If you're looking to shed a few pounds, skiing at high altitude may be just the fix. At elevations above 8,000 feet, your metabolism increases while your appetite and sensitivity to taste decrease, leading to weight loss, says E. Wayne Askew, Ph.D., professor and director of the University of Utah Division of Foods and Nutrition. The boost in metabolism can raise the amount of calories you need anywhere from 15 to 50 percent from what you need at sea level.
But that shouldn't be taken as carte blanche to live off chili-cheese fries. Just like with any other sports or activities, your body needs proper nutrition to stay fueled and give you the energy you need while skiing. Here are a few key nutrition tips for skiers.
Protein is a building block of life. Yet in the age of low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets, most people, including skiers, don't get enough. "In order to ski your best, have optimal recovery and have a great time, you need adequate protein in your diet," says Dr. Liz Applegate, professor of nutrition at University of California at Davis and author of Eat Your Way To A Healthy Heart. "I see a lot of people who skip meals during the week, therefore skipping protein. As a result, they suffer after a day on the slopes."
Protein is made up of amino acids that each fuel a different body function. Immune proteins fight off bacteria, red blood cell proteins carry oxygen, and muscle proteins provide power. Furthermore, because muscle fibers are in part made up of protein, they need protein for repair. Protein mends the small muscle tears that naturally occur during strenuous exercise such as strength training, running and, of course, skiing, helping muscles to function at their maximum.But just how much protein is enough? Applegate suggests skiers consume 25 percent more protein than the recommended daily allowance. "This is equal to about a half-gram of protein per pound of your body weight¿essentially your weight divided by two," says Applegate. For instance, a 170-pound male should consume about 85 grams per day. What about protein overdose? Says Applegate: "For such a high-endurance sport, there is little risk of getting too much."
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.
To keep skiing strong at altitude, experts recommend eating a healthy diet, supplemented with iron and vitamins C and E. Both iron and vitamin E help you maintain body temperature, while vitamin C boosts your immune system and aids in iron absorption. Iron is key at altitude because it allows blood cells to carry more oxygen to muscles. The result? You're less tired at the bottom of your favorite run.
The Cherry Remedy
If your muscles are sore after a day of skiing, comfort them with cherries. Michigan State University scientists recently discovered that cherries get their red color from anthocyanin, a naturally occurring antioxidant that's as potent as commercial antioxidant vitamins E and C. Eating 20 tart cherries, which contain 12-25 mg of anthocyanin, relieves muscle pain and reduces inflammation better than a normal dose of aspirin¿without the stomach irritation common to anti-inflammatory drugs. Dr. Muraleedharan Nair, a chief researcher of the study at Michigan State University, explains, "Anthocyanin prevents cell damage and blocks the enzymes that produce muscle inflammation." The research also suggests that cherry consumption might help prevent chronic cardiovascular diseases and slow the aging process.
Beat the Flu
If you want to avoid the flu this season, give up the sweets. An unbalanced diet, especially one with a high sugar intake, can weaken your immune system. That means you should think twice before grabbing a sweet snack between runs. In fact, the amount of sugar found in two cans of soda can decrease immune function by 50 percent for up to six hours, increasing your odds of getting sick. If you need an energy lift, carry dried fruit or grab some trail mix with nuts in the lodge. As a bonus, the fat and protein found in nuts provides a longer energy burn than the short spurt from the sugar found in soda or candy.