Keeping on track through the winter months

December 20, 2023

Nutrition tips for winter training, health and wellbeing
by Nicky Gilbert, dietitian and registered sport and exercise nutritionist

Making sound, healthy and nutritious food and drink choices can be even more challenging during the cold winter months with short daylight hours. This article aims to support you in knowing what and when to eat and drink around training, as well as offering plenty of practical tips and solutions to eat well and keep on track with your training strategies throughout Xmas and into the New Year.

How much do you really know about nutrition for healthy living and performance?

Have some fun with and your friends and family, by answering ‘Truth’ or ‘Myth’ to the following 6 statements:


"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day"

"Sports drinks improve physical performance"

"For speedy recovery, it is advisable to eat sugary (high glycaemic index) snacks soon after physical activity"

"Drinking milk after exercise helps with both rehydration and recovery"

"A healthy balanced diet can provide all essential nutrients for health"

"It doesn’t matter when you eat as long as you eat and drink the right food to meet all your daily needs"

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day: MYTH

Breakfast is just one of three important meals of the day! Eating at regular intervals throughout the day prevents us from getting hungry and provides a steady supply of fuel for both physical and mental performance. So, lunch is just as important as breakfast, allowing us to fuel our endeavours in the afternoon.

If you are not hungry when you wake, it is fine to eat your breakfast within two hours but you could try eating a smaller evening meal and/or eating a little earlier in the evening to trigger your appetite for breakfast. If you miss breakfast because it bores you, take time to experiment with your breakfast choices and make them a little more appetising.

What will you put on your porridge in the morning?
Banana and walnuts, coconut and tinned pineapple, chopped apple and cinnamon,
walnuts and raisins, frozen berries and granola, or passion fruit?

Sports drinks improve physical performance: MYTH

Many people may choose to drink a sports drink before and during exercise for hydration and/or an energy boost. However, simply drinking a sports drink won’t guarantee you an ‘improved performance’ - effective training and recovery, optimal sleep and a healthy balanced diet are the main determining factors.  

Whilst the use of a sports drink may be appropriate for some individuals during lengthy and intensive training sessions, reliance is not recommended as these acidic drinks can impair dental health. For most training activities, refilling a bottle with tap water alone or with a sugar free flavouring is a cheap, effective and environmentally friendly approach to keeping hydrated.

For speedy recovery, it is advisable to eat high GI snacks soon after physical activity: MYTH

Carbohydrate rich foods which are rapidly absorbed and referred to as ‘high glycaemic index’ or high GI, have long been promoted to aid refuelling with sugary confectionery, cakes and cereal bars being popular choices. However, eating immediately after exercise is rarely necessary, unless you participate in intense training more than once a day, most days of the week. For most sports people a regular healthy meal pattern will simply do the trick for refuelling and recovery!

Drinking milk after exercise helps with both rehydration and recovery: TRUE!

Milk is not only a goodsource of fluid for rehydration but provides essential nutrients which nourishand aid recovery.

Top tip! Try drinking skimmed milk – it serves as a nutrient rich snack and a tooth friendly rehydration drink! You can also try flavoured milks or plant based options too.

A healthy balanced diet can provide all essential nutrients for health: TRUE!

Plant-based eaters and vegans do not need to despair – we can get all ouressential nutrients provided by eating a varied and well-planned diet.

It doesn’t matter when you eat as long as you eat and drink the right things to meet all your daily needs: MYTH

Our mood and resilience is influenced by a steady supply of nutrients to the brain – so help yourself by keeping to a regular meal pattern, starting the day with a nutritious breakfast and choosing nutritious meals, healthy snacks and hydrating drinks at regular throughout the day.

Dietary strategies to support training

What do I need to eat to perform in training?

What and when you need to eat and drink to support your training programme will vary from person to person. Your needs will depend on how often you train, the type of exercise you do, your training goals and whether you are physically active in work, at school or in other leisure pursuits.

However, there are some general tips for all athletes and sportspeople to be able to be at their best and train well in every session.

Consider the following:

  1. Do you drink enough to be hydrated at the start and throughout your training session?
    Do the pee test to monitor your urine colour. If you are drinking adequately then you should be peeing frequently, and your urine should be pale and plentiful. Take time for regular drinks breaks - throughout the day and in training to maintain hydration. Consider the conditions you work, live and train in. You will need to drink more to compensate for increased losses in hot conditions and in air-conditioned or heated vehicles and buildings.
  2. Do you have enough energy to perform throughout your training session?
    Carbohydrate, fat and protein are the major nutrients in the food we eat, and all provide the body with energy (calories). However, the preferred fuel source for your brain and exercising muscles is glucose, formed following the digestion of carbohydrate. Glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver where it is readily available as a source of energy for the body. However, these stores are small and when used up quickly during intense or lengthy sessions, your performance may be limited as tiredness and loss of concentration sets in.

    Eating for training? Plan ahead for success
    Know when your toughest training sessions are, and make sure that you eat carbohydrate-rich meals to prepare. Depending on timings and intensity, this could be the day(s) before, as well as on the training day itself.
    Modify your dietary intake when sessions are low intensity, or mainly skill-based, so that you are not consuming unwanted calories or excessively large amounts of food, and vice-versa.
    Give yourself time to digest a main meal by eating 3-4 hours before training, or plan to eat a series of smaller snacks. Try out different approaches to see what works best for you in training.
    Avoid leaving it to the last minute to decide what to eat. You may end up relying on poorer-quality convenience foods, takeaways, sugary snacks and drinks.
  3. Are you able to focus and concentrate throughout your training?
    Whether you are able to maintain focusand concentration will depend on sleep quality and many other factors, but yourfood and fluid choices play a part and small dietary modifications can make allthe difference!

    Improving your focus and concentration
    Start your training well-hydrated and drink frequently to keep yourself hydrated. It's not easy to correct the efforts of dehydration during activity. 
    Get your timings right in terms of eating meals or snacks before training. Avoid being hungry in training, or feeling too full and uncomfortable.
    If you are feeling tired, sugary snacks and drinks may serve as an immediate boost, but may be quickly followed by a slump.
  4. Are you able to recover fully and in time for your next training session?
    Recovery is a complex process and largely dependent on rest and sleep. However, whether you are ready for the next session or competition will also depend on what you eat and drink, during and after training.

    Eating to recover
    If your next training session is not for a day or two, then sound eating practices with meals and snacks at regular intervals will facilitate refuelling and recover.
    Training again later in the same day or in less than 24 hours? Prioritise eating soon after training, with a meal or snack that provides a mixture of carbohydrate and protein. Then simply continue to eat and drink at regular intervals.
    Be careful to drink enough to replace fluid losses, but not so much before bedtime that your sleep is interrupted.
    A milky drink before bedtime can be helpful in promoting good sleep and recovery.

Improve your training by making some Healthy Swaps

Try swapping these....with more nutritious and lower GI choices! 

Swap white toast with butter and jam...with poached eggs on granary toast with olive oil or sunflower spread or peanut butter

Swap a glass of orange juice...with a whole orange and a glass of milk

Swap a white cob with cheese and ham...with a granary sandwich with cheese and salad and olive oil or sunflower spread

Swap a packet of crisps and can of cola...with an apple, a handful of nuts and a glass of milk or a yoghurt and water / low sugar squash

Swap chilli con carne on white rice with garlic bread...with chilli con carne with lean meat, kidney beans, peppers and mushrooms on basmati rice and side salad

Recipe of the month: Spicy Bean Burritos

Quick and easy to prepare, low GI for slower release energy and perfect for before or after training.

You can put all types of fillings in your burrito – spicy chicken, chilli con carne - made with meat or Quorn, and as well as the below, you can try adding sweetcorn, peas or chopped peppers to your rice, too.

Ingredients for 2-4 people: 

4 large flour tortilla wraps (try wholegrain)

4 large lettuce leaves, shredded

3 tomatoes, chopped

½ cup grated reduced-fat cheddar

4 tablespoons low-fat natural yoghurt


Spray of oil olive or rapeseed or sunflower

1 onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

440 g can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

400 g can crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato puree

2 teaspoons chilli sauce

  1.   To make the filling, spray a non-stick pan with oil and heat.
  2.   Add the onion and cook over a medium heat for 3 minutes or until soft and add the spices and stir for a minute.
  3.   Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato puree and chilli sauce.
  4.   Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes - until heated through and thickened slightly.
  5.   Divide the filling into four and place on each of the tortilla wraps.
  6.   Roll up and top with lettuce, tomato, cheese and yoghurt

Serve with generous portion of basmati rice and a larger mixed salad for a more substantial meal.

Refuel, rehydrate, recover

What do we mean by recovery after training and how can eating and drinking help recovery between sessions?

Work with your family to answer the following questions about recovery and find the answers in the wordsearch below. Remember that words can be vertical, horizontal, upside down, reversed or even diagonal!

1. Failing to recover fully can make you irritable. Find another word for grumpy

2. You may suffer from these if you fail to keep hydrated

3. You may feel…………….and ………… training if you fail to refuel and rehydrate

4. If you don’t have enough fuel (energy stores) you will …………early and your legs will feel ………….

5. Often a sign of dehydration, these are painful, affect your muscles and you will have to stop exercising.

6. It is not just physical performance that is affected by poor recovery. If you don’t recover between sessions your accuracy and ………….is affected as well.

7. If you do this in your training it is a sign that you’re tired!

8. A good sign that you are rehydrated is when your urine is ……………

9. Drinking this after training is a really good way to start recovery

10. As well as drinking it is important to do this after training to speed recovery

11. Sound drinking and eating will help you to repair and ………….

12. If you get a chance to take a quick one of these during the day it can help you feel refreshed before training











10. EAT

11. HEAL

12. NAP

Merry Christmas!

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