Fit Bits: Fat for Fuel

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Fat For Fuel

Most people believe less fat is better, but health experts are now saying that eating too lean can starve your muscles¿especially if you're a skier. In the first 20 minutes of exercise, the body burns carbohydrates and proteins for fuel; after that it turns to fat. Cold air beating against the body causes a rush of adrenaline that speeds up the metabolism of fat, making it even more essential to get enough. What's more, in a 1998 study conducted by the State University of New York at Buffalo, athletes on extremely low-fat diets were found to have impaired immune systems and inflammation in the joints.

Though switching to a high-fat diet isn't the solution, making sure you consume the right amount of fat will help you stay warm, energetic and healthy on the slopes. How much and what kind of fat should you eat? Between 25 percent to 30 percent of your total daily energy needs, says Natalie Harris, a registered dietician in Boulder, Colo. Limit saturated fat (found in animal products such as red meat, egg yolks and butter) to a third of your fat intake, she says, and depend on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats for the balance.

Cold Excuses
A cold may no longer be a good excuse to stay off the slopes. Several studies by Thomas G. Weidner, a professor of sports medicine at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., show that vigorous activity won't worsen or prolong a cold. After infecting students with an upper respiratory virus, Weidner and his colleagues monitored symptoms while some students exercised and others were at rest. They found no significant difference in the duration or severity of their colds. Do the results apply to skiing? "The only difference outdoors¿which no one has examined before¿is that cold air causes some extra inflammation," Weidner says. "It's just conjecture, but even if you have to blow your nose more, skiing with a cold shouldn't change the profile of the illness itself."

So don't let sneezes and sniffles keep you from enjoying your vacation. Weidner suggests skiing at a lower intensity level than normal and, if you're feeling fine, pick it up from there. On the other hand, if you have below-the-neck symptoms, such as a hacking cough, aching muscles, diarrhea, vomiting or chest congestion, you have a valid excuse to stay in bed.