Regardless of ability, nutrition plays a key, yet frequently overlooked, role in skiing, especially as you adjust to different climates, altitude, or exercise level. Kristen Gravani reports...
The Christmas holidays are often the first time people hit the slopes for the season. For the serious skiers who train in preparation, this is their first test. For the weekend skiing warriors, it can come as a bit more of a shock.
As a sports dietician and former college ski racer, a question I frequently get asked is, "do I need to eat more food because I'm so active on ski trips?" Hypothetically yes. The average skier burns 300-600 calories per hour. Racers, or intermediate to advanced skiers tackling difficult terrain at a fast pace, can burn up to 1,000 calories per hour. However, if you are on a ski vacation, likely you will not need to consciously work to add extra food for your needs. Après ski enjoyment typically involves drinks and restaurant dining, which will easily make up the caloric differences- keeping you satisfied with local cuisine, and energized for another day on the slopes.
That said, there are several easy changes you can incorporate into your ski rituals to ensure you ski your best. These range from choosing healthier foods at meals to planning snacks and timing your eating to peak your energy levels. Here are five tips to get started:
1. Eat breakfast
Yes, you've likely heard this advice before, but I cannot stress enough the importance of eating something before tackling the mountain. Think of your body as a fuel tank- Your body runs during the night, but you are not replenishing that fuel being used because you're sleeping. In the morning, that fuel tank is, at best, half full. You wouldn't expect your car to run all day on ½ a tank of fuel, so eating something, even if it's just a banana or granola bar, to help jump start your metabolism and energize your brain and muscles.
2. Pack a snack
Studies have shown that consuming some carbohydrate (bread, cereal, rice pasta, fruit, sugar) and a small amount of protein (meat, nuts, dairy products) during skiing can help minimize muscle damage from the day, compared to not snacking throughout a day on the mountain. No dedicated skier wants to miss a great run for an overpriced snack in a ski lodge or mountain restaurant- so stock your jacket pockets the night before with easy to grab energy. Be creative and pack whatever sounds good to you. You might want to avoid snack bars with over 10 grams of protein. Not only do they often freeze, but don't digest easily during activity. Climate and pocket friendly snacks include: Odwalla bars, Clif shock blocks, Go-gurt (yes it often will freeze into an ice pop), Nature Valley or chewy granola bars, trail mix, or even a ½ a Peanut butter sandwich.
3. Lunch break
Even on a powder day, lunch is also a must. After several hours of shredding, your body needs both a physical and nutritional break. Suffer from the post-lunch energy slump? Solution: skip the tempting fried foods and burgers and go with a balance of carbohydrate, lean protein, and healthy fat. Add in a fruit or vegetable to get important nutrients to help combat the stresses that altitude brings on the body. Here are some examples:
- Turkey or grilled chicken sandwich on a wheat roll with lettuce and tomato, baked chips or a baked potato with cheese (depending on appetite)
- Pasta with a side salad and bread
- Chicken noodle soup, spaghetti Bolognese or chilli (go light on the cheese) with a slice of bread
- Finish your lunch with an orange or a banana
4. Apres-ski snack & dinner
While you might be ready for a relaxing beer and the hot tub, add in some cheese and crackers, another granola bar or some fruit before diving into relaxation mode. Your body uses food most efficiently directly after working out. Why does this matter? Post workout snacks and meals significantly improve recovery, decrease soreness, and improve performance. You'll be fresher for skiing the next day! Dinner should be similar to lunch in that the meal should ideally include some items from the following groups:
- Carbohydrates - this quick-energy source is the main fuel required during a day of skiing. and is a very important food group to include in any post-ski meal;
- Fruit or vegetable - contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which boost immune function and promote healing and recovery necessary after a long day of exercise;
- Healthy fats - like nuts, avocados, or olive-, vegetable-, sunflower seed- or canola oils.
If you travelling to a ski destination above 8,000 ft (2,438 m), you are likely to feel at least some side effects of the altitude, including fatigue, headache, nausea, shortness of breath, dry mouth, or thirst. Hydration is one of the easiest ways to ease these symptoms. Drinking water during a day of skiing can not only diminish headaches, and dry mouth, but has also been shown in studies to minimize muscular damage, in comparison to not hydrating throughout the day. Camelbaks (available in the UK from www.wiggle.co.uk) are a convenient way to do this without interfering with your ski adventures. Many resorts in North America also have outdoor water stations near lifts where you can grab a quick cup of water before heading to your next run.
Lastly, keep in mind that alcohol can counteract many of the nutrition changes discussed above. If you want to ski your best all week, limit après ski to a few drinks and make sure to drink plenty of water as well. Even if you try one or two of these simple nutrition changes on the slopes, you are likely to feel the benefits. It may take a little extra effort, but you wouldn't expect a car to run at high performance on low grade, or no, fuel, so why would you expect your body to? I challenge you to work towards a strong and healthy ski season!
Kristen Gravani, MS, RD, is the sports dietician for Florida State University Athletics and previously interned with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA). Kristen has counselled a wide range of athletes including high schoolers, NCAA Division I Athletes, Olympians and professionals. Kristen is available for comments and questions at Kgravani@fsu.edu