the rain from our heads. Needless to say, we were very exposed to the elements and so naturally when the weather turned we would seek shelter. During the Fall and Winter seasons, the weather is notoriously turbulent and even now, it claims lives every single year. Back then, with no real way of staying warm, if the cold set in, we were in trouble. Therefore, much like animals still do hibernate during the winter, we would seek solace in caves and anywhere else sheltered, and would basically try to ride out the winter until Spring came around. It was instinctive to seek shelter during the winter, and what’s more, as food was so scarce back then, it also became instinctive to eat as much as we could so as to keep our calories high to help provide warmth and energy. Obviously now most of us don’t have to worry about freezing to death, or starving to death in the winter, but it is still engrained in our biology, even after millions of years of evolution, to basically seek shelter, warmth, comfort, and food during the winter. So, the next time it’s wet and windy outside and the thought of going to the gym to workout is making you feel nauseated, this isn’t just because you’re lazy, you can actually blame evolution. Damn you, evolution!
A word on SAD
SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is another condition that affects millions of people worldwide, every Fall and Winter. SAD is a proven condition that can make life very difficult for even the strongest willed of individuals. People often refer to this condition as ‘winter depression’ because it basically has all of the symptoms of depression, which is yet another reason why people struggle to exercise, stay fit, and eat healthily during the winter. Often people will find their mood declining in the early stages of Fall, with symptoms at their most severe in November, December, and January. As the days begin growing longer once again, the condition can improve. Experts don’t know the exact cause of SAD, but it is believed to be down to a lack of sunlight during the winter months. A lack of sunlight can affect your hypothalamus in your brain, which plays a key role in the production of serotonin and melatonin, both of which are known as happy chemicals because they help elevate a person’s mood. On top of that, without sunlight, our bodies cannot synthesize enough vitamin D, which plays a key role in energy production. This is why we often feel so tired in the winter, even after getting plenty of sleep. Getting as much natural sunlight as you can, as well as utilizing a ‘SAD lamp’ and supplementing with vitamin D, are all very effective ways of overcoming SAD.
How to keep motivated during a winter slump
Now that we know why it’s so tough to find the energy and motivation to eat right and exercise during the winter, we can look at things you can do to stay motivated in cold temperatures and poor weather. Tips include the following:
Remember why you started
First and foremost, when you began exercising and working out, you no doubt had an end goal in mind. Some of you might have been looking to build muscle and improve your physiques, while others might have simply wanted to drop a few pounds for health reasons. Whether you want to look great shirtless, or if you wanted to get your weight down to improve your health and well-being, you should remember this when the weather starts turning and the nights start drawing in. After a long day at work, or looking after the kids, once the sun goes down and the air turns cold, working out and eating a healthy and balanced meal will probably be the last thing you want to do. Instead you’d probably much rather jump in the bath, throw on your PJs, grab a beer or wine, and order takeout in the warmth and comfort of your home. To many that sounds like the perfect night in, and occasionally that is true. If this scenario sounds all too familiar however, your progress will almost certainly be lacking to say the least. The next time you’re tempted to skip your workout because it’s cold and dark, just remember why you started in the first place. Remind yourself how you felt when you began your fitness journey and think about how awful it would be to find yourself right back where you began.
Exercise with a friend
Training alone, even during the summer, can be great fun at times, but it can also be boring at times. Perhaps worse still, is the fact that training alone can also often result in you skipping your workouts when you aren’t in the right frame of mind. This is where having a training partner is so useful. You see, if you train with a buddy, you are accountable. On days when you are thinking of skipping a workout, if you do so, you aren’t just letting yourself down, you are also letting your buddy down. You would also have to suffer the embarrassment of explaining why you aren’t training, so for most, they would much rather just head to the gym, running track, or anywhere else, and workout instead. Often you find that on days when you didn’t want to train to begin with, after ten minutes or so once the adrenalin and endorphins kick in, you will often have an awesome workout and will be glad you stuck with it.
Throw together a kick ass playlist
On days when the motivation really is at near zero, it may be time to bring out the big guns. In these instances, grab your iPod, or whatever device you use to listen to music, and compile a gym playlist consisting of all of your favourite songs. It is scientifically proven that listening to our favourite music can motivate us a great deal, so if the winter blues are kicking your behind, throw in your headphones, crank up the volume, and attack your workout with the force of 1000 angry gods.
Just do it!
In the words of a famous sportswear brand, if you are struggling to motivate yourself to exercise, ‘Just Do It’! When we’re thinking of skipping a workout, we often spend minutes, even hours, sat on the sofa, thinking of whether or not we should skip training or not. If this applies to you, don’t dwell on it, throw on your shoes, grab your gym gear, and head out of the house before you have chance to talk yourself out of it. For many, the thought of working out is much more daunting than the actual working out part. Once you start training you’ll be glad you did.
Right, well, that’s the motivation part taken care of, so now we’ll look at the actual exercise part. We all exercise for different reasons, and we all like to exercise in different ways. Some of you enjoy lifting weights in a gym, while others prefer running outdoors or cycling. However you prefer to exercise, working out in the winter is generally much tougher than training in the summer. To help get you through your winter workouts unscathed, take a look at the following:
If the weather is bad, find a viable alternative
Say for example, you enjoy mountain biking. During the summer, mountain biking is awesome as you have plenty of light, the routes are dry, visibility is great, and it’s nice and warm. In the winter, many of the routes will simply be too muddy, or worse still, frozen over entirely, meaning you can’t get out on your bike. That doesn’t mean you should simply not exercise until Spring, it simply means you should find a viable alternative. If you can, jump on the road bike and ride on flat tarmac surfaces instead. Of, maybe use an exercise bike at the gym or a spin class. If you love hiking, choose safer, drier routes, or again, get your cardio in via treadmills. Obviously, this isn’t as fun as hiking in the great outdoors, but it is similar and it does mean that you are getting some exercise.
Consider something new
If you are suffering with the winter blues and you really are adamant that you don’t want to do what you normally do in terms of exercising and working out, try switching things up and doing something new. If for example, you’re fed up of cardio at the gym by yourself, during the winter when your motivation is lacking, you’ll be far more likely to skip training completely. Instead, what you could do is get your cardio in a different way. Maybe consider taking up boxercise, spin class, CrossFit, or Circuit Training and see how you get on?
Dress the part
Just because it’s winter, that doesn’t mean you can’t workout outdoors still. It’s highly unlikely that all of winter will consist of snow, ice, and very harsh conditions, so you will still get the opportunity to exercise outdoors. What you must ensure you do however, is that you dress the part, otherwise you’ll really struggle. If you’re cold not only will you not feel like exercising, but you will be more susceptible to pulled and torn muscles because your muscles will be contracted and therefore easier to tear. Wrap up warm, wear gloves and compression wear, and if you are hiking, be sure to wear a jacket. Even going to the gym you should wrap up warm because you will still be cold to begin with, and you can always lose layers as you begin to work up a sweat.
Step up the intensity
Whether lifting weights in a cold gym, or going for a leisurely jog around the block in the evening, if your intensity is lacking, so too will your workout. If you’re training in cold temperatures and are going through the motions, you’ll struggle to get warm and therefore your head won’t be in the game because you’ll be more concerned with how cold you are. To help raise your metabolic rate and core temperature, once you’ve stretched and done your warm up routine (always warm up before any form of exercise) you should step up the intensity and work harder. If you are lifting weights, increase the volume and reduce rest times. If you are running outdoors, instead of a leisurely jog, try a Hight Intensity Interval Training session instead.
Diet and nutrition
Finally, we shall draw proceedings to a close by finishing up with a look at diet and nutrition. During the winter we all want to eat comfort food and snack on junk, but as you know, most comfort foods are full of unhealthy fats, sugars, and other ingredients that do us no good in the slightest. They may taste great, but that’s about as good as they get. To ensure you stay on track with your diet and nutritional needs this winter, here are some useful tips you could follow:
Prep healthy meals in advance
Meal prepping is important all year round, but you will be especially glad of it in the winter. After spending all day at the office, and hopefully calling in at the gym on your way home, the last thing you will want to do when you get home is start peeling and prepping vegetables, dicing chicken, cooking rice, potato, and pasta etc, and cooking a healthy dinner before tackling the dirty pots and pans. Instead, you’ll want something quick and simple, which is why we often turn to takeout. If you had healthy meals ready prepped, you could simply throw one in the microwave or oven, plate it up, and enjoy in minutes, with minimal effort. When you get a spare hour or two, compile a series of healthy meals, cook and prepare them in batches, store in Tupperware, and freeze them or store them in the fridge and simply re-heat when you’re hungry. Once you’ve eaten, your cravings for junk will go away and you’ll be glad you spend the time prepping.
Cook healthy versions of winter favourites
Let’s face it, as bad for us as it is, comfort food in the winter is, well, comforting. For people watching their figure, or training with a specific goal in mind however, comfort food will do no real good at all. What you can do however, is take the time to prepare healthy versions of your favourite winter comfort foods. For example, beef stew is a winner in winter, yet most recipes contain heaps of oil, butter, fatty beef, and calorific wine or beer. What’s more, it’s often served with fatty dumplings and butter and cream enriched mash. If you use less oil, a good quality beef stock, lean meat, and serve with a baked potato however, you can create a delicious stew that tastes great, and is very good for you. The same goes for soups, casseroles, pasta dishes, and more besides. Choose leaner cuts of meat, use far less oil, bulk dishes out with vegetables and choose healthier sides and you’ll notice a vast improvement, not only with your mood, but also with your waistline.
Choose a good quality supplement stack
In the winter, supplements are just as important as in the summer, so choose wisely. How you prefer to exercise will influence which supplements you choose, but generally speaking, you can’t go wrong with the following:
Whey protein (isolate if possible)
Omega 3 fatty acids
Vitamin D with calcium
Zinc and iron
The supplements listen above will help provide energy, they will boost your immune system, which is very important during the winter, they will help boost endurance, they’ll help restore vitamins and minerals which may be lacking, and they will enhance muscle growth, function, and recovery.
Drink plenty of water!
Believe it or not, but a lot of people tend to suffer from headaches in the winter, and they aren’t sure why. More often than not, the reason why is because they are dehydrated. You see, in the summer it is hot, we sweat more, and we crave cool drinks and feel thirstier. In the winter we tend to not notice that we’re sweating, especially during exercise, so we forget to drink. Generally, we just don’t feel thirsty in the cold, but we are, and we always need water, so always force yourself to drink water, even if you aren’t thirsty.