Nutrition for Winter Running

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Nutrition for Winter Running

25-kilometer, self-supported, foot and snowshoe run, with average temperature between minus-twenty- and minus-forty-degrees Celsius. Held in the remote wilderness of Yellowknife on the edge of the Canadian arctic, the Rock and Ice Ultra is reserved for the extreme of the extreme. If spending six frigid days running across frozen lakes and thawing out your fingers and toes between checkpoints is not your idea of a good time, I am with you. I am never one to shy away from a light trail run during the winter months, but an ultra? Still, some people love a challenge.

As a nutrition coach, I provided Jen with a few key super foods that helped enhance her performance over the years, especially during the harsh conditions of winter. Whether you are on your way to the next Rock and Ice Ultra or a light trail run in the snow or anything else in between, there are a few key nutrition tips you should learn to ensure you have success during your winter run.

The sub-freezing conditions of winter running require various strategies for human endurance. Hydration, electrolyte management, and clothing are paramount, but proper nutrition makes all the difference. Fueling the body with the essential nutrients required for maximum performance will ensure running success. Your nutritional needs may vary, depending on the type of run, length of run, and weather conditions. Your food choices before, during, and after a run will also affect your success, especially when running conditions take a turn for the worse.

So, you want to head out for a light winter jog, ten-kilometre race, or, even more challenging, a half-, full, or ultra marathon? Nutritionally, there are a few things to consider before you head out the door. How you fuel yourself before the run will determine whether you bonk early or thrive throughout.

If you are venturing out for a light workout or a ten-kilometre run, it is best not to eat any sooner than one hour before you go. You should consume roughly two hundred to three hundred calories, depending on your age, sex, and size. If planning for a long weekend run, training for a marathon, or running a half, full, or ultra marathon, it would serve you best to consume between four hundred to five hundred calories. These calories are best consumed no sooner than two hours before you venture out.

The timing for pre-run food consumption is crucial because digestion requires a lot of energy, and you need that energy during your run. While timing is important, eating the right types of essential nutrients and in the right amounts before a winter run will insure running success. The pre-run essential nutrients include quality complex carbohydrates and essential fatty acids. No secret to runners, carbohydrates are the main source of energy.

Carbohydrates turn into sugar faster than fat or protein, and complex carbohydrates will supply you with the energy needed to sustain your pace throughout your run. As for the essential fatty acids, it is important to ensure your core body temperature is running optimally during a winter run. Since healthy fats are a key regulator of core temperature, they are crucial. The number-one complex carbohydrate I recommend is quinoa. It’s easy to digest, meaning it offers more energy and diverse in its usability. Quinoa (pronounced keen-w a) is originally a grain from the Andes. Quinoa is the only grain that offers a complete protein, making it a must-have winter running super food. A pre-race meal consisting of quinoa will ensure extra stores of glycogen, ready when needed. It’s the ideal pre-race breakfast cereal. The addition of hemp and flax seeds gives a healthy dose of essential fatty acids to help regulate your core temperature.

Have you ever felt like you were bonking a mere five kilometres into a winter run? Did you wonder why? What did you eat? How did you sleep the night before? Why did you feel so cold? When you begin to question your ability during a run or race, you need to examine the way you are fueling you body. Odds are, your hydration, electrolytes, and clothing played a role, but your nutrition was probably at the core of the problem.

If your run is under one and a half hours, there is no need to bring food along, as your body does not need the calories. Your stores of glycogen are more than enough to take care of your energy needs, especially if your pre-race meal consisted of complex carbohydrates and essential fatty acid

s. If you plan to run for longer than one and a half hours, you should consume one hundred calories every thirty to sixty minutes. Consuming essential nutrients in the form of an all-natural simple carbohydrate is ideal.

Unlike complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates provide a quick burst of insulin, which transports sugar though the blood stream, bumping your cells full of energy. The second of three key winter running superfoods is the all-important date. Dates are the ideal simple sugar to consume during a long winter run. As the healthiest, all-natural simple carbohydrate, dates are not only easy to prepare into a power bar but they are also lightweight and taste great, two key attributes for longer runs. Consuming dates during your run will energize your cells into optimal performance while avoiding many of the unwanted additives and preservatives often found in many commercial energy bars and gels.

Sweating from every pore after removing layers of clothing following a long winter run in frigid temperatures, you realize you need to replenish your tired muscles. You go to the kitchen cupboard and grab a slice of whole wheat bread and slap a little peanut butter over the top and eat away. Without going into too much detail why whole wheat bread and peanut butter are overrated, trust me, they are.

The third super food I recommend is hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, the number-one nutritional resource on the planet. They are chock full of essential fatty acids as well as essential minerals and vitamins ideal for post-race recovery. What makes hemp seeds the ideal post-race nutritional powerhouse is their protein content. Hemp seeds are a complete protein, meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids required for quick and efficient muscle rebuilding. Ideally, you would consume hemp seeds within one hour after your run to ensure maximum muscle recovery. The ideal way to consume protein after your run is in a liquid form, such as a smoothie. Refueling with liquids is ideal because it requires less digestive energy—energy you need for quicker recovery. Eating a larger meal two hours after your run, full of essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, and complete proteins, will ensure you are ready to give it everything you’ve got during the next run.


1. Taste If it does not taste good, you won’t eat it. Your body often rejects food during a race. What you choose to bring with you to the race must taste good to ensure optimal caloric intake.
2. Small bites Ideally, you would have a small piece of high-quality, all-natural, simple sugars, such as dates. The smaller the bite, the easier to eat and the easier to digest when chewed properly. This ensures more energy.
3. Freeze-resistance Running foods must be edible in all types of temperatures. If you need to warm up your food using heat from your hands, you are wasting energy and time.
4. Weight Lighter means faster. Don’t weigh yourself down with starchy foods during your run. Look for light and fresh foods that pack maximum punch in little bites.
5. Variety is crucial for any regular running routine. It does not take long to get tired of energy bars and gels. Test and develop foods withsome variety, such as carrots or beets, almond butter on whole grain bread, organic nut butter sticks for the ultra winter runs, dried fruits such as dates, blue-berries, or apricots, homemade energy bars, fruit bars, a bag of salted almonds, or fresh fruits like banana or sliced mango.

Superfood Recipes
Breakfast of Champions

* 1/2 cup quinoa, cooked
* 1 tbls flax seed, ground
* 1 tbl hemp seed, whole
* 1/2 tsp agave nectar
* 1 tbls dried fruit such as cranberry or raisins
* 1 cup rice or almond milk

Place all ingredients into a bowl and serve. Eating the right nutrients before a winter run should be easy. This is one recipe that shows you how. Makes one bowl. (Tip: Mix and match the types of seeds and fruits you include in your cereal to change the flavor3. How about a few fresh seasonal berries?—not too many, enough to add a little freshness to every bite.)

Booster Bars

* 2 cups pitted dates, chopped
* 1 tbls water
* 1/2 tbls lemon juice
* 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, ground
* 1/4 cup hemp seeds, whole
* 1/4 cup shredded coconut
* Pinch sea salt

Place dates into a food processor with water and lemon juice and blend. Add all other ingredients and blend together. Cover a square baking dish with wax or parchment paper and place mixture evenly throughout. You want the mix to be about one inch thick. Refrigerate for one hour, then cut into desired size pieces and freeze to be eaten as desired. Makes about six full-size bars. (Tip: Try making these bars with a little cocoa powder or almond butter to change the flavours.)

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About Adam Hart

Adam Hart is the bestselling author of The Power of Food. When not on stage speaking, Adam can be found helping one of his many corporate clients in awakening an abundance of energy through his highly engaging stress management solutions.Contact Adam to book a demo for an enhanced corporate wellness experience.

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