by Rika Kamper
Eat well. Ski well. Recover well!
Skiing at altitude can be a fantastic experience, but it can also mean exercising in a challenging environment that places extra demands on the body. The right nutrients at the right time can make all the difference to your performance and safety. Carbohydrates, protein, fats and hydration levels are vitally important nutritional components of a high-performance, injury-free, enjoyable ski trip.
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Ski Nutrition: a bit more detail…
Being exposed to higher altitudes increases our requirement for carbohydrates as the main fuel for energy. Not only are we expending more energy through skiing, but our basic metabolic rate also increases, meaning that even when we are resting, there is a greater need for carbohydrates. Skiing predominantly uses blood glucose (quickly converted from liver glycogen, a stored form of glucose) and muscle glycogen. Both of these supply stores can become depleted during long and/or intensive periods of skiing and replacement of particularly muscle glycogen is essential after a day’s skiing
Typical carbohydrate rich foods and snacks include: dried fruit, sports bars or gels, yoghurt, grains (bread, pasta, rice, noodles), cereal bars, breakfast cereals, fruit, potatoes and fruit juice.
Intensive exercise such as off-piste skiing or skiing at altitude results in increased breaking down (catabolism) of muscle cells. Protein in our diet supplies amino acids needed for synthesis of new cells and repair of muscle fibre. Increased protein intake to stimulate repair and recovery is especially important after skiing. However, adequate amounts of protein combined with carbohydrates are also needed during skiing to ensure a steady release of energy and to prevent that “running on empty” feeling. Meat, fish, dairy products, tofu, nuts and seeds, beans and eggs are our most common sources of protein.
Fats can act as a valuable, compact source of energy, yielding twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates and protein. Although fats would not be our main source of fuel during skiing, as they take longer than carbohydrates to convert to energy, they can still act as a “back-up” when our muscles become depleted of glycogen. Fats are further needed for good brain function, especially for that last part of the skiing day when quick thinking and concentration can prevent accidents. Easy sources of fats are olive oil, nuts and seeds, butter and cheese.
High altitudes and low temperatures both suppress thirst sensation, which could lead to reduced fluid intake. Furthermore, increased breathing in cold air and extra sweating from exercise can also cause increased fluid loss. To compensate for this, skiers are advised to stay hydrated before, during and after skiing. Recommended fluid intake is 250 – 500ml of fluid per hour of exercise.
(A good sports drink will contain adequate sodium that retains fluid in the body, so do not be too concerned about increased urination!)
Signs of dehydration include (apart from thirst):
Light-headedness, nausea, fatigue, sleepiness, lack of concentration, bad breath and muscle cramps, urine colour darker than pale yellow (a general rule of thumb is that your urine should be the colour of lemonade, NOT apple juice!)
When to drink:
Focus on consuming fluids throughout the morning and afternoon followed by moderate intake during evening meals.
- Before skiing:
Sports drinks are ideal in the hour before skiing. The carbohydrate tops up muscle glycogen fuel levels, added sodium reduces urine losses before exercise begins and other electrolytes like potassium and magnesium can enhance muscle performance.
- During skiing:
Sports drinks are primarily designed for use during exercise, for optimal fluid and fuel delivery. They will allow you to perform for longer and more effectively.
What to look for in sports drinks:
A range of electrolytes, e.g. sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium and calcium and a carbohydrate content of 4 – 8 grams/100 ml.
Example: PowerBar Isoactive, available in handy sachets.
An après-ski drink or two can be a wonderful day to celebrate a hard day’s skiing. Remember that alcohol can exacerbate dehydration, as it has diuretic effects.
Drink in moderation, drink with food, drink good beer or wine and have a glass of water before bedtime.
Also remember that you may still be dehydrated the next morning due to the previous night’s excellent Sauvignon, Merlot or Barolo…
Ski Nutrition: Your skiing day…
Fruit juice or water, porridge or muesli. One or two slices of wholegrain bread with egg and/or bacon. One portion of fresh fruit. Coffee or tea in moderation, as they have mild diuretic properties.
Sports drink before the start of the day’s skiing
Spaghetti bolognaise or a bowl of goulash soup with a green salad, bread roll. Piece of fruit. Water, fruit juice. Small tea or coffee (if preferred).
Pasta with chicken/beef/fish, 2 or 3 portions of vegetables (e.g broccoli, spinach, French beans – all good sources of extra magnesium and potassium), fresh salad.
both morning and afternoon – a sports drink and snack, e.g.
- 1 or two handfuls of trail mix (nuts and raisins mixed) in the morning, and the same in the afternoon. Try making your own by mixing nuts and dried berries like goji or blueberries
- Cereal bar, e.g. Nakd bars, 9bar, or Bounce Balls
- Sports drink – commercial brands e.g. PowerBar Isoactive or try coconut water (Vitacoco) which is high in electrolytes. In an emergency, you could make your own sports drink by adding ½ a teaspoon of salt to 250ml mix of orange juice and water.
Après-ski (before the alcohol!):
To help your muscles recover and restore glycogen levels, it’s a good idea to eat a small snack within 30 minutes after the last run.
600ml sports drink and cereal bar, hot chocolate with handful of nuts, small yoghurt and banana, chicken sandwich and tangerine, glass of milk with muesli bar and apple, 1 or 2 scoops of whey protein powder in a glass of milk with a banana.
Ski Nutrition: did you know…?
- Beetroot contains high levels of nitric oxide and is excellent to
- Help oxygen get to muscle cells quicker
- Help remove lactic acid build-up at the end of the day
- Beetroot juice is available in concentrated form (not to everyone’s taste but definitely worth it!) from Beet It Pro Elite Sport Shots. For those brave enough, it also comes in a sports bar format
- Green tea contains catechins, anti-oxidants which help against inflammation after exercise and so enhance recovery.
- Magnesium is wonderful for sore muscles and cramps – put 2 scoops of Epsom salts in a bath for maximum absorption through the skin. It is also very effective with insomnia at altitude.Better You is a UK company that sells magnesium oil in handy spray bottles – check out their Sport Spray
- Whey protein can help combat the pro-inflammatory effect of intense exercise. Not only is it a source of protein to help restore muscle fibre after exercise, but it also stimulates the production of glutathione, one of the body’s own potent anti-oxidants.
For more information or to book a consultation, please get in touch!