Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fueling for a day of skiing!

Last week, I started working with an alpine skier who would like to work her way back to the Olympics in 2012 after suffering an injury. Our first task was to revamp her nutrition plan to match the intense energy demands of training for alpine skiing. I summarized the information I used to construct a nutrition plan below and think this information can be used by anyone who wants to have a great day or weekend of skiing.

Energy demands of alpine skiing:

Alpine skiing is an intense activity with unique nutrition and hydration demands because of the intensity of the activity and the potential exposure to environmental factors including cold climates and high altitude.

The information below will help you ski stronger, get more runs in and enjoy your day on the slopes more.

The energy demands for the muscular activity of alpine skiing with runs of 45 seconds to 2 minutes predominantly relies on the the carbohydrates that are stored in the muscle fibers (muscle glycogen). Adequate storage of carbohydrate in the body (glycogen) is an important factor in supporting the intense activity of skiing.

Carbohydrates are the most important nutrient for the exercising muscles of skiing. Carbohydrates serve as the primary fuel source for the working muscles, provide the only source of energy for the nervous system and help to maintain the skiers blood glucose and replenish the bodies depleted stores of carbohydrates (glycogen).

A ski run lasts between 45 seconds and 2 minutes, this doesn't deplete a skiers glycogen stores, but repeated runs can definitely work towards depleting this store. A skiers initial muscle glycogen stores as well as the replenishment of these stores are an important part of a skiers nutritional plan. Alpine skiers can maximize their glycogen storage and replenishment by consuming a diet high in carbohydrates. Alpine skiers should consume 65 to 70% carbohydrates to meet the energy demands of skiing.

Pre skiing nutrition:

Eating a breakfast high in carbohydrates (65%) is going to provide alpine skiers with the energy they needed to start the day. Athletes should consume 400 to 600 calories for breakfast. Smaller athletes should shoot for the lower end and bigger athletes the higher end. These calories should be high in easily digestible carbohydrates, low in fiber, protein and fat. Foods sources include: low fiber cereals; low fat/non fat milk; yogurt; fruit juices, fruit (bananas/oranges); low fiber breads with jam/jelly or honey.

On slope nutrition:

Alpine skiers should be eating snacks and hydrating between runs to maintain energy and hydration levels throughout the day. Snacks should be carbohydrate rich and easily digestible. Athletes should consume 150 to 300 calories per hour of skiing. These calories could be consumed as energy bars or gels, granola bars, fruit, or fig newtons.

The depletion of muscle glycogen and low blood glucose can have serious consequences for skiers. Depleted muscle glycogen and low blood sugar will cause athletes to feel fatigue and a sense of tiredness, which may hinder decision making and lead to an increased chance of mistakes and injury.


Hydration is one of the biggest determinants of how well a skier will perform during training or competition. Skiers should consume more fluids throughout the day, especially with meals. Optimal hydration for alpine skiers includes continual replacement of fluids between runs. Skiers should consume 250 (8 oz) to 500ml (16 oz) of water or sports drink per hour to meet fluid replacement needs. Fluid replacement needs might be as high as 750 ml/hour for skiers who are hiking from run to run or skiing at high altitude and colder environments.

Post slopes nutrition:

After a long day on the mountain skiing, it is essential for skiers to replace the carbohydrates used during the day and replenish glycogen stores. Consuming carbohydrate rich foods with a small amount of protein within an hour of a skiers last run will lead to optimal glycogen re-synthesis and storage. The replenishment of carbohydrates and glycogen stores is especially important for skiers who are skiing on consecutive days. This replenishment of carbohydrates and glycogen stores will help athletes enjoy the second day of skiing by increasing their energy allowing them to do more runs and ski stronger. Recovery snacks and food might include a banana with peanut butter, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a recovery drink.

Skiers can ski stronger and get more runs in by eating a carbohydrate rich breakfast, packing snacks to eat between runs and drinking adequate fluids with meals and throughout the day.


Kathleen Searles, MS, RD, LDN said...

Great overview! Currently looking for "freeze" proof recovery foods to keep in the van for after races.

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