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Winter Nutrition

18 Jul 2016

Make an extra effort to stay hydrated.

Water is a major nutrient required by the body, accounting for around 60% of our body weight, and 78% of our brain weight! The main roles of water include metabolism and transportation of nutrients, body temperature control, digestion, excretion of waste products, lubrication of joints and cartilage. Furthermore, water intake can also contribute to skin integrity and is one of the most important nutrients for maintaining clear, supple skin.

Whilst it might be surprising, during the winter months, individuals can be substantially more at risk of dehydration than in the warmer months. The outcomes of even mild dehydration can include a loss of concentration, fatigue, weakness, irritability and constipation. While the more serious outcomes include kidney damage, swelling of the brain, heat injury, coma and death.

On the sporting front, adequate hydration is of utmost importance and studies show that a loss of 2% body weight can result in a noticeable impact upon performance, leading to a loss of coordination, higher perceived effort, impaired decision making skills and increased risk of heat stress. In addition, dehydration can also contribute to gastro-intestinal upset during exercise such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Although, it is commonly stated that 2 litres of water per day is all that is recommended, often needs are higher for most individuals, particularly in those who exercise. However, don’t think that you can only drink buckets of water to stay hydrated; tea, coffee (in limited amounts, particularly if you are caffeine sensitive or iron deficient), broths and soups, vegetable juice (keep fruit juice to a minimum) can all help contribute to your fluid intake.

When the sun won’t come out to play (Vitamin D deficiency risk)

Unfortunately, winter in Melbourne can be particularly dark and dreary, which reduces the amount of sun exposure that we get, and hence Vitamin D (found in the skin, but activated by sunlight). A recent study has shown that nearly one third of Australians are deficient in Vitamin D, which is concerning considering that Vitamin D deficiency causes muscle and bone pain, osteoporosis, osteopenia and an increased risk of fractures. In addition, it has also been associated with mental illness (such as depression), heart disease, hypertension, auto-immune diseases as well as the development of some cancers.

To assess whether you have a Vitamin D deficiency, you should obtain a blood test from your Doctor. Osteoporosis Australia recommend that blood levels of Vitamin D at the end of winter should be at least 50nmol/L. If you find that your levels are below this you may like to increase your intake of Vitamin D fortified milk, or your Doctor or Dietitian may suggest supplementation. Some foods contain small amounts of Vitamin D such as oily fish (i.e. salmon, tuna, mackerel) and eggs. While others i.e. Vitamin D Mushrooms (http://www.vitamindmushrooms.com.au/) are purposely grown to contain more Vitamin D.

Boosting your immune system

Cold and flus are a common part of cold winter months and it is easy to get complacent relying on convenient, comfort food and fast food options (which are generally void of good nutrition). Poor nutrition over the winter months can make you more susceptible to illness and infection. Some of the following foods/nutrients can help to boost your immunity:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Natural immune boosting powerhouses full of nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which can strengthen the immune system.
  • Zinc: Found in lean meats and poultry, seafood, dairy and wholegrains. Zinc increases the production of white blood cells which work to destroy invading bacteria and therefore can assist in fighting infection. The current recommendations for zinc is 8mg/day for women and 14mg/day for men.
  • Probiotics: A large proportion of your immune system is located in your digestive system. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that live within your gut and help to keep the digestive system free from nasty bacteria which can lead to illness and infection. Yoghurt is a good source of probiotics and contains live cultures such as Lactobacillus Bulgaricus. Alternatively, probiotics are now also available in capsule form from most pharmacies.

Rebekah Alcock
Accredited Practicing Dietitian
Recover Sports Medicine

If you wish to make an appointment at Recover Sports Medicine, please call 1300 858 774 or email contact@recoversportsmed.com.au

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