The Winter Olympics officially start today in Sochi, Russia, so I thought a good time to talk nutrition for snow sports. Any of you who know me well know that I love nothing more than getting out on the snow on a crisp blue bird day, so to say I am excited about watching the best in the world show their stuff is an understatement, particularly as Australia has its largest team ever going!
Many principles are the same as for other sports, however a few key considerations need to be taken account of:
1. When at altitude, the body uses glucose/carbohydrate more quickly both at rest and when exercising. This means more carbohydrate must be eaten to ensure adequate amounts are available, especially when under a high training load
2. Your basal metabolic rate increases with altitude. This means your metabolism is going more quickly, thus using more fuel. Athletes will need to ensure they eat more than they normally do to make sure they are properly fuelled.
3. Total body water and blood volume is reduced when at altitude. Furthermore, more fluid is lost from breathing in what is often cold, dry air. Thus, almost twice as much fluid is required to maintain adequate hydration. Carbohydrate containing drinks are a good way of getting in extra fluid and fuel simultaneously.
4. Though you need more fluid and fuel, being at altitude can cause mountain sickness. This can cause loss of appetite and nausea/vomiting. Spending time at altitude to allow your body to acclimatise is essential.
5. At altitude, there is less oxygen available in the air. Your body needs to adapt to this, to allow adequate circulation of oxygen around the body, which is partly achieved through an increase in haemoglobin. This means more iron is required, thus more iron rich foods are required in the diet, along with rich sources of vitamin C to assist absorption.
All this said though, like with summer sports, different activities have very differing nutritional requirements. For example, an ice hockey player has different physique and physiological demands to a figure skater, or to a slopestyle snow boarder, or a cross country skier. As an example, during intense training a cross country skier may use more than 21,000kJ per day, and more than 12,600kJ in a 50km race alone. Many snowboarders and skiers will need approximately 200kJ/kg per day, so for a 60kg athlete, they will need to consume approximately 12,000kJ on a standard day. When at altitude, this increases by approximately 1,000kJ. Aerial skiers tend to do better if they are small and light, and have the lowest energy requirements, of less than 8,400kJ per day. That’s a lot of variation, and not even breaking down into specific nutrients!
I hope you all get as excited as I am for cheering on Australia in Sochi!
Chloe McLeod is a dietitian at BJC Health.
This blog focuses on diet & nutrition generally and diet & nutrition in relation to the treatment of arthritis and arthritis-related diseases. Contact us if you'd like our help in managing diet-related health issues.