As we head into the winter, you may notice your energy lower, a decrease in your immunity (hello, cold and flu season), and have a harder time recovering from your workouts. To help counteract the winter blues, here are our top picks for supplements for winter!
If you missed it, Emily and Alex hosted a v fun Instagram Live session over at @staxcycleclub discussing the best supplements and vitamins that you should be taking.
Alex Zilkie (@alexzilkie) is a Stax instructor extraordinaire, mom, medical professional, and certified nutrition coach. Here are her recommendations to keep you at the top of your game this season (even after too many bevies at your Christmas party).
How the Winter Affects Your Mood
You may have noticed that once the winter months come around, your mood and energy take a hit. You might start to feel sad, have low energy, have issues sleeping, feel sluggish, or have other changes.
This is a common problem that is caused by a number of factors including:
Changes to your circadian rhythm - there is a reduced number of daylight hours during the winter which can disrupt your body's internal clock.
Serotonin levels - reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin (a mood stabilizer).
Melatonin levels - changes in the seasons can disrupt your melatonin levels which play a role in your sleep patterns and mood.
(If you experience severe symptoms, you might be experiencing seasonal affective disorder or "SAD". If your symptoms persist or become severe, you should talk to your doctor or health care professional.)
Vitamins & Supplements You Should be Taking During the Winter Months
Feeling crummy for half the year shouldn't be the norm! To help counteract the winter blues, here are some great supplements to take to increase your energy, immunity, and recovery!
Supplements for Energy
With less sunshine during the day, your energy can take a hit. Here are Alex's top recommended supplements to boost your energy. These should be taken in the morning for the best effect!
Ashwagandha also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry - is a herb growing in popularity. It's part of the class of plants can adaptogens known for their health benefits when ingested.
This non-toxic herb has plenty of benefits - making it a favorite of not on Alex, but other healthcare professionals. Ashwagandha benefits:
Relieve stress and anxiety
Lower blood sugar
Increase muscle strength
Improve sexual function in women
Boost testosterone in men
Support heart health
How to supplement with Ashwagandha: Alex recommends adding it to your morning coffee or favorite superfoods smoothie. It has a slightly bitter or earthy flavor.
Originating from Peru, this superfood is supercharged with vitamins, minerals, and has tons of great health benefits. Maca root is perfect for increasing your energy, especially right before a workout because it is full of carbohydrates. Take it after your workout for a quick dose of carbs to help your muscles grow big and recover faster.
Besides increasing your energy, maca may also help boost your libido and fertility.
How to consume maca root: add this nutty powder or liquid extract to your smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods, or other favorite dishes.
You might be already adding this supplement to your daily diet in the form of your cup of coffee! Caffeine is a great supplement to add to your routine due to its high levels of antioxidants. It also has plenty of health benefits like improving your energy levels and improving physical performance.
Want the health benefits of coffee but get the jitters from too much caffeine? Try supplementing with L-theanine, an amino acid that is said to help eliminate the jittery feeling or "take the edge off" when you drink caffeine.
The benefits of L-theanine are:
Relief of anxiety and stress
Plus, if you take this supplement in the evening, it can help initiate sleep so you fall asleep faster and easier!
Supplements for Immunity
Protect yourself against the onslaught of germs and viruses this cold and flu season by boosting your natural immunity. Here are the top supplements to strengthen your immune system.
Vitamin D is one of those critical vitamins we need that we get from sunlight. With the decreased amount of sunlight every day, it can be beneficial to supplement your diet with vitamin D.
Alex increases her dosage of vitamin D during the winter. You should talk to your doctor about a dosage that is right for you.
What is an adaptogen? An adaptogen is a natural substance that is considered to help the body adapt to stress and produce a normalizing effect on bodily processes. Some examples include ginseng and mushrooms such as lion's mane, reishi, and chaga.
How to supplement with adaptogens: Add adaptogens in their raw forms, as powders, in teas or tinctures, or other supplements.
Supplements for Recovery
Whether you're recovering after an intense workout or from feeling under the weather, here are Alex's top picks for recovery supplements.
Magnesium is an important mineral that plays a role in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body. From the regulation of muscle cramps and blood pressure to energy production, blood sugar balancing, weight management, and mood, magnesium plays a critical role. Take note of the type of magnesium you're taking; they are not created equal!
Glycinate - take magnesium glycinate in the morning to help keep everything running smoothly in your bowels and at night to help you sleep.
Citrate - this form has a super calming effect and helps with mood regulation, muscle crampings, and aiding in sleep. MagnesiumcCitrate is a great form to take for recovery and at night.
Malate - magnesium malate can be taken to increase your intake of magnesium as well as help with muscle soreness. Take in the morning for increased stamina!
Chloride - Spritz your skin with magnesium chloride to help with muscle soreness and help ground you. If you're deficient in magnesium (as most people are) you might experience some tingly when used topically.
Essential Amino Acids
In order to maintain good health, the body needs 20 different amino acids. Essential amino acids (EAA) include nine amino acids that we need to get through food. Our bodies don't produce these amino acids naturally, hence the name "essential amino acids".
Supplementing with an essential amino acid product before, during, or after your workout can help with protein synthesis, muscle recovery, and muscle building.
How to supplement EAAs: If you have a heavy lift day, take EAAs after; if you are doing cardio (like your favorite spin class), sip EAAs during your workout.
You may have heard about creatine before. It's been a controversial supplement within the fitness world and there is lots of misconception about this supplement. Creatine is a natural substance that turns into creatine phosphate which in turn helps create adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Think of ATP as potential energy in your muscles and creation helps replenish it.
Creatine can help support lean muscle mass, brain function, and help defend against some neurological disorders.
When to supplement with creatine: Supplement with creatine before your lift or spin class to help increase stamina and performance.
What About Fat Burners?
While definitely not an essential supplement, fat burners come up in the discussion of supplements. Alex reiterates that fat burners are not a magic potion or a silver bullet for weight loss. But for some people whose nutrition and workout regime is on point, you might see some added benefits.
If you are going to supplement with a fat burner, Alex recommends taking L-carnitine 20 to 40 minutes before exercising.
Supplements to Cure a Hangover
With the holiday season in full swing, you might find yourself nursing a couple of hangovers. These aren't guaranteed cure-alls, but Alex has a couple of supplement suggestions for helping you feel better after a night out.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) - helps produce antioxidants in the body which can reduce toxicity, increase liver function, and counteract drowsiness and nausea. You can try 600 mg before and after drinking to ward off hangovers.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) - works the same way as NAC. Try taking 400 mg before your Christmas party.
Activated charcoal - pop a couple of activated charcoal tablets before you hit the sheets to help counteract the alcohol in your system.
Carbohydrates - it literally has the word "hydrate" in it. Carbs help us hold onto water and keep us hydrated. So use this as an excuse to have a little more carbohydrates at your function to keep your body hydrated.
Vitamin Bs - choose a supplement that contains B-1, B-6, and B-12 to help replace the B vitamins lost.
Tips for Staying on Top of Supplements
In order to feel the benefits of supplements, you have to take them consistently. Here are three ways to build your supplement habit.
1. set a reminder
Put your phone to good use and create a reoccurring reminder to take your supplements.
2. Make it Part of Your Ritual
Store your supplements somewhere that is part of your daily ritual - like by your morning coffee station or a nightly cuppa tea.
Practice taking them every day. Like every habit, it takes time to build a routine.
Taking supplements is all about balance, research, and creating a ritual. Empower yourself with knowledge about different supplements and do what's best for you. Remember that a handful of supplements won't cure all your ailments; you need good nutrition, good sleep, and exercise as a foundation.
What is your must-have daily supplement?