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Sometimes, the anticipation surrounding a ski trip creates a type of pressure that detonates the first night of vacation. Here’s what happens: arrival in a ski town, off the plane and direct to the slope side hotel. This is immediately followed by an indecent amount of cocktailing and pizza eating with old pals in effort to blow off steam accumulated by wrapping up work projects needed to get away. The next morning – well, ouch. But you drag yourself out of bed, get an extra shot in your coffee, hit the slopes with half-drunk vigor, and chase it all with a couple beers. The following morning, with sore muscles, slight nausea, and a black diamond headache, you successfully talk yourself out of skiing – it’s a little cold and icy anyway. Vacation is ruined, you feel sick the rest of the week.
The good news is this scenario doesn’t have to be reality. Let’s look at some easy strategies you can implement in order to ensure your next ski trip is spent actually skiing, and not throwing up and watching TV in a dark hotel room.
Avoid Altitude Sickness: At altitude there is less oxygen and less air pressure, which is problematic for the brain, which requires a large amount of air to function. Those traveling from sea level to higher elevations have increased risk for developing symptoms, which are, most of the time, pretty mild, but can potentially become life threatening. Difficulty sleeping, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting can begin anywhere from six hours to two days following arrival and persist for days.
RX: Ginkgo – A 2002 study published in High Altitude Medicine and Biology concluded that taking an extract of the herb ginkgo biloba one day prior to rapidly ascending a mountain may help reduce the severity of altitude sickness. Two of ginkgo’s (the oldest living species of tree on earth) most desirable effects are its capactiy to improve blood circulation, and its ability to allow the brain to tolerate low oxygen levels. In Germany, ginkgo is an approved therapy for dizziness, and has also been used as a remedy for vertigo. The American Botanical Council recommends a dosage 120-240 mg per day in divided doses three times daily of standardized dry extract.
Hold The Hangover: Most of us know exactly how a hangover happens and what it feels like. Many of us have had those mornings where we pledge never to drink that much again. But, alas, we do, after forgetting how bad the headache, nausea, extreme thirst, lethargy, sensitivity to light and sound, and diarrhea all felt. Alcohol dehydrates the body by inhibiting the release of antidiuretic hormone, thereby causing the kidneys to excrete more water (a.k.a “breaking the seal”). Alcohol also blocks the absorption of folate, a B vitamin that is needed for the development of red blood cells. These cells help carry oxygen around the body – and we just learned how important 02 is in terms of adjustment to altitude.
RX: A High Potency B Vitamin Complex – B vitamins work synergistically, so when it comes to folate, vitamins B1, B2, and B3 must be present in adequate amounts for metabolic activity to occur. B vitamins are water soluble, and pass though the body quickly. Caffeine increases their excretion, so that extra espresso shot doesn’t actually help. Pop a whole foods supplement three times a day while choosing food sources of folate for each meal, including spinach, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and lentils.
Stave Off Sore Muscles: You’ve trained all year: squats, stair climber, yoga, so why the heck do you feel so sore after a day of skiing, or suddenly have leg cramps at night? The first hurdle is that there is less oxygen at altitude, and the most common cause of muscle fatigue is O2 debt. Without enough air, lactic acid builds up, causing sore muscles – so again, back to the importance of enough folate to ensure red blood cells can carry enough oxygen throughout the body circles back. What is perhaps the bigger issue with muscle soreness, however, is that pizza and French fries you have for dinner. High sodium foods affect potassium balance. Many of our muscle cells have specialized channels for moving potassium in and out of the cell called a sodium potassium pump. A diet that is high in sodium and low in potassium can negatively impact potassium status, making muscle recovery more difficult.
RX: Potassium – This electrolyte mineral plays an important role in muscle contraction and nerve transmission. When potassium is deficient in the diet, activity of both muscles and nerves can become compromised. The typical American diet (and let’s face it, most après foods) is high in sodium-containing processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables. So go in addition to an electrolyte replacement (like Ultima Replenisher) go easy on the pretzels try to eat at least one of these foods every day: Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, avocado, banana, halibut, cauliflower or cabbage.
In addition to taking ginkgo, B vitamins, and eating potassium rich foods three times a day, there is one more point that can’t be understated: water, water, water. The human body needs half it’s body weight in ounces of water daily for maintenance of basic metabolic function, and more during times of heavy exercise. So the solution to pollution is dilution…bottoms up.
Jess Kelley is a Master Nutrition Therapist and has a private practice in Durango, Colorado. She is also the Managing Editor of Edible San Juan Mountains Magazine.