Ever have one of those ski days when your get up and go has got up and gone? Maybe it’s your diet. Now that pre-season is here, it’s a good time to think about ski nutrition. After all, it’s no surprise that the food you eat can have a profound effect on your skiing. Food is fuel. Put bad stuff in, and you’re likely to get bad results.
Recently I spoke to Diana Sugiuchi, a Registered Dietician and member of TheSkiDiva.com forum. Diana runs VerticalDropNutrition.com, a site that focuses on eating for skiing, to see what she has to say on the subject.
Q: How did you get involved in ski nutrition?
A: One day I was skiing by myself and feeling pretty horrible and crappy, so I went into the lodge and got a bagel. And as I was sitting there eating, I got really mad at myself – not just for stopping for thirty minutes and for paying $5 for the bagel, but for not eating properly. I thought, ‘this is ridiculous. You know what to eat; you’re a nutritionist!’ So it occurred to me: if I’m in this predicament, there must be a lot of other people who have this same problem; people who aren’t skiing as well as they could be because they’re not eating the right things.
Q: How is eating for skiing different from eating for any other sport?
A: There are a lot of similarities. It’s an endurance activity, because you’re out there for a while. But when you ski you have the ability to stop and have a snack. And unlike a marathon, you have bursts of activity for short periods of time. This makes your nutrition needs a bit different.
Q: Does the weather pose a challenge, as well?
A: Cold weather increases your metabolism a little bit, and that can play a part in the kinds of foods you may want to eat, as opposed to foods you may want to eat when you’re biking in the summer. I find what a lot of people don’t pay attention to is apres ski muscle recovery. If you’re on a multi-day ski trip and wake up on day three and can’t even move, you know there’s a lot you can do to minimize that through what you eat.
Q: Can you give me examples of foods or nutritional guidelines you should follow for skiing?
A: The most important thing is to front-load before you go out. Eat as much as you can without being uncomfortably full because that’s going to give you the energy you need to carry on. A good breakfast would be lean protein. You don’t want to overdo it on fats, and that’s what you’ll find at a lot of resort breakfast buffets. That’s pretty much the worst food you can eat because you’ll want to take a nap afterwards. Eggs are great and I absolutely love low-fat Greek yogurt. You want to make sure you eat a lot of complex carbohydrates because they’ll give you the energy you need. Protein will stick with you a bit longer, but eating things like oats and fruit and whole grains are really going to give you that good energy you need.
I also recommend shoving a few little snacks in your jacket, just because you don’t want to come in if you’re hungry. Carbohydrates with a little bit of protein are great. One of my favorite things is PB & J on whole grains. Cut this into little pieces so you can have a bite or two when you need it – fantastic. Some of the energy bars are good, too, but try to stay away from the ones that are really high in protein because that’s not what you need when you’re in the middle of your activity. You really want to go where the carbs are. I love the Cliff Z bars. They’re made for kids, so they’re small – just 100 calories or so. They also have a good ratio of carbs to protein. Be careful, though, some of the bars that look really healthy have enriched flour — which is wheat flour — as one of their first ingredients. So if you eat them your blood sugar is going to drop pretty quickly.
Q: What about lunch? How do you navigate the ski cafeteria jungle? I mean, there’s a lot of crap out there.
A: There is a lot of crap. I always buy my lunch because I’m too lazy to make it in the morning. So my go-to is chili. All the mountains have chili, and chili has a lot of beans, which is a great complex carbohydrate that’ll stick with you all afternoon. If they have a white chili that’s made with chicken, that’s great, but beef chili is good, too. Go easy on toppings like cheese because you don’t want too much fat in the middle of your day. Sometimes I’ll have a turkey sandwich, if they have a sandwich station. You want something nutrient dense, where you’re going to get a lot of bang for your buck. I don’t think a salad at lunch is good enough. It’s a lot of filler and not enough protein and whole grains.
Q: And after skiing? What can you eat then to help your body recover?
A: Some great things to eat after skiing to help with recovery are hot chocolate made with lowfat milk. This is a variation on one of the best recovery snacks, which is a glass of lowfat chocolate milk. A banana with some peanut butter is good, too. Buy little individual packages of peanut butter for easy traveling. Or you could eat dried fruit and nuts or a turkey sandwich. Bring it with you and it will stay fresh in the car while you ski.
Q: So now we’re getting into pre-season, so we’re starting to think about things we can do to get ourselves ready. Is there anything we can do nutritionally?
A: Oh, yes. This is the time when you should be focusing on building strength; doing your conditioning exercises. And if you’re not eating the right things at the right time, you’re not going to improve your muscle capacity. It’s really important. You can’t eat your way to being in shape. You have to replenish yourself within an hour after your work-out. It doesn’t have to be a whole lot. One of the things I recommend is 8 ounces of low-fat chocolate milk. It has just the right ratio of carbohydrates to protein, and just on a physiological level, it’s the best recovery snack. It’s better after a work-out than regular low fat milk because you need the extra carbohydrates – and sugar is a simple carbohydrate — to drive the protein into your cells. Your body absorbs it better. It doesn’t have to be chocolate milk, but you want something that’ll give you 10 grams of protein. Sometimes I’ll have half a cup of Greek yogurt with a little bit of fruit in it.
Q: One last question, especially for our eastern or midwestern skiers: Any advice on what we can do, nutritionally, to adjust to altitude?
A: There are a few things you can do. It’s super-important to stay hydrated, so make sure you’re drinking water often. Aim for at least 80 ounces per day. Don’t skimp on the carbs, either. These help get oxygen into your cells. Complex carbs like whole grain bread, brown rice, fruits and beans are best for sustained energy. And don’t overdo the sodium. It may be best to avoid salty restaurant meals while you’re adjusting to the altitude and choose less processed foods which have less sodium. Lastly, eat foods high in potassium such as potatoes, citrus, bananas, tomatoes, leafy greens and dried apricots.
Thanks, Diana! For more info on ski nutrition, visit her site at VerticalDropNutrition.com.