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Top Winter Performance Tips

You are not alone if you struggle to maintain your fitness routine during the winter months. Your routine faces shorter daylight hours, harsher weather, holiday events, family gatherings, and of course, lots of food. If you feel like you have to choose between performance and the season, then let’s do a reset on that mentality, and then get down to work with our top winter performance tips!

First, it’s all on you. If you want your routine, then it’s not a choice at all – you just get it done. With the proper performance mindset, you will find you can easily sustain your performance during the winter months.

Second, you are going to have to make some adjustments to deal with the variances of the winter months. Proper planning is about adapting to life’s events to keep you on your performance track.

Third – with all the winter events, you better have some fun and down time in there. Performance is balance. As hard as you push and focus on your plans, you need mental health as well. Time with friends and family, a day or two of rest, and other items are just as important to sustaining your performance as squeezing out one more AMRAP session.

We’ve done cold-weather exercise before – but this time, we’ve selected three tips for each of the performance triad elements – fitness/movement, nutrition, and rest/recovery, to focus on key areas to keep your performance on track.

Exercise

For this part of the performance triad, in the winter months, there are three key tips to keep you on track:

  • Stay Active: Keeping active is the key to coming out of the winter months with your performance levels intact. No matter what the schedule, travel plans, weather forced closures, etc, you can run, jog, walk, do home workouts of bodyweight exercises, yoga, callisthenics, etc. By keeping active, you will keep your metabolism fired up, which will help in many areas: weight management, stress management, hormone balance, and sleep patterns.
  • Dress for the Weather: It can be tricky or at times deceptive to dress for winter exercise. Too much, and you can develop hyperthermia, too little and you risk developing hypothermia. Layering is the best approach. We can break it all down, our send you here, where Very Well Fit has a great article on cold-weather layering.
  • Join a Class: One of the best ways to stay motivated is to develop a means of accountability. If you find yourself wavering during the winter months, a class is a way to impose a sense of accountability to your efforts. Whether because you spent the money, or you do not want to be a no-show in front of others – class membership has been shown to help in fitness routines. If commitment is not an issue – then try taking a class in something you would not do the rest of the year when you are on your normal routine. Yoga, spinning, CrossFit, and others are great ways to keep active, make new fitness friends, and have fun.

Nutrition

With all the food choices, most of which are carb and sugar loaded, it can appear challenging to sustain a performance diet – but we can help with these tips (which all directly tie together):

  • Plan Your Meals: This is a tip that is a constant year round, but likely more important during the winter months when gatherings, family meals, and sweets abound. It can be easy to get caught up in all the food – but this is where meal planning can save you. By planning your meals, you can ensure you sustain proper nutrients, and not face the cravings of an empty stomach vs plate of winter sugar cookies! Planning your meals does not mean you cannot have sweets or those other holiday meals – rather, by planning you will ensure that you are getting proper nutrition at all other times, and not over-indulging when those festive times come.
  • Limit Sugar: Excessive sugar intake is one of the quickest way to add to fat storage. Now this might be hard during the winter season – this is one where you need to focus on keeping your sugar intake under control. But if you plan your meals, as noted above, then you will help keep your body fuelled and it will be easier to resist sugar and all the excessive calories that come with it.
  • High Protein Intake: Protein is a key tool in diet management. It keeps you satiated – meaning you are less likely to indulge in excess eating, and helps your body burn calories by being a denser material to digest. Ensure your meals contain good sources of protein, such as chicken and fish, and you will help control your desire to eat excessive amounts of unhealthy food items.

Rest/Recovery

The third part of the performance triad, and often most neglected is rest and recovery. Your winter performance routine needs to have adequate rest and recovery to ensure you are maintaining a balanced performance pattern. Here are three tips to support your efforts:

  • Get Adequate Rest: While the nights may be longer, many do not get adequate sleep and rest during the winter months. Limited and insufficient sleep can have even more effects on your body than muscle health. If you are one who puts off getting adequate rest, you risk impaired concentration, mood changes, weight gain, and a weakened immune system – something you do not want at the peak of cold and flu season! We’ve listed tips before, here, to help you get your proper rest and recovery time.
  • Stretch/Do Yoga: Recovery means resting your muscles. Not only through sleep, but also through stretching and exercise such as yoga. These techniques will help your muscles rest and recover from resistance training or hard cardio training. By giving your muscles care, you not only reduce the risk of injury, but also aid in their ability to recover and provide sustained performance training. If you are looking for tips on specifics, you can check out our other work on adding yoga to your routine.
  • Vitamin D: Make sure you get as much natural sunlight as possible. Natural sunlight exposure is the easiest and most reliable way for most people to get vitamin D – and the hardest to maintain in the winter months. Normal exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight 2-3 times a week for 10-30 minutes is sufficient time to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, and other factors. During periods of sunlight, vitamin D is stored in your body fat and then released when sunlight is gone.

If you just finished reading, and are thinking these top winter performance tips sound easy – they are, but at the same time, so many people fall off their performance routines during the winter months because they do not follow these simple steps. So easy yes, but yet not done by so many who come out of winter wondering how they got out of shape!

In the end, do not confuse a performance mindset with difficulty. It’s the dedication during the winter months that makes your performance, not the difficulty. Follow these tips, and watch how you charge into spring weather!

– Train Hard!

Top Five Performance Diet Tips

Your training efforts are only as solid as your diet. You might not want to hear that, but the truth is that you cannot out-train a poor diet. And supplements, they are there to supplement – not replace a poor diet. If you want to improve your performance, it only makes sense that you implement these top five Performance Diet tips.

Before you allow images of lettuce and rice cakes to flutter through your mind, you need to understand that the Performance Diet is not about going hungry or starving yourself. Quite the opposite – it is about ensuring that you are obtaining sufficient macronutrient balanced calories to support your training efforts. In fact, you may find yourself eating more than you imagined!

What is a Performance Diet

Let’ start this with what a Performance Diet is not. It is not something you go on, then off, then on again. That’s a yo-yo diet, and those are the exact opposite of a Performance Diet. A Performance Diet is something you follow – it’s a lifestyle, not fad.

It is a diet that ensures you have sufficient calories and macronutrients to meet your daily needs – physical, mental, and recovery. It is a diet that evolves over time, changing with your needs – but always meeting your performance needs – never undercutting them.

Top Five Tips

1. Develop dynamic caloric requirements

Your routine is never static – you will go through periods of intense training, maintenance training, down-time/rest, bulking, cutting, etc. Depending on your program, all these phases have different names. They also have difference caloric intake and macronutrient needs.

You need to work with information sources, nutritionist, or a trainer, to ensure that you are adjusting your caloric and macronutrient needs for each of these phases. For example, a calorie and protein-heavy Performance Diet is perfect for putting on muscle mass – but if you are working to shift your training to perform well in a half-marathon, while the calorie count might remain high, the protein level will not. This is an example of how a Performance Diet is not always a Performance Diet if it does not align with your current needs.

The take away is to keep monitoring your current needs, and adjust your Performance Diet, to sustain performance results.

2. Don’t neglect protein in your morning meals or snacks

Protein is important for your body to repair tissue damage from training – in simple terms, sustain and build your muscles. As it is more dense than other foods, it also requires more calories to digest, and creates a sense of fullness when consumed.

By consuming protein as part of your day’s first meals or snacks, studies have shown this to benefit muscle health and to support weight loss by increasing muscle mass, energy expenditure, satiety hormones, glucose regulation and by decreasing the desire to snack at night. Notably, a 2017 study examined the effect of a high-protein breakfast compared to that of a high fat or high carbohydrate breakfast over a period of 12 weeks on glucose and insulin levels following the consumption of white bread four hours after the breakfast meal. The participants who consumed a high protein breakfast showed improved blood sugar control and insulin levels after consuming the white bread.

3. Cycle your nutrients and calories to match your daily needs

Not all days are created equal when it comes to your caloric and macronutrient needs. So do not treat them as such with your diet.

This tip is about looking at your caloric and macronutrient needs at the weekly level, not daily. It enables you to increase your caloric intake on days of long or intensive training, and cut back on days you do not need as much.

You can work out how to cycle particular macros in this tip as well – using high protein and fat on days of intense training – to force your body to use more fat resources for energy while focusing on carbs more during rest days.

This is also a tip in which we are going to point you to a great article on Healthline.com for more reading. We could repeat it all, but just click the link to read a solid, research-based summary on calorie cycling – why it works, and how to apply.

4. Focus on food before supplements

Many people fall into the trap of thinking supplements can make up for poor diets. This is not the case. Your Performance Diet needs to come first from food. When that is not enough, then you can kick in with the supplements – which research has shown to have positive effects on performance.

In a Performance Diet, we are likely referring to adding protein or meal replacement shakes when you lack the ability to eat more, or possibly access to normal food. Running around all day between client sites – OK, protein shakes are a great tool to get in a healthy snack that promotes tissue health and provides a sense of satiety – keeping you from nutrient-weak, yet easy to obtain snack options. Or if you just cannot eat more (sometimes your stomach just says “done!”) – but you know your workouts will suffer if you do not get enough calories – then have a shake.

Studies have also shown that many in developed countries actually do not obtain sufficient nutrient levels from food – even though the caloric intake is adequate. This is another reason to consider supplements – if your diet is lacking a nutrient value necessary for your performance. But the stress to this point is “necessary,” and you should not be taking any supplements that lack a direct value to your performance goals.

If you use supplements, be sure to check they are of quality, without excess filler ingredients or sugar, or other elements that work against your efforts. So even when used on top of healthy food choices, you still need to read the labels when choosing them.

5. Do the math to figure out your needs – do not guess

Performance Diets are not guesswork. Hate to say it, but you need to spend some time with a pencil and calculator. Knowing your daily caloric and macronutrient needs to reach and sustain your performance means taking the time to run the numbers.

There are several online tools for this, and we’ve even covered it in our Achieving Your Target Weight article. What you need to understand is that while there is some truth to the old saying of “listen to your body” – the reality is more often than not, your body is not accurately telling you what you need to sustain a Performance Diet.

Do the math, trust the numbers.

How to Maintain

The first part of maintaining your Performance Diet is understanding it takes time. Time for you to see real results of the diet change. Why? Because this is about performance – obtaining real performance.

If your performance diet is set right, you will see results, and will be able to sustain them – not just look or feel good for a moment. But give it time. Everyone starts from somewhere…

But as your performance efforts continue, the key to maintaining the Performance Diet is to go back to the books – back to the math and update your needs. For example, if you start your performance journey overweight, without much muscle mass – but now have less fat and more muscle – and are more active, your dietary needs to sustain and grow performance from that point are different from when you started. That might sound obvious, but…

What makes most people give up is the plateau – and while there can be many reasons for one, dietary issues are common. In this, we mean that people fail to adjust their diets to meet their newly found performance levels, and then fail to see more growth. Do not fall into this trap. We recommend that every 2-3 months, you take some time to assess your Performance Diet. Check your calories and macronutrients against your current body and activity, and where you want to go next. Make a plan, and execute…

In the end, performance fitness means owning your workout effort, and your diet. Cheat at one; you fail at both.

-Train Hard!

negative effects of excess weight

Achieving Your Target Weight – Doing the Math

Achieving your target weight goal should not be the difficult challenge so many encounter; however, so many seem to have a hard time keeping on a path to reach it…sound familiar?

Many people struggle to stay on track to hitting their weight goals, and the solution may be as simple as dusting off a calculator, doing some math, and keeping track.

First, we’re going to assume that you have all the other parts dialed in – workout routine is built to get your results and you are eating a macronutrient balanced diet. What we are going to work on here, for you, is the science of weight control for achieving your target weight.

Let’s start with losing weight

Dropping weight for most means lowering body fat composition. In numbers 3,500 calories is a pound of body fat. To lose a pound, per week, you need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories. You can get there through burning calories (exercise), diet (eat less), or both.

Easy – maybe. So why do so many start this path, see beginning results, and then nothing? Answer is easy (hint, but keep it a secret…it’s the math)

What is the math of weight management

Everyone has a basic daily caloric intake need – officially known as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). 

This is the amount of calories you need on a daily basis to maintain your body weight. There are two formulas (using the MIFFLIN ST. JEOR EQUATION):

Men: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
Women: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161

Basic Activity Factor

1.2: If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) = BMR x 1.2
1.375: If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375
1.55: If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) = BMR x 1.55
1.725: If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) = BMR x 1.725
1.9: If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) = BMR x 1.9

TDEE Example

Let’s meet Alex. Alex weighs 108 kg, 180 cm tall, 36 years old, and does light sport 3 days a week. Following this:

((10 x 108) + (6.25 x 180) – (5 x 36) + 5) x 1.375 = 2791 calories

Per week, Alex needs 19,537 to maintain his weight of 108 kg.

Now to lose a pound (.45 kg), Alex needs to reduce his caloric intake to 16,037 per week. And so he does, and the weight starts coming off, until it doesn’t. What happened?

This is where you are now going to understand how to avoid this pitfall. As the weight comes down, the math changes.

Let’s assume Alex is now 103 kg:

((10 x 103) + (6.25 x 180) – (5 x 36) + 5) x 1.375 = 2723 calories, or, 19,061 calories per week.

If Alex still has his diet adjusted to 16,037 calories per week, his deficit is only 3,024. A lot, but not enough to get off a pound. And as his weight drops, this will continue to be an issue.

And this is the mistake so many make in trying to achieve their target weight – keeping up the simple math behind the numbers.

So how do you avoid this? Simple – we recommend that for every 5 kg of weight loss, you do the math – work out your new TDEE.

If you are not seeing great results, and think your program is not working – it likely is for the most part, but it needs updating.

If you want to put away the calculator, you can head here, for a free online TDEE tool.

But you want to gain weight

Adding high-quality protein to your diet is essential for building muscle. Based on current research, your should consume 0.8g of protein for each kg of body weight as part of your TDEE. Let’s be clear – 0.8g per kg, just to maintain weight.

Research suggests that to support muscle development, one should increase protein intake to 1.5-2.0g per kg of body weight. For example, in a 90 kg individual, that would equate to 135-180 grams of protein per day. We strongly recommend your protein intake come from natural food sources; seek guidance from a registered dietician if you want to assess the affects of supplementation on your specific body.

In the end

This is why fitness programs, the good ones, will cycle through different elements every 3-6 weeks (depending on the program). It is because your body adjusts to a diet and workout. The same effort and calories that worked when you started a routine are not the ones that are going to get you across the finish line. Achieving your target weight means taking the time to monitor your progress, and make adjustments.

– Train Hard!

Carbohydrate Fitness Benefits

Basic Carbohydrate Benefits

What are basic carbohydrate benefits and how to they affect your fitness?

Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient, and proper intake is a key part of overall health. However, carbohydrates can also pose risks if not eaten in moderation – for example, a high carbohydrate diet over a prolonged period can cause high blood sugar and unwanted weight gain.

What is a carbohydrate

A carbohydrate is a macronutrient, like protein and fat, that your body requires daily. Carbohydrates come as starches, fiber, and sugars. Starches are complex carbohydrates, commonly found in vegetables like potatoes and corn. Sugars are simple carbohydrates. You can find sugar as a natural component in many sources of food. However, added sugars are common in processed foods, sugar-based drinks like soda, and many candies.

What do they do in the body?

Simply put, carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy; before your body turns to any other source of energy – including fat – it will use energy provided by carbohydrate sources. Your body relies on your muscle and liver tissue to store extra carbohydrate energy – which it can tap if your diet is not providing enough carbohydrates.

In addition to supporting muscle activity, another basic carbohydrate benefit is that it supplies energy to your control center – your brain. Low carbohydrate consumption in relation to your dietary needs can directly impair your mental clarity. If you feel mentally sluggish during workouts, it might be a sign you need more carbohydrates.

How much do you need?

While all dietary needs will be unique to the individual and their fitness goals, general dietary guidelines suggest that most adults consume 45 to 65 percent of their daily caloric intake from carbohydrates – which are 4 calories per gram.

Super Healthy Carbohydrates for You:

  1. Quinoa
  2. Oats
  3. Buckwheat
  4. Bananas
  5. Sweet Potatoes
  6. Beetroots
  7. Oranges
  8. Blueberries
  9. Grapefruit
  10. Apples

In all, it’s that simple. Those are the carbohydrate benefits to your fitness. Make them a regular part of your diet, and you will help develop and sustain your fitness goals.

Looking for more nutrition tips? Then check out our other articles!

– Train Hard!

Vitamin D Benefits: Science or Hype?

First, what is Vitamin D exactly?

Vitamin D is required for the regulation of the minerals, calcium, and phosphorus found in the body. And in addition to calcium, it is an important aspect of maintaining proper bone structure.

Natural sunlight exposure is the easiest and most reliable way for most people to get vitamin D. Normal exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight 2-3 times a week for 10-30 minutes is sufficient time to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, and other factors. During periods of sunlight, vitamin D is stored in your body fat and then released when sunlight is gone.

Vitamin D’s ability to help build strong bones by increasing the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorous is long known. However, recent years have seen it associated as a defense against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mood swings, and depression. But current studies are now altering our understanding of this vitamin, and while not diminishing its importance to our body’s health, may be challenging some decades-old hype.

In 2014, in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers recruited and studied the vitamin D effects in over 25,000 healthy U.S. adults over 50 for an average of almost 5 1/2 years. The study concluded that vitamin D supplements did not lower the risk of cancer, stroke, or heart attack.

And in early 2019, researchers published an analysis of prior studies on the link between vitamin D supplements, cancer risk, and survival. The analysis found no link between supplementation and reduced cancer risk; however, studies suggested that taking vitamin D supplements may lower the risk of dying from cancer by 13%. The study did not determine if the potential vitamin D supplement effect actually caused the body’s own immune system to improve and fight cancer, or if the supplement was directly responsible. In contrast to these possible positive results, a recently published Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL) noted that in a large study of more than 25,000 participants that those taking a vitamin D supplement did not lower rates of heart attack, stroke, or cancer. However, among people who later developed cancer, those who took vitamin D supplements for at least two years had a 25% lower chance of dying from their cancer compared with those who received a placebo.

Possible Assistance in Weight Loss

There is limited evidence vitamin D levels may affect one’s ability to lose weight.

In a 2009 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, some participants taking daily calcium and vitamin D supplement were able to lose more weight than subjects taking a placebo supplement.

Possible Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Respiratory Inflammation Risks

An April 2020 article in the periodical Nutrients, suggests vitamin D can reduce risk of infections.

According to the article’s researchers, vitamin D supports mechanisms that can lower viral replication rates and reduce concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines that produce lung inflammation that typically leads to pneumonia, as well as boosting concentrations of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Again, there are mixed results on this too, as several observational studies and clinical trials did not observe any effect from vitamin D in reducing the risk of influenza.

Foods highest in vitamin D on wooden background.

Natural Sources of Vitamin D

Foods that provide vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon
  • Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks

Depositphotos_45202029_xl-2015

Vitamin D Supplements

While research is ongoing, there are benefits from taking vitamin D supplements to promote bone health; however, large amounts of vitamin D are not required to get the benefit.  Notably, a 2010 study published in JAMA showed that intake of very high doses of vitamin D in older women was associated with more falls and fractures.

But too much vitamin D (or any supplment) can create risks. Taking a supplement that contains too much vitamin D can be toxic in rare cases. It can lead to hypercalcemia, a condition in which too much calcium builds up in the blood, potentially forming deposits in the arteries or soft tissues. It may also predispose women to painful kidney stones.

Vitamin D2 and D3

The most important forms of Vitamin D for the human body are D3 and (to a lesser extent) D2. If you select to take vitamin D supplements, choose a quality supplement and eating some foods fortified with D3.

Healthy Food Tips in a COVID-19 World

With everyone adjusting to life in a COVID-19 world that requires more time inside than before, it is easy to slip into some unhealthy, or at least unwise, eating habits that can challenge your efforts to stay focused on a healthy lifestyle. While we will all have to cope with the foods we have, there are two simple steps you can take to assist your body in keeping healthy.

Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats.

Natural sugars include fruit sugar (fructose) and milk sugar (lactose). Added sugars are the various forms of sugar that are added to processed foods, sweetened beverages, and snacks that are readily on hand at most food stores. Foods high in added sugars have very little nutritional value – think empty calories that your body will have to work off. While you ideally want to keep added sugar as low as possible, you should try to keep your total daily intake to no more than 10 % of your calories.

Saturated fats are associated with an increase in the total of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.  That’s right, the “bad” cholesterol. Moreover, increases in LDL are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Major sources of saturated fats include items such as full-fat cheese, pizza, grain-based desserts, dairy-based desserts, fried foods, sausages, franks, bacon, and ribs.

Trans Fats are even less healthy. They are naturally found in some foods, but mostly come from processed foods (“artificial trans fats”). These increase LDL and contribute to increased cardiovascular disease risk. While low levels of Trans Fats can appear as zero in nutrition labels totals – watch out for ingredients such as “partially hydrogenated…” – which means Trans Fat is in your food, just at a low level. And remember, low level here, low level there… it adds up.

You should look for foods with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, as these promote high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels – this is the “good” cholesterol.

Reduce sodium intake.

Sodium (think salt) is typically related to blood pressure. As we know, maintaining a normal blood pressure level keeps cardiovascular risks low. But there are variances in the recommended levels of healthy sodium intake: low-risk and high-risk individuals do not need the same amounts. We recommend you check with you health provider, or your national dietary guidelines for specifics on how much sodium you should consume.

What makes it hard to manage your sodium intake is how much it is used in the food manufacturing and processing cycles. Notably in canned, processed, and even restaurant prepared meals.

Steps to help manage your sodium intake:

  • Read nutrition labels and pay attention to sodium contents
  • Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods
  • Do not add salt to your food; but rely on its natural sodium content

For individuals with hypertension, following a low-sodium dietary eating plan is recommended. Ask your healthcare provider for details.

As you can see from these two areas, the ready to eat, simple, and often comfort foods many turn to when they are at home for long periods are likely to contain excessive sugars, fats, and sodium. This is not to say never have pizza night on the couch. Far from it. Rather, we need to be smart, use healthy guidance for our food selections, and keep processed food snacks and other items to a minimum.

In the end, be mindful that our eating habits are likely changing as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, and it will be easy for us to slip into foods that while easy to obtain or prepare, undermine our efforts to maintain our healthy goals. Remember, you can never out-train your diet. Being fit always includes your diet.

Train Hard (and Eat Smart)!

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