Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – Eating to beat the winter slowdown
Winter can be a tougher for training as reduced daylight and wonky weather derail best intentions. There’s also an elephant in the room which can be an even bigger training and wellbeing barrier in winter and that’s Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). But this elephant can be controlled, and a large part of this can be done with food choices
Our guide explains just what SAD is and how to eat so you can poke it in the eye with a big stick.
Grrr! Power up your diet to give SAD a great big wedgie. Mohawk and Gandalf beard optional
What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder. Symptoms include include anxiety, overeating and low motivation. It’s different to other forms of depression in that it’s brought on by changes in the season, normally as we head into winter.
Long nights, short days, cold temperatures. All result in decreased exposure to fresh air and sunlight which affects our biological clock and thus our mood.
Seasonal affective disorder and the athlete
SAD is particularly evident in endurance athletes because the change in season makes our mainstay of outdoor training harder. Even if we continue to exercise, it’s often indoors which still triggers SAD symptoms.
While our couch-surfing pals are like pigs in muck at the prospect of hibernating until spring, we’re like caged lions, patrolling the perimeter and searching for a way out.
You, in winter - 'like a lion prowling the perimeter'
The psychological impact of short, dark days shouldn’t be underestimated. SAD is a very real thing. So, what can you do to lesson the effect of the seasons?
Food choices, my friend, is how you treat SAD.
Brighten up your day with Vitamin D
You’re not getting enough sunlight, so you need to increase your dietary intake of Vitamin D. Direct sunlight exposure is the best source, but many foods are crammed with Vitamin D so pile your plates with any of these:
That eggs benedict isn't just a tasty brunch treat, it's also a proper SAD smasher. Maybe skip the caperberries though eh? No idea how they snuck onto the plate
Boost serotonin & tackle SAD head on with whole grains
Serotonin is a brain chemical, and while optimal levels area associated with great mood and energy, depleted levels are linked to depression, panic attacks, obesity and irritability.
Variations in your brain are caused by many factors including low sunlight exposure, reduced activity levels and poor diet. For many, these factors go hand in hand with winter environmental conditions.
Whole grains are key to optimal serotonin levels. Oats, barley and buckwheat are game-changers. While not a whole grain, sweet potato is also a rock star here.
All of these slow-release carbs help stabilise insulin levels giving you balanced energy levels - the peaks and troughs associated with highly processed carbs and sugars spells disaster, both physically and emotionally.
Porridge. Good for winter, good for you, good for SAD symptoms thanks to all that tasty slow-release energy
Eat tryptophan-rich proteins to help SAD symptoms
Tryptophan is an amino acid crucial in the production of seratonin so consuming tryptophan-rich foods is also a great mood booster.
Nuts and seeds, tofu, eggs and spinach and seeds are ideal sources, as is soy milk.
Boost your immunity
Colds and bugs are rampant in winter and getting ill can compound SAD symptoms.
Susceptibility to colds and viruses can even be made worse by training as hormones released through exercise - cortisol and adrenaline - can further inhibit the immune system.
Training when sick is a topic in its own right, but whether you decide to push though or lay off, you may be lacking in immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals.
Key ones to look out for include:
- Vitamins A, C, E, B6 and B12
…which can be found in:
- Fresh fruit
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
Don’t be afraid to buy frozen fruit and veg either - in some cases they can even be more nutritious than fresh if they've been very quickly frozen when picked, as opposed to spending weeks in chilled transit. Frozen fruit and veg also keep for ages and reduce your food waste too.
Omega-3 - the SAD smasher
Research has linked lower Omega-3 consumption with increased incidence of depression, and clinical studies have shown omega-3 to be as effective or better than medication so pile your plate with these Omega-3 havens over winter:
You can even get an Omega-3 boost during training and racing over winter with our unique Chia Energy Gels, perfect on-the-go fueling for stable energy and zero stomach trouble, all with an added shot of Omega-3 among each nutrient-dense tasty hit.
Give your daily diet a big positive shove in the right direction with just one spoon a day. Our Ultimate Daily Greens are designed to deliver
Or use our Ultimate Daily Greens Blend as an easy, tasty and cost-effective way to ensure your body gets what it needs this winter. Just one spoon of this mighty blend in a glass of water each morning gives your health and performance a huge nutritional head start on the day, ideal when work and life try and take your best eating intentions elsewhere.
Treat SAD with snacks
Finally, be sure your larder has some SAD-smashing go-tos when you need a quick pick-up. Great options include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Dark chocolate
- Peanut butter
- Rice cakes
- Cottage cheese