Let the Seasons Shape your Movement and Nutrition: How to Plan Your Year Like An Athlete.
It’s summer time! Hooray. Longer and warmer days mean people are naturally more active and have more energy to move. This is great and this makes sense.
Athletes periodise their training which means they follow a yearly plan to ramp up and ramp down their training in order to be in the best condition at a target time. Our weather helps us do this in a slightly more intuitive way. Where a a basic macrocycle involves six steps we too can break up the year into phases.
According to Stacy Sims and Hannah Grant in their book Eat Race Win! In winter we put on up to 5kg, our total cholesterol rises by an average of 4% and a clever melatonin- hypothalamus interaction serves to make us feel hungrier, crave nutrient dense food increase our fat storage enzyme activity, and speed up our resting metabolic rate.
Simply put - we eat more and move less to preserve our energy for keeping us warm and to fight infection. From a movement perspective this time of year could be thought of as a preparation phase, a time to build fitness slowly. We do this by performing low-intensity, moderate-duration activities and take things gently. Here’s a picture of my friend Margaret jumping for joy during a crisp morning walk on the Heath.
Eat Race Win! is an endurance athletes cookbook that centres around seasons and how to eat for peak performance. I have included the keywords for each season (from the cookbook) and you are welcome to use them as a guideline for your seasonal eating OR instead you could feel very lucky that your body isn’t your job and let yourself eat a chocolate biscuit instead. Either works.
In Winter the endurance athletes menu focus is on:
reduced carbohydrate intake
increased intake of low sugar fruits and root vegetables
quinoa, beans, lentils, amaranth and sweet potatoes
skyr, 2% fat milk, yoghurt, cream, cheeses, almond milk
fats including olive and rice bran oils
nuts and seeds
vinaigrettes and low-fat sauces
no foods high in sugars
And. I googled skyr and it is a fresh sour milk cheese that is consumed like a yoghurt. Hmmm, moving on -
As we come into spring and we feel the joy of green shoots and the renewed energy of more sunlight then we start building strength & power and focusing on improving our cardiovascular endurance and strength. Or we do silly poses for our walking buddy Mia amongst the green leafy trees.
And athletes keep it real by focussing on eating -
new greens, root vegetables, seasonal fruits (no dried fruits other than dates)
new potatoes, buckwheat, purple and red rice, rice noodles, mung bean noodles, rice papers, sweet potatoes
moderate amounts of animal fats
moderate amounts of coconut oil
olive and rice bran oils
lighter sources of protein
nuts and seeds
sprouted foods, including chick peas, mung beans and almonds
other starches mixed with vegetables
In summer we can develop our sports-specific fitness by doing more of the sports and movements that we enjoy. The professional athlete practices their skills again and again so they become second-nature. The person who wants to move because it is summer and they have energy to spare can focus on coordinated, flowing movement or just the joy that they get from moving more. So that’s why I’m clambering on this cool tree root system.
At some point in summer I hope you go away for a holiday and eat more and exercise less, this isn’t something to feel guilty about, professionals call this tapering. This is permission to decrease training volume for a few weeks and is designed to help you peak. As we just want to feel good in our bodies and move well we needn’t focus on the short, high-intensity interval training sessions that could happen here instead we will appreciate our holidays so we are emotionally and physically ready to return to work. Here’s my son appreciating some wild flowers (or humouring me as I take a photo of him in front of the wild flowers)
Meanwhile professional athletes will be eating mainly:
cold foods that get their heat from spices, their sweetness from maple/date syrup and honey and their fibre and pectin from fruits
lots of citrus fruits
breakfasts with carbs and proteins that are low in fats
lunches that are carb dense and stocked with lean and light protein
dinners with lean red meats, cold pressed fats, nut butters and foods high on the GI list
racing foods: polenta and rice bars, caffeine punch balls containing cashews, almonds, dates, cocoa powder, espresso powder and cocoa nibs
In Autumn we should be at our best physically, emotionally and mentally so we can appreciate this peak and use it to our advantage and plan accordingly for a burst of creative energy. Or, just climb a tree.
Athletes (who have already peaked by Autumn) are given permission to eat:
items that will satisfy your cravings for salty sweet fatty and indulgent foods
breakfasts with carbs, proteins and fats such as egg whites, whey and quinoa.
lunches with a nice blend of fats and vegetables
dinners with fatty animal proteins often oven roasted or braised, legumes root vegetables warm spices and herbs
These foods reflect the way that athletes prepare themselves for shorter days, cooler temperatures and the down tick in training called the rest and recovery phase. This is a critical phase that athletes respect and so should we. Even when we feel fine physically, we need to allow ourselves some mental downtime as well. This is critical to help reduce the risk of overtraining, burnout and injuries. Without time to repair and replenish our muscles will continue to breakdown. Scheduling a break also serves to maintain a balance between home, work, and fitness commitments. We needn’t feel guilty for going gently over winter either. When our bodies rest our energy stores are replenished our damaged tissues are repaired and we are given time to adapt to the speed and stresses of everyday life in preparation for next time.
And that is my attempt at keeping things brief. It always makes sense to listen to your body, it also makes sense to listen to nature, the weather and the seasons. Let what is happening around us influence our movement and nutrition.
All of the nutrition science in this blog post came from Eat Race Win! All of the pictures were taken in the ever beautiful and constantly changing Hampstead Heath. I love my Thursday morning walks there. Thanks to my main walking friend (and photographer) Mia.