If you are planning to hit the ski slopes this season, you will need to prepare yourself. Skiing and snowboarding are high energy sports. When combined with challenging environmental factors such as higher altitudes and extreme weather, meeting your nutrition and hydration requirements can be challenging.
Skiing at high altitude
When skiing at high altitudes, there is less oxygen, and therefore the air is drier than at sea level. Low oxygen levels can lead to hypoxia, a condition where there is low levels of oxygen in the blood. Subsequently there is poor supply of oxygen to vital organs in the body. Low oxygen levels lead to symptoms including headache, malaise, nausea and vomiting. This is commonly known as altitude sickness. Skiing will also lead to muscle damage, and good sources of protein and carbohydrate are required to repair the damage and get you back on the slopes quickly.
The combination of altitude, cold weather, and dry air increases your fluid requirements. You often don’t feel thirsty in the snow which makes it difficult to meet your fluid needs. At moderate or high altitude, the kidneys play a crucial role in regulating body fluids. The lower oxygen levels lead to hormonal changes resulting in rapid fluid losses through breathing, sweating and diuresis (an increase in urine production). Maintaining good hydration will also prevent muscle damage and keep you skiing on the slopes longer.
While alcohol is very much part of the après-ski culture, it should never be confused with rehydration, because it actually has the opposite effect. Alcohol is a diuretic which can lead to dehydration due to an accelerated loss of fluid from the body. Alcohol also dilates the blood vessels, increasing blood flow to injured tissue which slows down recovery. Alcohol is also a depressant, not a stimulant as some might think and can impair your motor skills leading to a reduced response rate and concentration, slowing your reaction time as well as decision-making ability. All of these skills are vital to keep you skiing at your peak and reduce your risk of injury.
Here are some helpful strategies to make your snow holiday fun and help you reach your skiing peak on the slopes!
1. Fuel your body prior to heading out to the ski fields with carbohydrate filled meals such as porridge and toast, pancakes and fruit or a banana smoothie.
2. Consume carbohydrate containing snacks and meals regularly through the day. Have some pocket snacks (low fat muesli bars, dried fruit, sports gels) to maintain a steady intake of carbohydrate through the day. Stop regularly to refuel.
3. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to have a drink. Carry a small bottle of water or better still, a back pack with a small hydration pack in it. Drink frequently before you leave the lodge and whilst on the slopes. Sports drinks may be useful to help you retain fluid and also meet your increased carbohydrate requirements. Warm drinks may be more inviting in the cold, so stop in at the chalet for a hot chocolate!
4. If you drink alcohol, don’t overdo it after injury. Quench your thirst with a non-alcoholic drink after a day on the snow to rehydrate. Eat before or while you are drinking alcohol. Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks.
5. Try these carbohydrate meals and snacks
- Pancakes with fruit and yoghurt
- Pizza with low fat topping
- Thick soup with a bread roll
- Sandwiches (meat/egg fillings)
- Fruit bread/English muffins/bread rolls with filling
- Pasta with tomato based sauce
- Baked potato with filling
- Liquid meal supplements (Sustagen™)
- Muesli bars/sports bars
- Rice pudding, yoghurt
- Dried fruit and nut mix
- Fresh fruit (bananas)
- Hot chocolate
- Sports gels
By focusing on hydration and nutrition, it’s possible to reduce your risk of injury and improve performance. So be well prepared and have fun in the snow!
Dr Jane Read is a Sydney-based GP Registrar who also holds a Masters Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Deakin University in Melbourne. In addition to working in general practice, Jane also runs her own nutrition consultancy business providing nutrition and dietetic services at the Northern Cancer Institute in St Leonards. She has also been a nutrition consultant to various corporate clients.
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