The days are getting shorter, it’s a little cooler when you go out in the morning, and Oktoberfest beer is on the shelves. This time of year is an acquired taste. The turning leaves and upcoming holidays fill some with joy; for others, not so much. They see it as being robbed of sunlight, forced to layer up, and to battle leaf covered yards every weekend. For those of you that struggle with it, here are a few things you can do to battle the Autumn blues.
Don’t get SAD
Yes, SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is actually a thing. After the time change and the days get shorter, a lot of us will only see sunlight through a window. I encourage you to step outside in the middle of the day just to get some fresh air and feel some sun on your face. You can also add a Natural Light Lamp to your work area, which can help. If possible, go for a walk during phone calls, conference calls, or in between classes. Just a five-minute walk midday can be refreshing enough to battle through the remainder of the day.
Since you won’t be getting as much sunlight, your body may not be able to produce the necessary vitamin D it needs — because of this, supplements might help. I could go down a rabbit hole on vitamin D but will spare you. I have added a few links following this paragraph if you want to dive in. In a nutshell, it’s an extremely important fat soluble vitamin that a majority of Americans are deficient in. The National Institutes of Health has an RDA of 600 IU’s for an adult. It’s beneficial to take with a meal that’s higher in fat and along with a Magnesium and Calcium supplement for optimum absorption.
Vitamin D Deficiency- An Ignored Epidemic
National Institutes of Health Vitamin D Fact Sheet
Harvard School of Public Health – Vitamin D
Another way to turn that frown upside down is make some plans, giving yourself something to look forward to. I know we are a bit constrained with the current pandemic issues, but there are still things you can do. Schedule events for yourself, you and your significant other, or whoever you are comfortable hanging out with. It could be as simple as an evening by the backyard fire pit making s’mores or a trip to an apple orchard (I’ve seen that they’re open with guidelines). Be safe, be creative, and give SAD the boot.
Embrace the Pumpkin Spice
Yep, it was as hard for me to write that as it was for you to read it. BUT pumpkin and spice (which is majority cinnamon) have some positive health benefits. Pumpkin has a ton of fiber and is full of antioxidants. Cinnamon is full of antioxidants as well. All these benefits may not end up in your Venti, 3 pump, double shot latte with whip cream, but this protein shake might do the trick:
“Pump”kin Protein Shake (foundation ingredients)
- 1 cup milk (of whatever animal or plant you prefer)
- 1 sliced frozen banana
- ½ cup of pumpkin puree
- 1 scoop of protein powder (vanilla or unflavored may work best)
- ½-1 Tbsp of pumpkin spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger if you want to get technical)
- Sweetener (½ Tbsp of monk fruit, 1 tsp of Stevia, or 1 Tbsp of sugar because YOLO)
You’ve got several weeks to perfect this recipe so don’t stop at my foundational ingredients, explore your inner connoisseur of Cucurbita pepo. A “Pump”kin peanut butter, vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup protein shake might be your style! Also, the protein shake is just the tip of the iceberg, you can add pumpkin puree in multiple recipes or as an addition to a snack. Pumpkin puree can be an addition to pancakes, oatmeal, yogurt, muffins, bread, among other things. If you’re carving a pumpkin this year you can roast the seeds for a healthy snack. So slip on your Uggs or put on your beanie and embrace the orange winter squash.
It’s BULKING SEASON!
That’s right Bros and Brodets, time to pack up the board shorts and bikinis and start building that beach body foundation for next season. We all get that hibernation twitch this time of year. I say instead of fighting it, embrace it! Use this time to take in a few extra calories and hit the sack a little earlier to pack on some muscle. You’re not giving yourself a free pass to gorge on junk food, but adding that “pump”kin spiced protein shake at the end of the day might give you what you need to hit that PR or thicken up those quads a bit.
It may also help you navigate the holidays with a little less stress. Health conscious people often get uneasy when they know there are big meals with tempting foods in which they are determined to avoid in the near future. Going into those situations with a little less restrictive mindset and more of a reward mindset could actually help you not overindulge. You don’t have to negotiate with yourself that you’ll workout extra or cut calories before and after. It’s not something you do all the time so enjoy it and move on.
In your approach to bulking/muscle gains, start by evaluating where you are and where you want to be. If you are newer to lifting, your body may still make gains out of the unfamiliar stimulus you are placing on it and you may not need the extra calories, or at least as much of them. For the more seasoned athlete, you know that you will have to take in a bit more calories to add muscle as your body has adapted to that stimulus. Here is a great research review on Gaining Muscle Mass. If you have access to a certified nutritionist, talk to them about your goals and get after it. If you’re doing your own self-experimenting, add some calories, assess, and adjust.
If you are going harder in the gym to pack on the muscle, turn the TV off 30 minutes earlier than usual and hit the sack. During sleep, your body cranks up the release of growth hormone. According to a study in the Journal of Musculoskeletal Neuronal Interact, 7-8 hours is the sweet spot . Studies have shown hitting that protein shake before bed facilitates more muscle protein synthesis leading to better gains. Most lifters lean towards a Casein protein for that bedtime shake, but it may not matter what type of protein just as long as you get it in before you hunker down. Here is an interesting article on the topic: Bedtime protein for bigger gains? Here’s the scoop.
If you hit the fall season with some positive outlook, goals, and activities it might not be so daunting. You’ll enjoy your journey through the colder seasons and when spring comes around you’ll be ready to carve up all that hard work you put in. So lift heavy, eat well, and sleep hard. You’ll come out of hibernation much happier and much stronger.
DISCLAIMER: There is no Dr. in front of my name or MD/PHD after it. I’m not a doctor nor claim to be. To be on the safe side, you may want to consult with your physician before adding any supplements to your diet.
- Chen Y, Cui Y, Chen S, Wu Z. Relationship between sleep and muscle strength among Chinese university students: a cross-sectional study. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 2017;17(4):327-333.
Mark has competed in Bodybuilding, Triathlon, CrossFit, Weightlifting, and Strongman. He is dedicated to maintaining health and overall wellness while navigating the day to day grind and enjoys helping others along their journey.