Autumn and Winter Performance Foods

Written by Stephen R. Santangelo for the Fall 2021 edition of our Trail Times newsletter. Stephen has been in the fitness industry since 1979 and created his own specialty exercises & programs based upon the anthropological movement of the human body.

As summer turns to fall, cooler temperatures arrive and with this change, our system demands specific nutrition for continued health and performance.

These nutrients are foods that open up arteries for better blood flow, warm the muscles, and elevate the body’s core temperature to 102F thus preparing the body for trail runs by flushing out toxins and bringing fresh blood and fluids throughout one’s system. As with all seasonal foods, priority is focused on the organs which are at their peak. Beginning in October and ending in March, the lungs, liver, colon and heart are four organs/muscles most susceptible to pathogens and stress. Bodily fluids – blood and non-blood – are enhanced through specific foods, spices and herbs to combat inflammatory symptoms which can be problematic during this time of year.

Waterville Valley Resort in the Fall. Photo Credit: Cappi Thompson Photography

Keeping our arteries flexible and keeping blood flow optimum to prevent stagnation, is imperative for the cells to do their job. Cells are the fundamental units of life and are equipped with a variety of environmental recognition systems. Aside from substances such as chemical signals, they can recognize and respond to pressure, gravity, temperature, and light. During autumn and winter, days shorten, light changes and temperatures drop; at least for those of us who live in non-equatorial countries.

Once, we understand how such ingredients will enhance specific organ function, we will be able to optimize our health for better recovery and protection from cold weather illnesses such as the common cold and influenza. When illness strikes, we have down time from trail running, for which we all haven’t any patience. We all love being on the trails so why not stay there?

Consuming foods, spices and herbs which support these organs will prevent our blood from becoming stagnant and deficient. If this deficit happens, the heart, liver and colon are negatively impacted. The heart cannot effectively, pump the blood, the liver cannot store it and cleanse it and the colon is incapable of removing toxins absorbed from the environment or foods we consume.

Stagnant blood weakens oxygen capacity that interferes with building aerobic power, meaning, the lungs do not work at full capacity. The air sacs, or alveoli, make up the functional tissue of the lungs known as the lung parenchyma, which takes up 90 percent of the total lung volume. The alveoli are surrounded by a fine network of blood capillaries that are supplied by small pulmonary artery branches. These capillaries carry the CO2-rich blood to the lungs to exchange them for O2.

Aerobic conditioning has multiple benefits that carry over to the success of every fitness enthusiast’s training. Aerobic work helps maintain healthy joint and soft tissue strength, provides aerobic capacity work, and serves as an excellent recovery workout. Through conditioning, both running and dietary choices, we experience increased blood flow to the muscles as well as capillary density adaptations.

The increased blood flow from increased heart rate, provides heat to the muscles and helps stimulate hormones that aid in recovery and flush out metabolic waste deposited in the soft tissues. Blood flow to the muscles can increase to levels six to 22 times higher than when at rest. This degree of increase is necessary in order to provide the muscles with the required nutrients and remove the metabolic waste.

Below, are some pointers to begin your seasonal dietary choices to enhance the aforementioned science.

  • Sour will aid liver and gall bladder.
  • Bitter will support heart and small intestine.
  • Pungent will strengthen lungs and colon.
  • Hot and spicy will oxygenate blood flow.
  • Salty supports kidney, bladder and adrenal glands (control tower for all hormones).

Onions, garlic, turmeric root, Swiss chard, beets of all varieties, pumpkin, edible gourds, winter squash, mustard greens, cruciferous vegetables, fermented milk products such as kefir and yogurt, jalapeño, habanero, cayenne and lots of fermented vegetables and Kombucha provide our needed support.

All these foods are essential for our seasonal needs. Aside from whole food, spices play an integral role as seasoning, and more importantly, as a pre-workout “start-me-up.” The most critical spices are cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, turmeric, clove, nutmeg and black pepper. Be sure to use organic spices. Conventional spices can contain unwanted toxins which will overload our system. Also, conventional spices use four methods of drying: spraying chemicals, spraying maltodextrin, spraying citric acid, and ETO chemical sterilization. Some of these processes result in a high percentage of starch residue, which can be as high as 40 percent! All these methods have an ill-effect on our internal landscape and forces our organs into overtime, which takes energy away from our working muscles.

Regardless of the day’s training protocol, whether it includes running the trails, hill repeats, snowshoeing or speed intervals on the track, the above seven spices can be mixed into a warm cup of tea or Kombucha as a pre-workout drink…just season to what your palette enjoys.

Another way to get these medicinal spices is to use essential oils from a trusted brand that is safe to consume. Many oils are to be used externally, rather than internally. It is best not to use more than one drop per ingredient, since it can be hard on the liver to metabolize the oil. These seven spices work much like nitric oxide, by relaxing the arterial walls and oxygenating the red blood cells. Two advantages these spices have over nitric oxide is the warming affect to the core temperature, which can be elevated to 102F, and the way they can excite the nervous system in preparation for training.

Spicy Pumpkin Kombucha

Mixing oils and powders in Kombucha has a powerful way of making them more effective due to the great number of enzymes, beneficial bacteria and beneficial fungi in Kombucha. They all go to work in a symbiotic way that is very unique to this blend. The above foods and spices have anti-inflammatory properties as well as alkalizing the blood, which are both important during training and post workout. Although inflammation is a natural process of training, too much can negatively impact the adrenal glands. When this happens, the domino effect occurs. Remember, the adrenals are the control tower of all hormone production organs/glands.

By incorporating these foods and spices into your diet, you will have a delightful energy blend to kick off your upcoming seasonal training.

Editor’s Note: Are you looking for even more great nutrition advice for trail runners? Check out the following articles: