Get Ready For Winter: High Performance Cold Weather Foods

Winter is here. Diana Krall sings those words with a touch of nostalgia for good times gone. Many people feel a bit of sadness with the passing of the sunny, easy season of summer. Even though distance athletes generally aren’t the hibernating type, cold weather requires them to face the fact that activity and diet need to be adjusted.

Power endurance athletes train year round—no season is completely “off.” But if summer was the peak of your race season, the shorter daylight and off-season training can mean calorie requirements are 30% to 50% less than usual.

Like a change in wardrobe, the pantry needs to be restocked with cold weather foods that keep you healthy and fit until race season begins again.

Off-season Food Strategy: A Must for Busy Athletes

Athletes can be intense and have rather busy schedules. Free time is devoted to squeezing in a workout, and although a healthy diet is a goal, not much time is left to spend on shopping and preparing meals. Like most consumers, taste and convenience are ranked first and second when it comes to food selection, with nutrition falling a distant third. The good news is winter fare is easy to prepare. Let’s start a winter diet plan for training by asking, “Where do I usually eat?”

Meal #1: Breakfast

If breakfast is eaten at home, then shopping with a list for food purchased at a grocery store is an easy way to insure the right foods are available. Breakfast is a great time to get a daily dose of vitamin C and other antioxidants, with citrus fruit a convenient choice. If oranges or grapefruit are not available, then adding dried or fresh berries to cereal or yogurt is another option. Whole grain cereal and/or bread can provide B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and fiber. Convenient high quality protein sources are low fat dairy products or high omega-3 eggs.

When breakfast is consumed in the car while commuting, then the drive through window at a fast food restaurant or the gas station limits healthy food choices. If this is your routine, choices tend to be convenient while driving. Good options are a tall skim milk latte over regular coffee, which provides 12 grams of protein and 17 grams of carbohydrate (with no added sugar flavoring), plus calcium, riboflavin and potassium. Pass on the super-size bagels with cream cheese (413 calories, 14 g protein and 65 grams carb) for a simple English muffin and peanut butter, and you’ll maintain protein at 8 grams, cut carb to 30 grams and save 184 calories.

Meal #2: Lunch

Few of us are home for our midday meal. Some athletes choose to do a quick workout at noon, some eat at their desk, while others drive around and get errands done while munching on food. Whatever your situation, the worst plan is to have no plan at all. Random midday meals seldom enhance the nutrient quality of anyone’s diet.

For lunch, keep it simple, and don’t be afraid to get into a rut. If you rarely take more than 15 minutes to eat, then a whey protein shake and a piece of fruit might work for you. When restaurant fare is the only choice, then a broth based soup with vegetables and a side of cottage cheese can provide both antioxidants and protein, with minimal calories from fat. Mediterranean wraps, consisting of flat bread, filled with a mixture of chopped vegetables, cooked grains and spices beat the traditional burger on a bun in calories and nutrient quality.

Meal #3: Dinner

Dinner has become the number one meal challenge for families and singles. Lack of time and erratic schedules influence the end-of-day meal where nutrition tends to crash and burn. Eating at home greatly increases the chances for a lower fat, lower calorie meal with more vegetables and whole grains. Here are some tips to get you started this winter.

Tip #1: Keep a stock of meal basics in the pantry and freezer.

Shop once a month and buy ingredients that are used in many different foods, such as: foil-packed tuna and salmon, canned tomatoes with Italian spices, canned mushrooms, organic Italian spaghetti sauce, Mexican black beans, dry beans and rice mix, high protein or whole grain pasta, bulgur, brown and wild rice mix, frozen vegetables and fruit, Italian dressing, olive oil, white wine vinegar, dry Italian spices, and black pepper.

All of these basic ingredients can be the basis for a main dish, with a side of fresh salad and whole grain bread or wrap.

Tip #2: Delicious, nutritious and practical should be your mantra.

Foods that please your palate and are convenient will increase the likelihood that high nutrient patterns of dietary intake will be repeated.

Some healthy, quick sides or snacks:

Try low fat yogurt (plain) topped with frozen berries, then sweetened with stevia; or for something salty, try low fat mozzarella cheese, sliced cucumbers, tomato and avocado or olive on a seasoned rye cracker. As a light side for dinner try marinated antipasto salad, low fat feta cheese, and thinly sliced toasted sourdough bread sprayed with zero calorie olive oil. In place of a tossed lettuce salad, munch on hummus (any flavor), raw celery, carrots, zucchini slices, and red and yellow sweet peppers. An after-dinner drink for a sweet tooth: Sugar free cocoa in steamed skim milk, with shaved chocolate curls.

Spice it up for immune benefits:

What is it about the transition to cooler weather that brings on different bugs? If you are susceptible to colds and flu during the fall/winter season, the routine use of fresh spices can help. Spices and herbs have traditionally been used in homeopathic medicine, and they can enhance the flavor of foods that are otherwise so-so in taste.

If you’re not in the habit of using fresh herbs, start with just one or two choices until you grow braver. A good “beginner” trick is roasted garlic. All you need to do is peel 12 or so cloves of garlic and place them in tin foil sprayed with non-stick food oil spray. Turn the oven on to 400° F and cook them wrapped in foil for about 20 minutes. This process will sweeten the garlic and bring out the full flavor. This prepared garlic can be added to pasta dishes, eggs, chicken and even to make garlic toast. The health benefits are huge as garlic helps with digestion and decreases blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Not a garlic fan? Another popular herb is fresh basil. A great addition to any mixed green salad, spaghetti sauce or eggs.

Hot and sour soup is the Chinese version of chicken soup, and is great for warding off colds. Keep a small piece of fresh gingerroot on hand for this easy soup, even if you start with a packaged mix.

Last minute extras:

Keeping the right “tools” in the kitchen can be a lifesaver if you’re caught without a plan. A double-lidded (a.k.a. George Foreman) grill can cook a frozen chicken breast in less than four minutes. Grab the organic marina out of the pantry, add some fresh basil and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and you can have a great meal in less time than it takes to go through a drive-through window. A stuffed baked potato and vegetable frittata is simple and fast when using a microwave. No special recipe here, but add nutrients with black beans, chopped peppers or salsa.

Sharp carbide paring knives cut chopping and dicing time substantially, as do other sharp or serrated knives. Slow cookers, non-stick pans and cutting boards round out the kitchen tool collection.

Winter is a great time to cozy up at home, fire up the hearth, and enjoy healthful foods. Start your winter training meal plan today.

About the author

Donna Marlor is a Registered Dietitian, Registered Nurse, and has a Master’s degree in Education Psychology. She lives and plays in Marquette, MI and maintains a private practice in Sports Nutrition. Her philosophy is, “A good diet can change your life. Start today.” To contact Donna, visit