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.
Performance and Calories
To help better understand why skiers have such calorific diets, we first 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 the 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.
The Right Nutrition
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
Overall, keeping your body energised and well fueled is important regardless of your activities. However, if you’re a skier and have a tour coming up, the need for efficient calorie intake increases tenfold.
Skiing is a high energy cost sport, meaning that you need to address that issue by adapting and changing your diet to combat the strain your physical wellbeing will be put under.
You can do this by following a lean protein, low fat diet in the run-up to your workout/skiing tour, as well as consulting with a professional to get personalised advice. Regardless of the options you make, the important element of fuel for performance is to prepare beforehand.
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.