Cross-country skiing, be it for recreation or for sport, is a vigorous all over workout. As a result, ensuring your diet includes the right amount of nutrition is of the utmost importance. The one thing you need to understand is the way a cross-country skier’s body uses energy while skiing.
10 Ski Nutrition Tips for Cross-Country Skiers
The following 10 tips will discuss every major aspect of a healthy nutrition. If you keep reading, you will find out what to eat before cross-country skiing, what snacks and fluids you should take for the trail, as well as how to reward yourself with a post-skiing meal.
1. You Need Calories!
Firstly, if you want to burn calories, we need to understand what calories are and how they help our bodies function.
A lot of popular diets you see online will mention counting calories and watching what you eat, which creates this negative belief about calories.
When it comes to fitness and losing and/or maintaining a healthy weight, calories are needed. Calories are even more important if you do a high intensity sport like cross-country skiing.
We need these calories to help fuel our bodies, not just through any workouts we engage in, but for those mundane, everyday activities as well. Therefore, if we deprive ourselves of calories to an extreme, it can do more harm than good to your body; fatigue, lightheadedness, cramping, and so much more can be experienced if you fail to properly fuel your body.
This is why a lot of personal trainers and nutritionists will talk about calorie deficit. What is more, while you don’t want to overconsume, you don’t want to deprive yourself of energy to the point that it impacts your skiing performance. Being too low on calories when heavily working out can lead to exhaustion, potential injury, etc. Therefore, to ensure you’re at your best on the trails, you need to feed your body the right kind of calories.
Now that we have greater knowledge about calories and the role they play in exercising in general, we need to specifically look at the amount of nutrition cross country skiers need. This is in terms of what to eat, when to eat it, how often, and so on.
2. How Much Calories Do You Need for Skiing?
In regards to “the right kind of calories”, those are ones that produce complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats, whereas “bad calories” are high in saturated fats, processed sugar, and minimal in protein. Consequently, if you want to keep your skiing performance the same or improve it, you need to watch the quality and quantity of the calories you eat.
Fueling your body for skiing is all about balance and consuming the right food groups. Between 500-1,000 calories can be burned in an hour of cross-country skiing, meaning that, overall, as many as 3,000 calories can be burned from a day’s workout.
Naturally, this means that skiers can quickly use up their recommended calorie intake for a day; An average man should consume 2,500 calories per day, while a woman should take in around 2,000 calories per day. Due to how easily you can create a calorie deficit while skiing, skiers need to tailor every meal of the day to that need to keep the body energized.
Taking everything into account, cross-country skiers should be eating approximately 3,500-4,000 calories. If this sounds a lot, please note that elite skiers can consume up to 8,000 calories, due to how intense their training is.
Recreational skiers, and even those who regularly ski but not at an elite level, don’t need to consume as many calories; fuel for your routine is about accessibility and not for Olympian standards of the sport. As a result, nutritionists recommend skiers take in up to 240 calories every hour.
3. Choose Slow Release Food for Breakfast
Keeping yourself energized means that a single breakfast can make or break how successful the rest of your skiing day will be. It might be tempting to opt for a full English breakfast, but that will prove incredibly heavy on your stomach, as well as taking in many empty calories.
The best way to start a day of cross-country skiing is to choose slow releasing energy options, such as:
- Whole grain foods like porridge;
- Small amounts of fruit (unlike porridge, fruit releases energy much faster meaning you could witness a short spike in energy levels before they quickly decrease);
You should also focus on that you take in a good combination of protein and carbohydrates:
- Protein-rich foods include: Eggs, dairy products and meat.
- Complex, slow-burning carbohydrates include: Whole grains, legumes (beans, peas) and vegetables.
No matter what you choose, just make sure to have a good, solid breakfast rather than limiting or skipping it altogether. Skiing is hard work and uses a lot of different muscles, if you don’t fuel your body, you’ll not only run out of energy, but you’ll also struggle with the environmental conditions, such as cold, the high altitude, etc.
4. Choose a Moderate Dinner
We also need to talk about how important it is to stay focused on your nutrition in the evening, after you’re back from cross-country skiing.
It can be all too easy to eat everything in sight — after all, you’ve had a hard day. Nevertheless, while you’ll be hungry, the same rules of eating quality foods and the right quantity of it still apply. Even more so if you intend to ski the next day; the last thing you want is a heavy meal that still weighs down your stomach the next morning.
5. Prepare Your Post-Skiing Meal
A moderate, quality dinner is even more important if you take into account that according to most nutritionists, after any training you have about 30 minutes when your body takes in nutrients most efficiently. Therefore, you should always plan ahead and figure out the right kind of meal you need after a day of cross-country skiing.
As you see, timing is crucial. If you do it right, all that nutrients and energy you take in will pay off the next day.
6. Always Keep Water at Hand
In a similar fashion to food, fluids should be regularly consumed while you’re out skiing, especially if your workout is especially hard going. You should be, roughly, drinking every 30 minutes or so to ensure you keep your energy levels up.
Furthermore, skiers should be drinking more than water while out, with sports drinks being the secondary beverage of choice.
The reason you need two types of fluids is because of the amount of salt you lose when you sweat; due to the intensity of cross-country skiing, a lot of salt can be lost. Sports drinks are usually rich in electrolytes, which will help put back what’s lost during sweating.
In addition to having drinks available, you also need to consider how to transport them with you while skiing. A lot of Nordic skiers opt for waist belts for their bottles, however, in extremely cold conditions the water/sports drinks can freeze. Consequently, an insulated hydration pack will help to avoid this issue.
On the opposite end of the scale, you have extreme heat, which is another issue that skiers often have to deal with. On warmer days, up to one litre of fluids can be lost from sweating every hour. As a result, it’s wise to take even more fluids out with you if the temperature is going to be particularly high.
7. Avoid Caffeine When Out Skiing
As for other beverages, such as tea and coffee, these are best avoided, simply because they dehydrate you more than they hydrate you. This isn’t to say you can’t stop for a flash of tea/coffee at the trail lounge, but more that it should be consumed in a limited capacity, and that water/sports drinks should still be your first choice for hydration.
The reason caffeine is so dehydrating is because it encourages water loss, aka a diuretic effect. Although useful in other circumstances, when you’re using high amounts of energy and sweating a lot, you need to keep putting fluids in as opposed to encouraging them to leave.
Another important piece of advice to mention, is to avoid limiting your fluid intake to avoid needing the toilet.
Although having to stop to pee might be a pain, lowering your fluid intake to avoid needing to go to the toilet isn’t a better alternative. Once again, this is because of the detrimental effects a lack of fluid/energy has on the body, which will fast ruin your performance and enjoyment of skiing.
8. Snacking on the Trails
Given how much food you need to consume per day when skiing, it’ll come as no surprise that snacks are the best way to fuel your workouts when on the slopes.
While snacks are always advised, there’s no need to prepare for a marathon of a ski session unless you really have to, e.g. if you’re not training or out all day, keep your number of snacks to a minimum.
Ideally, you’ll want to keep the weight of your equipment light and to a minimum, and so sports bars and gels are a great way to keep you energised and full while skiing. Of course, if you’d rather something more homemade, “nugget potatoes” cooked in salt are a good alternative.
Here are a couple of ideas:
- Pure Protein Bars are high in protein but low in fat, which is ideal when needing to keep your energy up. These will typically release that energy more slowly, thus allowing you to sustain your workout for longer.
- GU Energy Original Sports Energy Gel is small, lightweight, and easy to consume no matter where you are. You’ll be able to replenish your electrolytes, as well as take in some amino acids, which are great for combating fatigue and muscle soreness.
- Beef jerky;
- Nuts, almonds and crackers.
9. Start Your Skiing Diet a Week Before
Preparation is as much the key to your success as the food and drinks themselves.
If you’re going on tour and/or intend to be cross-country skiing several days in a row, it’s advised that you start to consume a similar diet to what you will while away at least a week before you go.
The obvious benefits of this is that your body becomes used to the increased intake of calories over time rather than a shock intake of thousands of calories the night before.
What is more, it also allows your body to build up glycogen (a multifaceted branched form of glucose). By having that reserve, you’ll be better adapted to what your workout and the environment will throw at you.
10. Consult with a Professional
As with any dramatic change in diet and activity levels, seeking professional advice isn’t just advisable, it’s a necessity.
Nutritionists can help you create a diet plan that is specially tailored to you and your personal needs, which is hugely beneficial if you’ve been struggling to do that by yourself. It’s all too easy to assume that one size fits all, when in fact, sometimes we need more professional expertise to get the results we’re after.
If you haven’t got a nutritionist to hand, your local doctor can also advise you on what you’re capable of/comfortable doing in your current physical condition. This is massively important for those who don’t workout regularly, and so are more prone to injury.
Lastly, a sports doctor and/or nutritionist can also inform you of ways to deal with muscle fatigue and soreness once your workout is complete. By having this information, you’ll be able to better aid muscle recovery. In the long term, this will help improve your performance because your body will get stronger through safe, regulated ski sessions.