Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
You’re a skiing machine: Fill your tank with the right fuel.You’re in line at the base lodge cafeteria, approaching the aluminum counter piled with cheeseburgers, hotdogs, and curlicue fries¿and you’re drooling. After a morning battling the bumps, protein-heavy, greasy food is what you crave. But it’s not what you need. Eat all that protein and fat, and your legs will shut down long before the lifts do.
“For skiers, the primary fuel source needs to be carbohydrates, which are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver,” says Leslie Bonci, director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Skiing is all about short, high-intensity spurts of action. To meet this high energy demand, the body turns to glycogen because it’s converted much more quickly to fuel than fat. If you don’t chow down enough carbohydrates, by late afternoon the glycogen will be depleted, leading to muscle fatigue and lethargy (technically speaking: wet-noodle legs).
To top off your glycogen tank, start increasing your carbs a couple days before going skiing by eating a little more carbohydrates at every meal. Have extra cereal for breakfast, a sandwich on a bulky roll for lunch, an extra helping of pasta for dinner, and drink more juice. You don’t have to eliminate protein and fat; you just need to up the carb component. The night before you ski, skip the oversized porterhouse steak. “That protein won’t be available to you on the slopes the next day,” says Bonci. That’s because it’s stored as fat, not glycogen.
The next morning, try to eat soon after you get up¿it takes two to three hours after a meal for the carbs to be available as fuel. And make breakfast hearty¿oatmeal and a bagel with peanut butter or a stack of pancakes, or an egg sandwich (hold the sausage) and a muffin. If you ski for more than three hours before lunch, bring a snack like chewy granola bars or fig bars and refuel on the lift.
Now the challenge: lunch. Most of the dee-licious fare at ski resorts is packed with protein and fat. But you don’t need that. Instead, go for baked potatoes, pasta, pizza, or soup in a bread bowl. If you insist on eating the burger or chili, at least skip the fatty fries in favor of carbs like baked potatoes (easy on the butter), rolls, crackers, or pretzels.
After your last run, it’s Miller time, right? Not so fast. “Within a half hour of skiing, we want to put something into the body, and we’re not talking beer,” says Bonci. The reason: Your muscles absorb fuel much more efficiently right after exercising. “The longer you wait, the less effective the body is at replenishing the glycogen supplies,” says Bonci. Beer, though it has carbohydrates, slows the process of absorption. And bar food like nachos and wings are just laden with fat. So before the brew, have a sports drink, juice, or energy bar (aim for 100 grams of carbs). Booze through happy hour without eating carbs, and it can take 48 hours for your muscles to refuel, leaving your legs running on empty the next day.
Fit or Fat? Mind over Matter
From 1960¿62, only 24 percent of the American population was considered overweight. Today, as much as 55 percent is deemed tubby. Meanwhile, a recent study* showed 84 percent of Americans said exercise and nutrition were important to them.
*Source: Nutrition and You: Trends 2000, by the American Dietetic Association