Nutrition planning for snow sports is often overlooked, especially by the seasoned weekend warrior. But fueling properly is the difference between spending the daylight hours on the slopes or exhausted in your chalet.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE COLD?
Snow sports are metabolically draining because of the cold environment. To maneuver through the snow and carry equipment can also drain your carbohydrate energy reserves. On top of that, add the energy required to turn, twist, jump and flip, and you can really leave yourself fatigued if your nutrition is not thought out properly.
The cold weather has a major impact on fuel reserves — more so than warmer climate sports. At lower temperatures the body loses energy from shivering and trying to maintain body heat.
Although you will be covered from head to toe with thermal clothing, heat is lost through uncovered areas of the body such as the face. Most people don’t realize you will also lose a significant amount of heat and fluid through your breath.
IMPACT OF ALTITUDE
Higher altitudes also play a big role in the body’s increased carbohydrate needs. At higher altitudes there is less oxygen available in the air. This places a huge demand on your body’s blood-glucose reserves to fuel the body and muscles.
There is a heavy reliance on muscle glycogen stores to facilitate this process. The body can only store carbohydrates as glycogen for two hours’ worth of moderate intensity exercise. That’s why, during marathon races or endurance sports, athletes need to eat while exercising.
This is also a challenge when exercise is continuous and prolonged, such as when you spend five to six hours skiing without eating. Ultimately, depleting glycogen stores means you could get fatigued within a few hours of your snowy adventures starting. Fatigue can lead to a lack of concentration, which could also end in injury like skiing into a tree or misjudging ditches and ramps.
If you choose to take a snowboarding vacation, consider that higher altitudes also boost your metabolic rate, while
simultaneously reducing appetite. This means that your energy levels are heightened, but you don’t feel like eating, which is a big problem for adequate refueling and providing your body with the nutrients it needs.
Ultimately, poor refueling can cause motivation to wane and lead to half-hearted performance. Refueling with carbohydrates and protein after a long day outside is necessary to repair fatigued muscle and replenish glycogen stores for the following day.
DEHYDRATION IN THE SNOW
Dehydration is another component to consider. In colder temperatures, the air has less moisture. This means that when we breathe out, the moisture from our body is drawn out into the dry air.
You will not only dehydrate from sweating due to exercise, but will also lose water through your breath. It is estimated that cross country skiers lose between 16 and 32 ounces (two to four cups) of water per hour through sweating!
While your water losses won’t be that extreme if you’re just playing around, it’s food for thought if you’re planning to stay outside all day. Dehydration does affect concentration and performance levels, so it’s important to keep up the fluids in colder climates.
At higher altitudes you will also experience increased urination, which means water loss will be higher and requirements to drink will be heightened.
Start your winter nutrition schedule by making sure you’re well-hydrated and carb-loaded before braving the cold. Start with a warm bowl of cereal like oats with milk, a banana and fruit juice.
You may also want to have an extra cup of water or electrolyte drink. If you’re thinking of working particularly hard and planning to spend four to five hours outdoors before lunch, you may even consider taking an additional sports drink or carrying gels or energy bars in your pocket.
For extreme sports like snowboarding and skiing, everyone’s carbohydrate and energy requirements will be different. Requirements are dependent on weight, age, muscle mass, experience level and how hard you intend to work. This is a unique situation where weight-loss eating rules do not apply.
If you are serious about getting your nutrition right for winter sporting events, see a sports dietitian for tailored, individual advice.
If you’re heading back to the ski village for lunch, take it as an opportunity to refuel. Choose dishes that are high in carbohydrates like rice and pasta — even a sandwich will do.
This will give your brain and muscles the fuel it prefers and will ward off fatigue until dinnertime. Don’t forget to replenish two
cups of liquid for every hour spent outdoors to avoid dehydration. Choosing liquids like soups, hot chocolate, coffee, sports drinks or milk will help you get in the calories and rehydrate at the same time. If you prefer plain water, that’s okay too.
At the end of the day, tuck into some nice warm food back at the ski village. Stews, stir-fries with rice, roasts with potatoes, veggies and gravy are suitable high-sodium, high-protein and high-carb meals that will do the trick.
Sodium (salt) will speed up the rehydration process by aiding the body in retaining fluid. Protein from animal meats or vegetarian alternatives will aid in muscle repair, while carbohydrates will restore the glycogen balance for the following day, giving you two hours of solid activity time.
WATCH THE ALCOHOL
The biggest concern is alcohol.
Let’s face it, if you’re taking a weekend away with your friends, the sneaky alcoholic beverage after a day full of fun isn’t exactly the best rehydration tool.
If you are going to drink with friends, try having a light beer or low-alcohol wine to help reduce the impact on your body. Eating something salty with it will aid in the rehydration process.
A light beer with salty chips is not the perfect solution, but it may reduce the impact.
It has a good combination of carbohydrates, sodium and minimal alcohol. Alternatively, if you want to take your snow sports seriously, ditch the alcohol altogether.