by Mark Wolff

Winter is that time of the year where most athletes hate getting up early in the dark hours and love the comfort of their warm beds.

Along with this comes the process of comfort eating.

The drop in temperatures leaves our bodies expending a little more energy to keep warm and so there are additional feelings of hunger that require satiation. However, most people tap into their emotional eating and consume an unhealthy mix of foods to provide them that level of comfort. Meal structure is lost and so too are the hopes of coming out of winter in good shape. 

There are several steps you need to take and if you follow these you will succeed. 

So you know you want to come out of winter leaner and meaner but what does that mean in terms of body composition goals?

The first step is to know your current weight and your current body composition in terms of body fat. You might be fearful of the numbers but once it is in black and white you can set yourself a goal as to where you want to go. As an example, you might want to drop a few percent body fat but if you do not have a starting point then you will not be able to measure your rate of success. Whatever your goal, whether it’s to drop a few kilograms, increase a few kilograms, drop body fat, drop waist circumference you do need a starting point. Numbers do not lie, and they set the foundation from which to launch. 

Exercise is the only way to increase lean muscle. It is not possible to strengthen and grow lean muscle without some form of resistance training. Winter is a brilliant time to add a mix of strength sessions to the routine. They do not have to be long-drawn-out sessions. As little as 30min x 3 times, a week is sufficient to trigger hypertrophy with a split routine incorporating all muscle groups. I like to mix it up and target a combination of muscle groups a couple of times a week. This does not mean I neglect my running, cycling, cardiovascular exercise etc. It just means I reduce my volume sufficiently to incorporate a fair amount of strength training. 

Now we get to the low down on how to drop the body fat. Smart eating is the way to get that body fat down and it’s quite simple. Firstly, no it does not mean fasting, it means eating and eating well. 

Step 1 is to determine how many calories you are currently burning off on any day at rest and including exercise. Once you know this amount of energy expenditure you need to make sure you consume a deficit. So as an example, if an individual burns off around 2500Kcals daily and wants to lose weight then I would suggest a deficit of around 500Kcals meaning his intake should be no more than 2000Kcals. If you want a nice gradual loss over a longer period, you could go with a slightly lower deficit of around 300Kcals but for faster results, the former is better.

Do not think eating even more of a calorie deficit is good for you because it is not necessarily. It can cause fatigue, slow recovery, and drop those energy levels limiting your ability to perform. I often hear people tell me that to increase muscle one needs to eat in a surplus. This is not true, to gain weight sure you need to eat in a surplus, but you can still increase lean muscle by eating in a slight deficit or maintaining. The key to muscle growth is proper macronutrient intake specifically protein.

Let’s talk macronutrients for a bit………………

In my previous blog, I harped on about protein being the king macronutrient for increasing lean muscle and dropping body fat. Yes, this is vital, and you do need to consume the correct amount of protein per kilogram of body weight to achieve this. 

However for body fat loss, fiber is also important and a high fiber diet will see you feeling satiated and keeping blood glucose levels down. This is the trick with body fat dropping. It is ensuring you control blood sugar levels properly while giving it the proper nutrients required to achieve your end goal.

In many cases, people shift to keto diets to try to control blood sugar. I do not think this is a wise idea as it diminishes power and pace over time and that is what I would want to push harder during the winter months. An individual whose organs function normally and secretes insulin the way it was meant to will not have a problem processing carbohydrates. Most important is the volume of carbohydrates you consume per meal and if controlled you can limit blood sugar elevation. Doing this correctly can keep you in a fat-burning mode most of the time. So smaller meals more spread over the day is an excellent way of controlling blood sugar, hunger and stabilizing energy levels properly.

Water is so vital in any healthy eating regime. I advise consuming around 30-40ml per kilogram of body weight daily. Now with the winter months and the cold many people turn to loads of coffee consumption and many with sugar. Instead of playing havoc with excess caffeine consumption and loading yourself with sugar try to incorporate some herbal teas. Green tea is my favourite and due to its catechins especially EGCG it can increase metabolic rate aiding weight loss. Over and above this its polyphenols provide a host of health benefits.

Another trick is to have ice water which cools down the core temperature leaving the body to work harder to warm it up. Not many people can wake up to a glass of ice in winter so green tea would be your next best bet .

To sum up train smart, eat smart and use this period to make the positive gains you are looking for towards your goals instead of hampering them and having to do some damage control when you exit the winter period.

Just a few tips to help you through this period


Mark Wolff is a certified exercise & sports nutritionist, endurance nutrition and physiology expert with over 20 years experience. An endurance multi-sport athlete with a running, triathlon, mountain biking and weight lifting background, he works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines as well as those just wanting to change their lifestyles. He firmly believes that a person can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is given the proper focus. Mark’s focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi, a sports nutrition company, focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition. He is also co-founder of Rapid Recover focused on pneumatic compression equipment to improve circulation for recovery, rehabilitation and health.

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