Losing Weight with Cross-Country Skiing

Probably one of the most common New Year’s resolution is to lead a healthier lifestyle and to lose weight. These noble goals are however often abandoned after seemingly pointless hours of working out in a gym, or trying to match salad with salad on your plate. I feel you.

The problem lies deeply in the fact that if you are not a born and bred athlete with fierce determination and stamina, you will not like working out for the sake of getting a fitter, healthier body. And if you don’t truly like what you do, then you will once stop and give up your long-term goal. This is when a motivating and fun sport should take the place of gym exercises, and make you feel burning those calories a worthwhile activity.

Cross-country skiing is an excellent way for losing weight. I’ll tell you why.

Facts and Calories

  • An average 180 lb person can burn 572 calories each hour even by slow cross-country skiing.
  • An average 180 lb person can burn 654 calories each hour by moderate cross-country skiing.
  • A 205 lb person can burn 651 and 745 calories / hour with the same level of intensity, respectively.
  • Fast and uphill cross-country skiing burns 735 and 1348 calories / hour for a 180 lb person.
  • Cross-country skiing works not only the upper or lower limbs, like when you do rowing or running, but both, and even the core muscles.
  • Cross-country skiing increases cardiovascular health, as well as builds endurance and stamina.
  • Cross-country skiing is an effective workout even in low to moderate intensity. In fact, many Olympic champion cross-country skiers’ training usually involves low to moderate intensity skiing in 60-70%.
  • Being a low impact activity, cross-country skiing is easy on your joints.
  • Contrary to the popular belief, you can do cross-country skiing even in summer.

xc ski weight lose chart

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.

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 to the body than help; 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.

A calorie deficit is created when your output of calories is more than your input, e.g. use more calories when working out than what you eat. Nevertheless, this isn’t to say you should starve yourself, but simply work off excess calories to ensure you don’t put weight on and/or gain weight.

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 on your 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, you need to feed your body the right kind of calories.

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.

But more on the healthy cross-country skier’s diet later. Let’s see why nordic skiing is so effective for losing weight.

Why is it Effective?

After getting familiar with the various types of terrain, an average hour of cross-country skiing on alternating terrain will help you burn around 700-800 calories in a single hour, meanwhile also increasing your heart rate in between the aerobic and anaerobic zones.

For losing weight, this is the optimal place to start, since this is when your body burns fat most effectively. It also doesn’t let any of your major muscle groups to get lazy, however after each stride or kick there’s a fun gliding, and while your lower limbs relax, your arms, chest and back muscles do the poling. There’s a nice rhythm to it.

cross country ski effective

More important is the fact, that if you love what you do, then you will keep up doing it. Cross-country skiing is not at all about sweat and panting. Although it can be exhausting, but after you learn the basic techniques, especially if you are on a familiar terrain, you can enjoy the fact that you are actually working out while enjoying yourself almost as if you were flying in nature. Going to a gym, or simply working out in an enclosed space can be frustrating and not at all motivating. But the sheer fact that you are skiing, that you are going somewhere, that you have a goal or a view to get to makes it much more rewarding than simple calorie hunting.

Cross-Country Skiing in Summer

It’s no joke! You can do cross-country skiing even without snow. Although there are regions where you can practice cross-country skiing as long as from late November through March, but most of us isn’t that lucky.

However, since cross-country skiing has become an Olympic sport with professional athletes, there was a need to be able to train regardless weather conditions – and summer in particular. Dryland training has produced a series of new sport equipment to satisfy the needs of avid Nordic skiers, some better, some worse. And while many don’t consider these equal to snow cross-country skiing, they are in fact a legitimate alternative to our favorite winter sport, making it possible to efficiently maintain your well-earned physique.

One of these is roller skiing: Using roller skis is actually pretty similar to cross-country skiing. They have the same balance, and you can use most of the regular techniques from winter the same way, only with better outfit. Thus, you are able to keep your level of performance all year long.

You will have to only purchase the actual “skis on wheels”, since the binding system being the same as on skis it allows you to use the same cross-country ski boots as in winter.

roller skiing

Another popular alternative is the cross-country ski machine. These fantastic in-door alternatives are similar to elliptical machines, but they closely imitate the movements of cross-country skiers. Cross-country ski machines are perfect for keeping you fit during the summer, however you are unable to practice your cross-country ski technique the way you can with roller skis.

If your only goal is to keep your training schedule in summer, it’s an excellent choice for a comprehensive, full body workout with the same level of intensity as on the snow.

Conditioning Workouts for Cross-Country Skiing

If you have decided to take on cross-country skiing, there are a couple of things to do to physically prepare yourself for cross-country skiing. Remember, that this sport moves all your body intensively, so you should pay adequate attention to preparing your muscles.

For starters, we have a couple of simple exercises for conditioning your body for skiing. The first training focuses on your endurance, while the rest move your primary (lower) muscles as well as your core and your upper body, that you need for poling and efficiently moving yourself forward.

Endurance Training

  • Choose an endurance sport, such as Running, Biking or Hiking with poles.
  • During training keep a steadily low level of intensity. The point is that you slowly condition yourself to be able to maintain long durations of physical activities. This is extremely important for the effective burning of calories.
  • You should find at least two or three occasions for endurance training each week.
  • Beginners should start out with just above an hour long training, and should gradually move up to three, four hours long durations of low intensity running or biking.
  • If you are willing to dedicate yourself to the task, later on you should invest in rollerskis or a cross-country ski machine. These allow both your upper and lower body muscles to acquire the same motions as they would with actual skis and poles, and also improve your balance and coordination.
  • For the sake of variety, you should also include 30 minutes to one hour long one-time treadmill and rowing exercises (incline!) every second week.

Workout with your Primary Muscles

Although cross-country skiing works all your body, but there are still a couple of muscles that are move more than the others. These primary muscles are your hip muscles, in your thighs are the hamstrings which connect the hips and the knee as well as the quadriceps. The calves and the foot muscles are also under heavy pressure.

  • You should do two of this primary muscle training every week.
  • Use a hip abductor machine for strengthening your hips. Three or four sets of 10-12 repetitions will do. Don’t overexert yourself, since that could actually do more harm than good.
  • If you can’t go to a gym, but have weights at home, deadlifts are also perfect for engaging the hips and your lower back, as well as the quadriceps. Have your feet shoulder width apart, take the bar and squat so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. When you are lifting the weight, slowly straighten your legs and the back, while keeping your head up, looking forward. Then slowly lower the bar the same way, and do 2-3 sets of 6-8 repetitions of these.
  • For your legs, get to the calf raise machine for working on your calves as well as the feet. The leg extension machines will help with the quadriceps, while the leg curl machine will condition your hamstrings. Also three to four sets of 10-12 repetitions are needed from each of these.
  • Other useful exercises include: Single leg squat, side squat;

Core Workout

  • Schedule a core workout session twice a week.
  • Increasing your core strength is just as important part of cross-country ski conditioning as finally getting on the skis themselves. Don’t underestimate its significance, since it also helps you with balance and overall body awareness, which is extremely beneficial when you have five feet long skis attached to you.
  • Planks! One of the best and easiest exercise that you can do even at home. Do as many as you can, but with all the other exercises 3 sets of 10 repetitions should be enough.
  • Do 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions of Crunch and Reverse Crunch. Do it slowly, and if you can’t complete them all, don’t worry. You shouldn’t overexert yourself!
  • Do 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions of Crusher Sit-Ups. Remember, this isn’t a race, especially when you are starting out.
  • Hanging Leg Raise is another effective core exercise you shouldn’t miss. If you are not ready for it, get back to it after a month or two. 2 sets of 10 repetitions should be more than enough.

plank exercise workouts

Upper Body Conditioning

  • Training your upper body is essential for eventually being able to proper yourself forward on skis.
  • Schedule at least one upper body training session each week!
  • You should get to a Lat Pulldown machine and perform three or four sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Weighted dips are also an excellent exercise for your triceps, chest and arm muscles, but also the upper and lower back which are crucial for cross-country skiers. Perform 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions, but feel free to vary if it’s too much.
  • Although you wouldn’t think that you will need biceps work on a regular cross-country ski day, but in fact you do. Poling moves almost all your arm muscles, including the frontal regions where your bicep lies. Do 2-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions of Biceps Curls.
  • Another great exercise effectively imitating cross-country skiing movements: Triceps pulldowns could be performed on a machine or simple resistance bands at home. Do 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

resistance bands set

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Eat Well: A Cross-Country Skier’s Diet

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. Nevertheless, while you need to change your diet to suit your activity levels, following and maintaining an elite skiers diet isn’t necessary; all you need to do is understand the way your body uses energy while skiing.

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, so it’s vital to remain hydrated, and to eat protein and fat rich foods. This will help slowly release energy throughout the day.

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.

How Much and How To Take In

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, up to 1,000 calories can be burned in just one hour’s worth of 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; men should consume 2,500 calories per day, while women should have 2,000. Due to how easily you can create a calorie deficit with skiing, skiers need to tailor every meal of the day to that need to keep the body energised.

healthy food

This means that 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 intaking many empty calories.

The best way to start your day is to choose slow releasing energy options, such as whole grain foods like porridge. Fruit is also a good choice for breakfast, however, make sure not to eat too much — unlike porridge, fruit releases energy much faster, meaning you could witness a short spike in energy levels before they quickly decrease.

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.

Bringing all this information together, 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.

Before we move on to discussions about fluid intake and snacking while out, we need to talk about how important it is to stay focused on your nutrition in the evening, after you’re back from 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.

Fluids

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.

water drinking skiing

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 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 skiers opt for waist belts for their bottles, however, in extremely cold conditions the water/sports drinks can freeze. Consequently, a backpack, a flask, and/or some insulation will help 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 hot 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.

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 take a flash of tea/coffee with you, 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 urinate 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.

Snacks

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.

This being said, 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.

That being said, if you’re skiing with children in tow, it’s best to carry additional snacks as children are more vulnerable to energy drops when using high amounts of energy. Not to mention they can soon become irritable when exhausted, which high energy snacks should help curb.

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.

To give you an idea of the types of snacks typically consumed by skiers, and other sports enthusiasts, here is a brief breakdown of some of the most commonly purchased options.

Pure Protein Bars are high in protein but low in fat, which is ideal when needing to keep your energy up. What is more, these will typically release that energy more slowly, thus allowing you to sustain your workout for longer.

Another good option is GU Energy Original Sports Energy Gel. Although the name is a bit wordy, this 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.

There really is no end of choice, so if you’re in doubt about which will be better suited to your preferences and tastes, we advise testing them in advance of your skiing trip/workout. By ensuring you like what you’ve chosen, and that it’s effective, you can focus on your skiing performance instead of worrying about fuel intake and how you’ll achieve it.

Preparation

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 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.

cross-country-ski-weight-lose-crossroads

Cross Country Skier Diet Examples

We’ve talked about needing to consume a good breakfast, such as porridge and/or whole grain toast, but we’ve not touched on what you should eat if you intend to ski later in the day.

First of all, you shouldn’t skip your breakfast. Even though you won’t be outside until lunchtime or thereafter, you still need to regularly consume food. Furthermore, you’ll want to keep your lunch light to prevent feeling uncomfortably full when skiing.

A heavy lunch might seem like a good idea, especially if you have a big ski in mind, but it would be better to stick to smaller, more quality options, such as soup, a lean meat sandwich, and or salad. The latter option should include extras like nuts, cheese, beans, and meat (should you not be vegetarian).

In regards to vegetarians, the need for protein is even more important, however, this doesn’t mean you should eat more fruits prior to your session. Foods like tofu, eggs, and lentils are just three of the high protein ingredients you can consume in order to prepare yourself.

Moving onto drinks, specifically alcoholic drinks, we can appreciate that having a cheeky drink or two while away from home can be tempting. Nevertheless, alcohol isn’t a great partner for skiing.

Ideally, you’ll want to avoid alcohol altogether, but if that’s not possible, then make sure to adjust your skiing plans accordingly. For example, if you’ve had a night of heavy drinking, make sure to limit the amount of skiing you do the next day. This isn’t just for safety reasons, as you might be hungover and less aware, but also because alcohol dehydrates your body.

Moreover, regardless of whether you’ll be skiing the next day or not, you need to make sure to rehydrate after a night of drinking, and so lots of water and/or vitamin boosters/sports drinks are advised. There are even rehydration packets you can have on hand to help make your recovery a speedier one.

Professional Nutrition

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.

Conclusion

It must be clear by now how beneficial is cross-country skiing itself as well as the whole Nordic lifestyle it comes with to your body and overall health. Although it is not a simple task to take on a new sport especially if you weren’t a born sportsman before, but it is still not impossible by far!

Skiing is a high energy cost sport, meaning that you need to also address that issue by adapting and changing your diet to combat the strain your physical wellbeing will be put under.

Furthermore, once you’ve completed your tour and/or your workout, make sure to treat your body well in order to aid recovery times. A lot of muscle groups will be in action when skiing, which means you need to consume foods that help reduce soreness, swelling, and fatigue. Some examples of such foods include kale, salmon, and so forth.

Slowly conditioning your body and mind to the regular tasks of training and getting yourself ready for a fun new activity will change your life. And if you finally get on the skis, you won’t be able to stop. Get your friends and family to join, and you will ensure that the healthy, athletic lifestyle you lead will be a shared passion for all.