Got Vitamins?

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The members of the University of Colorado Ski Team juggle a tough schedule. Every morning during ski season, they leave Boulder at 5 a.m. and are on the hill an hour later. They ski until 8 a.m., head back to campus and spend the rest of the day in classes. Jackie Berning, American Dietetic Association spokesperson and nutritional consultant to the team (as well as to the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians), is concerned about the athletes training hard but skipping meals because they're too busy to eat.

It's a common scenario, even for recreational skiers. And while it may be tempting to use supplements like creatine or amino acids as a crutch, Berning and other nutritionists warn that this can be a dangerous way to go. Instead, they recommend skiers look to simple vitamins and minerals, which are generally safer than supplements and crucial to an active lifestyle, skiing included.

"Vitamins and minerals regulate the body's metabolic processes that make energy," Berning says. "In other words, you have to have them to create energy."

There's still debate over what exactly is appropriate to take, in what dosages and in what forms¿nutritionists always suggest food sources over pills, but it can be hard to get enough nutrients from food alone. But most sports experts agree that vitamins and minerals are an important part of skiing strong. Here's a look at options that may be right for you:

MULTIVITAMIN "Anyone skiing hard and interested in good health should take a multivitamin," says Ed Burke, professor of exercise science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. A multivitamin doesn't replace eating a good meal, but it can boost your diet, especially during long days on the hill when your nutrient intake falls short of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Choose a brand with 100 percent of the RDAs for the major vitamins and minerals, and take your multivitamin with a meal for full absorption.

THE ANTIOXIDANTS (VITAMINS A, C, E) Andy Walsh, director of sports-science for the U.S. Ski Team, is especially concerned that his athletes get enough of vitamins A, C and E. Known as antioxidants, these nutrients can help reduce tissue damage, speed up muscle recovery, bolster the immune system and lessen the effects of altitude.

VITAMIN A In addition to the antioxidant benefits described above, vitamin A is good for eyesight, which is especially important for skiers as they try to read terrain. Vitamin A comes in two main forms: as retinol, which is found in some meats and can be toxic in high levels, and as beta carotene, which is found in orange-colored vegetables and considered safer. (Beta carotene is actually a precursor of vitamin A that the body transforms into vitamin A when it needs to.) It's also thought to prevent some types of cancer and help reduce cholesterol levels.

The RDA for vitamin A is 5,000 International Units (IU) for men and 4,000 IU for women. Foods rich in vitamin A/beta carotene include: liver, apricots, carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, spinach and milk.

VITAMIN C Working out hard can make you more susceptible to illness. In fact, cross-country skiers and other endurance athletes have a higher incidence of upper-respiratory infections. As for downhillers, nutritionists agree that vitamin C is also a good defense, especially for men. According to Berning, men are often lacking in vitamin C because they tend to eat fewer vegetables, which are packed with it.

The RDA for vitamin C is 60 mg, although some experts recommend that avid skiers get at least 100 mg.

Foods rich in vitamin C include: orange juice, citrus fruits, melons, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, green peppers and leafy greens, such as spinach, turnip and mustard greens.

VITAMIN E For skiers, "vitamin E helps neutralize the damaging effects of the extra oxygen intake and stress," Burke says. Studies also show that it can protect muscle membranes.

The R for vitamin E is 15 mg for both men and women, and it's hard to get that amount in food alone. Check your multivitamin or consider taking a supplement. Burke suggests that skiers start taking vitamin E supplements at least four or five days before a ski trip.

Foods rich in vitamin E include: vegetable oils, margarine, sunflower seeds, almonds and peanuts.

CALCIUM Among its many charms, calcium helps maintain the skeletal system, and in a weight-bearing exercise like skiing, you need strong bones. It also helps prevent osteoporosis, which is an important factor for both women and men who want to ski through their golden years.

Getting extra calcium is critical if you shy away from dairy products or if you run to keep in shape for skiing (high-impact exercise like running puts you at a higher risk for stress fractures). Also, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Get 200 to 400 IU of vitamin D per day.

The RDA for calcium is 1,000 mg for people younger than 51 and 1,200 for people 51 and older. These requirements likely won't be met with a multivitamin.

Foods rich in calcium include: dairy products, green leafy vegetables, salmon and sardines (the soft bones contain calcium), beans, lentils, nuts and figs.

IRON Iron helps the flow of oxygen in the blood and muscles and assists the body's conversion of food into fuel¿both of which are important functions for skiers. Yet iron deficiency is common and can happen in as little as six weeks. People who don't eat meat especially tend to be lacking in iron.

The RDA for iron is 10 mg for men and 15 mg for women. But beware: Iron is among the more potentially toxic minerals, so make sure you get enough, but don't overdo it.

Foods rich in iron: Meat, fish and chicken contain "heme" iron, which is more readily absorbed than the "non-heme" iron found in green leafy vegetables and supplements.

ZINC If you're the type of skier who gets slowed down by chronic colds, you could be deficient in zinc, says Dr. Kristine Clark, RD, director of sports nutrition for Penn State University. Zinc is involved in tissue repair, growth and immune function. Also, in a study by the USDA's primary scientific agency, male athletes who took more zinc had more efficient oxygen uptake and carbon dioxide output (i.e., more energy) than those who took less. If you eat a low-protein diet, you may not be getting enough.

The RDA for zinc is 15 mg for men and 12 mg for women, and multivitamins usually contain at least 5 mg. Zinc may be toxic in doses exceeding 150 mg.

Foods rich in zinc include: chicken, beef, oysters, clams, wheat germ, eggs, nuts and whole grains.

Fit Bits

Juice Your Joints
Glucosamine is thought to help ease skiers' joint pains, but as anyone who's tried to choke down a huge, bitter glucosamine pill can attest, it's tough on the taste buds. Enter Joint Juice, a palatable new beverage containing the daily recommended dose of glucosamine (1,500 mg) and being plugged by the darlings of the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Jonny Moseley and Picabo Street, both of whom are gearing up for comebacks at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics.

Studies indicate a 50- to 70-percent reduction in joint-pain symptoms after six to eight weeks of taking the suggested daily dose of glucosamine, a natural dietary supplement extracted from shellfish. Studies on the supplement's long-term effects are underway, but some researchers say glucosamine may help maintain and rebuild cartilage, preventing joint problems instead of merely masking pain.

In addition to glucosamine, the lightly carbonated Joint Juice contains the recommended daily dose of vitamin C (60 mg), but also has 28 grams of sugars, including high-fructose corn syrup.

Joint Juice comes in tropical, orange-tangerine and lemon flavors. Our recommendation? The tropical and orange-tangerine are tasty, but leave the lemon alone.For information on where to find Joint Juice, visit www.jointjuice.com. ¿Elizabeth McCulloch

Hip Skiing
A heart-pounding downhill run a day may replace the apple as the best measure for prevention, at least when it comes to hip fractures. A Cambridge University study found that people who take part in vigorous sports are less likely to suffer from fractured hips.

Regular exercise builds bone density, which is especially helpful for people up to 35 years old who have not begun to lose bone mass. Researchers found that men exercising regularly could potentially cut their risk of hip fractures by 33 percent, women by 12 percent. ¿Amy Reinink.jointjuice.com. ¿Elizabeth McCulloch

Hip Skiing
A heart-pounding downhill run a day may replace the apple as the best measure for prevention, at least when it comes to hip fractures. A Cambridge University study found that people who take part in vigorous sports are less likely to suffer from fractured hips.

Regular exercise builds bone density, which is especially helpful for people up to 35 years old who have not begun to lose bone mass. Researchers found that men exercising regularly could potentially cut their risk of hip fractures by 33 percent, women by 12 percent. ¿Amy Reinink