Winter can make it hard to get out the door, let alone get in the gym!
I can’t be bothered.
We all feel this way at times and for a variety of often frustrating reasons. As Christmas approaches the urge to pack it all in and disappear under our bed sheets for hibernation grows larger than usual.
Even after the advent calendars are empty and the Christmas leftovers are finally consumed the feeling of lethargy lingers on into the New Year.
It sounds like a bleak picture and that could be because it is precisely that. What I mean by that is that over the Winter months our lives are literally darker and gloomier because there is simply less light in the shorter days.
Winter doesn’t end with the climax of the festive holidays and without the sprinkling of Christmas joy the darker months can become even less tolerable and often leads to the “January Blues”.
Why is this the case?
With the changes in sunlight hours comes a disruption of our circadian rhythm. If you think that refers to some sort of dance move that happens at dusk, let me explain.
Think of them like an internal clock running in our subconscious that keeps track of time and signals the start of various essential functions throughout our body to be carried out at the appropriate time.
The most commonly known circadian rhythm is that of our sleep-wake cycle. If you’re like me you probably think that yours is broken because you never seem to be able to wake up on time without the aid of a rather loud and obnoxious alarm.
Our sleep-wake cycle was developed back when our only source of light was the sun. If you were awake after sunset you stumbled around in the dark and stubbed your toe, so our bodies adapted to sleep during the dark hours to maximise energy in the hours where we could see (and to save our toes).
So it follows that during winter months of less light (some nights can be up to 15 hours long¹) our bodies are signalling at us to sleep much earlier than usual. The way it does this is with a hormone called melatonin. When it is darker:
“Our bodies produce more melatonin in response. This leads to excessive feelings of fatigue and tiredness.”²
In modern times, we seem to have unlimited amounts of artificial light sources. While this means we no longer have to go to bed with the sun, it also plays havoc with our sleep.
“Light from LED screens has repeatedly been suggested to interfere with sleep and the physiological processes involved.”³
This refers to the rise in melatonin levels that naturally occurs 2 hours before sleep being neutralised by LED lights from computers and phones.⁴
What does this mean?
With winter light levels low but artificial light added on top it’s no wonder our circadian rhythms are thrown off and we feel like we have less and less energy and enthusiasm to do things.
Obviously it is beneficial to get as much natural sunlight as possible during winter months to regulate your circadian rhythm. I hear you laughing from the other side of your computer screen saying that is nearly impossible because you spend all the daylight hours of winter working and on weekends it’s overcast or raining so what’s the point.
I hear you.
Another way to gain energy is to expend energy through exercise. Counterintuitive? Some of the best things in life are!
Exercise helps increase your metabolism, which in turn increases your energy levels⁵, and exercise helps increase quality and length of sleep⁶. But what if you don’t even have the motivation to put your gym clothes on in the first place?
If your motivational levels are fully depleted and you’re struggling with even getting out of bed in the morning to face the day you should turn to the one thing that you will never not be motivated to do — eating.
Consuming food is one of your basic immediate needs along with the likes of water, shelter and sleep. So even if you aren’t motivated enough to go for a run, you’ll always have enough energy to open your fridge.
And this is crucial for creating a strong foundation of health that can help both your physical and mental wellbeing.
Instead of curbing your hunger cravings with sugary treats, some of the best foods you can consume to improve your mood include fatty fish, nuts and seeds, coffee and dark chocolate.⁷
They don’t sound too bad do they? It might be a strange meal if that’s all you ate but there are various combinations of foods such as these that can be great sources of mood enhancement.
When we checked out our ingredients we found that because we’ve included only the best superfoods, our Chocolate Bites could be the perfect snack that offers a mood boosting effect whilst also satisfying your sweet tooth cravings at the same time.
This is because our ingredients are sources of many of the previously mentioned foods to help brighten your mood and your energy, so we thought it could be helpful to explain to you how these ingredients actually have the effect they do.
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the world loves chocolate and within that number most often turn to chocolate as a comfort food. But how many of those who look to chocolate for help pick up some that is made from cacao powder instead of cocoa?
Cacao vs. Cocoa
In short, cacao and cocoa come from the same source of the cacao plant but how it is processed creates different results. Cocoa is produced by alkalization that makes the chocolate sweeter and more easily mixed with other ingredients, but the catch is that nearly 90% of the nutritional benefits are stripped away. Cacao is processed at a much lower temperature which keeps these benefits but tastes more bitter. You can read more in depth about the difference on our previous blog here.
Cacao is becoming more popular as an ingredient but if you can’t find it, it is more likely that higher percentage chocolate will have more benefits. These benefits are three-fold:
- It gives a sugar hit to fuel energy and releases feel-good chemicals into your brain such as caffeine and theobromine, but these may only be triggered by more concentrated doses.
- The flavonoids present in cacao help promote blood flow, which improves brain health and helps stabilise your mood.⁸
- The pleasurably taste, texture and smell promotes good mood. Don’t look at me like that, it’s a real science thing: a high hedonic rating.⁹
Put simply, nutrient rich Cacao chocolate releases chemicals into the brain that help to improve and stabilise your mood. So all you have to do is change out your current chocolate for one of higher quality.
Maca is a plant found growing in the Andes of Peru and it’s root has been used throughout history for improving human health.¹⁰ When Maca was compared with a placebo in a trial of healthy men is was found that:
“Maca has been shown to reduce scores in depression and anxiety inventories.”¹¹
It is also claimed that Maca is an adaptogenic plant which means “it gives your body the ability to adapt to or resist what’s going on in and around it, like anxiety, stress, and depression.”¹²
Aside from being a superfood when it comes to boosting your mood, Maca has been shown to increase fertility and libido so don’t be surprised if you go from lying in bed to, well…lying in someone else’s.
This one is going to get sciency so hold on to your pencils.
MCT stands for Medium-Chain Triglycerides.
If something is only medium in length it stands to reason that there would be a similar thing of a different length and this case is no exception.
LCT stands for Long-Chain Triglycerides.
Both of these are chains of fatty-acids that we get from foods we consume, the main difference being that the longer chains of LCT need to be broken down before they can be used, whereas the shorted MCT are absorbed directly.¹³
Because of this MCT Oil is a source of immediate energy¹⁴ and has also been shown to increase your endurance during exercise.¹⁵ MCT Oil could be a great source of energy to sustain you long enough to get back on your feet during winter.
Anyone who religiously includes coffee in their day can probably tell you a thing of two about how it helps them and also a thing or twenty about why it can also be bad for you.
The side-effects of overconsumption when it comes to caffeine have been widely documented and yet we still consume it in huge quantities. I bet that might be because it has a pretty high hedonic rating as well (like chocolate).
“Low to moderate doses of caffeine might improve hedonic tone (the degree of pleasantness or unpleasantness associated with a given state) and reduce anxiety.”¹⁶
It also increases are energy because caffeine is a mild stimulant¹⁷, HOWEVER it needs to be said that overconsumption of caffeine can have much the opposite effect and be and can negatively impactful on your sleep.
For instance, caffeine in coffee has a half life of roughly 3–5 hours¹⁸, which means you should aim to not drink any coffee after around 2pm to ensure you aren’t kept awake later on.
All of these different ingredients can be consumed to help increase both your mood and your energy to help you back to working out and bossing your life even during the cold and dark winter months.
If you’re regularly having to snack on the go because of work or kids (can they be classed as work too?) then getting a healthy boost could be difficult and the sugar rush from easily available candy bars will actually send you crashing later on.
Our Performance Chocolate Bites are rich sources of all of these ingredients in an easy to consume resealable bag that you can take with you on the go, out and about, without losing energy or sleep over what you’re putting in your body.
Winter is a challenging time of year in many respects but if you get your nutrition right, your foundations will be strong enough to withstand the worst winter can throw at you.