Winter Nutrition: 5 Tips for Maintaining Your Health During Cold Weather

As temperatures drop, our time spent outside tends to decrease. We layer up and spend less time in the sunshine, thanks to shorter days.

Now, for most of us, it’s not all bad. Winter can be a beautiful time of year, filled with fun activities and plenty of time spent with family and friends. But it can also be a time when we experience lower energy and a decreased sense of wellness.

Whether you love the winter months or can’t wait for them to end, keeping up with these 5 winter nutrition tips will keep your body and mind strong throughout the cold months. So say goodbye to those winter blues! Sara Hillring, Exos Performance/Sports Dietitian, shares ways that nutrition can help fortify your health during the winter.

5 Tips for Better Winter Nutrition

At Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital, we want to help you feel your best all year round. If you struggle in the winter months, adjusting your dietary approach to winter nutrition can help. Here are a few ways to bring about a better sense of wellness.

1. Get More Vitamin D

If you want to feel better in the cool months of November through March, focus on consuming a source of Vitamin D every day (or a Vitamin D capsule**).

What Should I Eat to Get Vitamin D? There are a few foods you can eat to increase your Vitamin D intake. Look for egg yolks, fatty fish like salmon, canned tuna, beef liver, sardines, cod liver oil, or mushrooms—all good sources of Vitamin D.

Why Should I Get More Vitamin D? Less time outside and lower sun exposure equals less Vitamin D synthesis. When at least 50% of the skin is exposed to the sun between 10:30 am and mid-afternoon, for at least 10-15 minutes, adequate Vitamin D synthesis can raise internal body levels. Due to winter weather conditions, many people experience a drop in Vitamin D levels and can even become deficient. Year-round indoor athletes (ex: basketball players) are at greater risk of developing a Vitamin D deficiency.

How Will Vitamin D Help My Health? Vitamin D plays an essential role in bone health, immune system strength, fighting fatigue, promoting wound healing, and preventing depression

**Consuming Vitamin D through food alone may not be enough to maintain adequate levels. Work with a Registered Dietitian to help determine proper supplementation to achieve optimal levels.

2. Focus on Hydration

When the weather is cool, we tend to drink less. But whatever you do, don’t skip hydration! It’s still important to drink plenty of water, even if you aren’t breaking a sweat.

What Should I Drink for Better Winter Hydration? Water is usually the best liquid for hydration. Aim to drink 0.5 to 1 oz of fluid multiplied by your body weight in pounds per day. Are you having trouble getting your hydration quota with just cold water? Try one of these winter hydration beverages instead: tea, apple cider, bone broth, warm milk, or coffee.

Why Should I Drink Water in the Winter? Cold temperatures often mean we don’t think to drink as much water. We don’t feel the need to cool down, we might not feel as hot or sweaty, and our desire to drink often decreases as well. However, despite the weather, the body constantly loses fluids through respiration, sweat, and urination.

How Does Hydration Help My Health? Maintaining proper hydration helps us regulate body temperature, which is especially critical in winter months. In a dehydrated state, our risk of hypothermia increases. With adequate fluid in the body, we can maintain body heat, stay warm, and better tolerate cold temperatures outside.

3. Load Up on Root Veggies

If you’re feeling sluggish in the winter, there’s nothing quite as delicious or comforting as roasting some seasonal root vegetables. There are so many unusual vegetables in-season during the colder months, and they can help us get those winter vitamins.

What Winter Vegetables Should I Eat? There are so many root vegetables available during the winter. Load up your menu with sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, radishes, jicama, carrots, and onions.

Why Should I Eat More Root Vegetables in the Winter? Local produce and a variety of veggies are harder to find in the winter months. Luckily, root veggies can withstand cold temperatures and be picked up from the winter farmer’s market, grown at home, or found readily at the store. In addition, many root vegetables are easy to store and cook.

How are Root Vegetables Beneficial? Root vegetables are full of nutrients, and incorporating a variety of root veggies with different pigments nourishes the body to keep the immune system healthy, strong, and ready to fight off invaders like the common cold. Root veggies can transform a dish into a meal of savory perfection or make a hearty soup after a training session!

4. Boost Winter Nutrition with Variety

Build your own rainbow, even when the skies are grey! During winter months, it’s essential to get a variety of foods on your plate every meal and every day.

What Should Winter Nutrition Look Like? Aim for three different colors on your plate, in your bowl, or takeout box at mealtime. Try for at least one color (not tan) as snacks—think bell peppers, fresh fruits like mangoes, pears, apples, citrus fruits, leafy greens, broccoli, or kiwi.

Why Should I Eat a Variety of Foods in the Winter? Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the winter blues collectively affect roughly 20% of the population. For many people, winter depression can be a serious issue. Those suffering from year-round depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are affected at an even greater percentage. Good winter nutrition is one way to combat some of these seasonal mood issues.

How is Variety Crucial for Healthy Winter Nutrition? Including bright-colored produce in your daily intake is an effective way to elevate your mood. Because most fruits and vegetables are packed with Vitamin C and other nutrients, they provide protection against winter illnesses, balance out neurotransmitters in the brain, and help support reduced mental and physical fatigue.

5. Get Fuel to Exercise (Even in the Cold)

Exercise and winter nutrition go hand-in-hand. It’s important that you fuel your fire even if it finds you taking training outdoors and braving the winter conditions.

What Should I Do to Get Enough Energy for Exercise? Exercising >60 minutes means it’s crucial to replenish the body with quick carbohydrate sources. This can look like a carb drink mix, applesauce packets, maple syrup pouches, performance waffles, bars, or chews.

Why are Carbohydrates Important in the Winter? Choosing a carbohydrate source in the winter takes a little more thought than in-summer training. Some athletic carbohydrates are more inclined to freeze, making them tough to chew or leaving you in a lurch with inedible fuel. Consider the following hacks to make sure what you take on the road, trail, or slopes is still accessible:

  • Keep workout fuel close to the body to let its heat regulate temperature.
  • Use a hand warmer to keep food from freezing.
  • Start with hot water in a water bottle to avoid it freezing and being too cold to drink.
  • Use a water bottle instead of a hydration bladder to avoid having a frozen hose.
  • Try whole foods that freeze slower, like homemade energy bites, nut butter with bananas, wraps, or trail mix.

How Do Carbohydrates Help Cold Weather Performance? Carbohydrates for longer exercise sessions or events allow for extended performance. Quickly processed carbs fuel the muscles to keep working at the desired intensity to power exercise. High-intensity training requires at least some carbohydrates to fuel the body.

No matter how you boost your approach to winter nutrition, listening to your body and focusing on wellness is essential. MOSH is here to help you keep active, stay healthy, and be happy this winter! If you experience any discomfort or concerns during training, please reach out. We’re here to help you stay at your peak all season long!