Weathering the Season

Banish bad winter running habits and keep training all season



by Ruth Emmett

winter running Credit: C J Burton

Winter Woe: Catching a Cold

The only gloop you want to be swallowing on the run is an energy gel, so bolster your immune system with plenty of vitamin C-rich citrus fruit, peppers and broccoli. Low levels of vitamin D also leave you susceptible to the sniffles, University of Colorado researchers report. Apart from food sources, your body gets the vitamin from exposure to UV rays, so levels  slump when there's no sun.

First defence: Eat vitamin D-rich oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals. Ditch any drastic low-fat diets: you need healthy fats to absorb fat-soluble vitamin D (and vitamins A and E).

Beat it: At Munich University, Germany, runners who drank two pints of non-alcoholic beer daily for three weeks had more killer T-cells, which indicate a strong immune system. Even better news is that both non-alcoholic and alcoholic versions contain immune-boosting polyphenols.

Winter Woe: Low Mood

A run is a great way to lift your spirits: the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests exercise can be as effective as antidepressants. Nonetheless, "a lack of environmental light can make you feel low because light deprivation affects hormone levels", says Victoria Revell, a chronobiologist at the University of Surrey. This means an imbalance of sleep-regulating melatonin and its mood-boosting counterpart, serotonin.
 
First defence: Carb-rich foods help lift your mood by triggering the release of serotonin. Eat wholegrains alongside protein sources such as turkey, cottage cheese and fish. These contain tryptophan, an amino acid the body converts to serotonin.

Beat it:
To inhibit melatonin first thing in the morning, spend 30 minutes with a light box (from £99.95, lumie.com). Revell says these gadgets offer a brightness of 2,500-10,000 lux. (Normal light bulbs produce about 80 lux; direct sunlight 100,000 lux.)

Winter Woe: Weight Gain

Call it the takeaway season. We tend to curl up and pile on fat in winter: the average adult gains 1.06 pounds, which accumulates over the years because they never burn it back off.*

"Not only do we run less, but it's easy to overlook comfort eating or drunken grazing at this time of year," says coach Kim Ingleby (energisedperformance.com). "Don't deny yourself treats, but avoid going overboard by keeping an honest record, even just by scribbling down notes in the margins of your training schedule."

First defence: Track what you're really eating in a journal, or with free apps such as Weight Tracker for iPhone or Diet Point for Android.

Beat it: If you really want to shift winter weight, Salter's new Dashboard Goal Tracker weighing scales let you programme in a target weight, flashing a reminder of how far you have to go every time you weigh in (£34.99, salterhousewares.com). 

Winter Woe: Decreased Mileage

Don't beat yourself up if your training takes a dip in the lull between autumn races and spring training. Even elite sprinter Emily Freeman says, "Winter is more about keeping your fitness base ticking over than packing in loads of miles and speedwork."

So how does she adjust? "I do less, worry less and switch to measuring by time rather than distance." Just don't slack off completely: studies show a few weeks' complete rest can undo your training dramatically.  

First defence:
RW's Diary Doctor Ed Eyestone suggests you make winter runs more bearable by combining easy outdoor sessions with treadmill work in a warm, dry gym. Start outdoors, running for 20-60 minutes. Rehydrate, then get on the treadmill for another 45-60 minutes.

Beat it: On cold days, wear a baselayer and lightweight running gloves: as blood gets diverted to legs and core muscles, runners' hands are especially prone to the cold. 


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