Staying healthy off the bike is a prerequisite for optimal performance on it. As winter takes hold, allowing yourself time to mentally unwind can be helped by rewarding yourself with a few culinary treats.
Maintaining a nourishing diet plays an important role throughout the season, and eating plenty — including a few treats — during the colder months helps make sure the elements don’t get you down and make you ill.
Steffi Berchtold, pro team nutritionist and chef, explains how to ensure you stay healthy both physically and mentally throughout the winter.
Natural performance gains
“The off-season is very important to repair the body completely after a long, debilitating racing season,” she says. “The stress of the season, as well as the winter weather conditions makes the body susceptible to many infections.
“However, with the right nutrition, a lot can be prevented.” Berchtold recommends both conventional and more unusual food options.
- Eating wisely off the bike is crucial to performing on it
- Natural food is best
- Consuming food that heals the mind is as important as nourishing the body
“A balanced, vitamin and nutrient-rich diet provides the body with all immune-enhancing vitamins, minerals and antioxidants such as vitamin A, C, zinc and selenium.
“I’d recommend smoothies from different vegetables and fruits such as beetroot, pomegranate, carrot, green leafy vegetables, apple and ginger combined with my secret weapon, moringa, a nutrient-rich plant that is widely used throughout Africa and Asia.”
It isn’t solely about eating what is right for the body, Berchtold emphasises, but also what is right for the mind: “The off-season allows time for a little ‘soul food’ — the long-craved-for burger, Mum’s Christmas baking, or freshly baked cookies are all like balm for an athlete’s soul.”
Additional eating can be unusually beneficial for the body in the winter months. Marcel Hesseling, nutritionist for LottoNL-Jumbo, highlights why a little extra winter weight can prove advantageous: “During winter, most cyclists have a very low body weight combined with a low body fat percentage.
“After intensive training sessions, there is a realistic chance your body will be in a negative energy balance. This situation arises when your energy intake is lower than the amount your body needs — known to increase the risk of illness.”
The dos and don’ts at the end of any ride
Feel-good foods may well be good for the mind but this doesn’t mean you can have a three-month junk food binge. It is still important to maintain self-restraint — a treat you eat frequently all year round loses its ‘treat’ status.
Low-carbohydrate diets may be the current trend in weight loss, but remember carbohydrates are your main source of energy. This is particularly crucial in cold weather when glycogen depletion can be accelerated.
Listen to your body. If you are feeling groggy and the weather isn’t great, don’t force yourself to train hard regardless. Rest up for another day, as pushing yourself too hard in the winter months could cause more harm than good.
Beneficial food swaps
Illnesses are unavoidable sometimes, especially in winter. However, adapting your diet to include zinc can help reduce the symptoms of the illness and get you back to full health sooner.
Another area of nutrition that should be observed is balancing your acid-base metabolism. High levels of acid within the body can make you more susceptible to infections. Avoiding white flour, dairy products and refined sugars can be very beneficial.
Supplementing your diet with vitamin D is more beneficial in the winter, when your body sees less sunlight. Vitamin D is needed to keep your immune system ticking over to help prevent illnesses.