Getting ready for the Nordic season means more than buying a season punch pass, signing up for events, getting our skis tuned, or doubling down on our cross training—we need to tune our bodies for the season as well.
Even when we live in climate-controlled rooms at a constant 68 degrees, our bodies are changing with the seasons and craving different things. As we make the shift to colder, darker days, we begin to crave more sleep and different foods. Those crisp summer salads that seemed so appealing are less comforting as we look to soups, stews, chilis, and other cooked foods that seem to satisfy.
But why do our bodies make these changes, and how can we use them to our advantage to maximize fitness and performance? As we head into training for Nordic ski season, here's how to understand what our bodies are naturally needing to perform at their best.
Winter change: Our immune systems are more stressed.
Viruses are more active in cold temperatures, which is why we see cold and flu season (and spikes in COVID infections) when cold weather hits. We're also more confined indoors, making it easier for viruses to spread.
Cold temperatures can cause blood vessels to constrict, causing your respiratory tract to get fewer white blood cells that it needs to ward off respiratory infections.
Many of us spend more time indoors which can result in a drop in vitamin D levels. Your body's immune system needs vitamin D to function properly, so getting out in the sunshine, taking a vitamin D supplement, or incorporating vitamin D-rich foods into your diet are all useful strategies.
The fix: Boost antioxidants.
Opt for seasonal foods rich in color, antioxidants, and vitamin C, which have immune-supporting properties. Try adding more of these to your diet:
- sweet potatoes
Winter change: Craving comfort food.
In colder months our inclinations naturally shift from fresh, green salads to hearty cooked stews and soups. It isn't just the cold weather that makes us long for a hot bowl of chili.
Research suggests that the microbiome in our gut changes seasonally; in summer, we can more easily break down cellulose and raw, high fiber foods, whereas in winter we're more able to process denser, higher fat, higher protein foods.
The fix: Eat plenty of cooked vegetables.
Cooked vegetables are comforting and easy to digest. Some vegetables, such as carrots and tomatoes, can release even more nutrients when cooked vs. raw.
Bake brussels sprouts in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Roast squash and then puree with chicken stock, curry powder, and coconut milk for a delicious creamy soup
Make a sheet pan dinner with chicken thighs surrounded by parsnips, carrots, onions, and potatoes.
Winter change: Feeling sluggish.
Between short days, freezing temperatures, and exhausting holiday-season hustle, it can be easy to give in to an energy slump.
The fix: Incorporating naturally energizing foods into your diet.
Not only will you avoid the dreaded coffee buzz/caffeine crash, but you'll be taking in vitamins and nutrients.
Steel-cut oats are packed with carbohydrates, protein, and soluble fiber, all of which boost energy.
Beans offer carbs, protein, and fiber. Make a hearty bowl of vegetarian chili to keep you energized.
Ginger has been shown to improve circulation, which helps to promote energy. Add slices of ginger to steep in green tea, add ginger root to a green smoothie with lemon, or simmer fresh ginger root in a chicken soup or stew.
Add a seasonal recipe to your repertoire:
These muffins are packed with energy-boosting seasonal ingredients rich in antioxidants.
Cranberry Apple Oat Muffins
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup oats
- 1/4 cup flax seed, ground
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3/4 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup skim milk
- 2 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup fresh cranberries, washed and stems removed
- 2 large apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray muffin tin with nonstick spray or line with paper muffin cups.
Combine flour, flaxseed, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and ground cloves in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, milk, oil, and vanilla. Fold dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir just until moistened. Gently fold in cranberries and apples just until combined.
Distribute batter evenly into muffin tins. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes and enjoy.