A lot of us would start eating differently if we realized—like, really internalized—that food is fuel, not just a filler. Yes, we need to eat to stave off hunger, but more importantly, we need to eat to give our bodies the fuel it needs to perform at its best—on and off the slopes.
Unfortunately, skiers are not known for making the smartest nutrition choices. We’re a quirky breed that wants to be able to shred from bell to bell, yet sustain ourselves with chili fries, wings, pizza, and beer—go figure. While those foods may keep us going on the slopes, they’re definitely not helping us get the most out of our bodies. True, not every skier aims to be a Mikaela Shiffrin or Cody Townsend on the hill, but the right food choices can also help the average skier take their abilities to the next level, as well as help prevent injury and combat sore muscles.
And making smarter nutrition doesn’t even have to be hard or time-consuming, insists U.S. Ski Team Head Chef Allen Tran, who is, in fact, responsible for making sure the likes of Shiffrin and Ted Ligety eat their spinach.
“The main thing to aim for is a solid combo of protein and complex carbs,” says Tran. “Protein supports your muscles and your exercise gains, while complex carbs give you a steady source of energy to support you throughout the day.”
With that in mind, here are some of Tran’s guidelines for eating right before and after you hit the slopes, as well as how to fuel on the go.
“Breakfast is called the most important meal for a reason,” says Tran. “A solid breakfast will jumpstart your body and get it ready for the day.” Even if you’ve overslept and you realize there are six inches of fresh snow on the ground, it’s important—and doable—to fix yourself a quick, nutritious breakfast before you hit the lift line.
“There are plenty of foods that require little prep time but have big nutritional bang for their buck,” says Tran. He recommends quick food combinations that are high in protein but also give your body the carbohydrates it needs to kick it into action.
Nutritious pre-workout meals:
- Greek yogurt and granola
- Whole grain toast with smashed avocado and scrambled eggs
- Banana and peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Breakfast burrito
“All of these combinations have a protein source as well as a slow-burning carb source,” says Tran. Even the second option can be quick to whip up: “If you’re strapped for time, you can always microwave eggs in a slightly greased mug.”
What you want to avoid is a breakfast with only one of these nutrients (just protein, or just carbs), like cereal with just a splash of milk. “A better option would be to substitute Greek yogurt, nuts, or a hard-boiled egg on the side to add some protein,” says Tran.
As for coffee—Tran says go ahead, live a little. “One common myth is that coffee is a diuretic and will dehydrate you.
So, if coffee is a part of your morning ritual, you can rest assured coffee won’t sabotage your healthy breakfast, just try black coffee, or see if you can move towards less sugar and creamer."
This may be news to a lot of skiers, but a slice of pizza and PBR are not ideal post-workout snacks. And while skiers may think hitting the après bar after their last run is harmless—after all, it’s part of the culture—that après time window is actually a crucial recovery period for your body.
“After any activity, whether it’s intense or moderate, your body has roughly a 30-minute window when it’s most receptive to taking in nutrients, turning your hard work into real muscle and strength gains,” explains Tran.
Shoveling in pizza and alcohol during this recovery time window is therefore not ideal. Instead, Tran recommends you take advantage of this time period when your body is acting most like a sponge to feed it the protein it needs to start a rebuilding process, as well as carbs to refuel energy stores.
Summertime ski fitness: 5 Cross Training Activities for Skiers
“This concept is more relevant to intense work-out session, but even on moderate days, getting a light recovery snack ensures you’re giving your body the tools to rebuild and recover for the next days ahead.”
Ideal post-workout snacks, high in protein and carbs:
- Fruit-flavored Greek yogurt
- Chocolate milk
- Protein shake
- Protein bars
But go easy on those protein shakes. “Make sure you tailor the size of your post-workout snack to how intense your workout was that day,” says Tran.
Food for Muscle and Joint Health
Muscle soreness after one or many days of hard shredding is inevitable, especially during early season. When skiers start working muscles that haven’t been used in a while, like those little stabilizer muscles in the lower legs and low back muscles, they get angry and become inflamed. Most skier’s first reaction is to pop some Ibuprofen to combat inflammation, but certain foods can have the same effect while being kinder to your liver.
“Healthy fats keep your joints and muscles happy and healthy by reducing excessive inflammation,” says Tran. “Omega-3 fats are the most important kind of fat here.”
Foods rich in omega-3 fats:
- Omega-3 enriched eggs
- Flax seed
“Plant-based Omega-3s aren’t as effective as marine-based Omega-3 fats, but if you don’t like fish, you can take fish oil pills to get the same benefit,” adds Tran.
Other foods that help with inflammation are extra virgin olive oil, turmeric, ginger, and dark-colored foods such as berries and spinach. All of these foods contain anti-oxidants and compounds called polyphenols that have lots of positive effects on the body, including reducing inflammation and supporting joint health.
Foods that increase inflammation:
- Fried food
- Refined carbs like white bread and pastries
- Processed meats like hot dogs and sausage
While you’re thinking about joint health, it's important to remember the muscles around your joints which help protect and support. Make sure you have plenty of protein in every meal and in your recovery snacks.
“If you’re older, protein becomes even more important as your body becomes less efficient at absorbing protein as you age," says Tran. "So, adding additional protein in snacks and meals helps you maintain the muscles to support your joints.”
Smart Fuel on the Go
“Resort food either goes one of two ways: it either tastes bad, or is really bad for you. Either way, it will empty your wallet,” says Tran. Instead, Tran likes to pack his own snacks for the hill—foods that will provide both quick energy bursts as well as foods that will preserve energy stores throughout the day.
“Think of on-mountain food as a campfire,” says Tran. “If you want a really bright, fast-burning fire, you put a bunch of kindling on it. But if you want a slower burning, really strong and hot fire, you add bigger logs. That’s how your body handles different types of food. In this analogy, kindling is the fast-burning simple carbs, and the bigger logs are slower burning complex carbs. You need both kinds during a long workout or a long day on the hill. While it’s not best to have simple refined carbs in your day-to-day, if you’re exercising you want fast carbs that your body can use right away, especially if your workout or skiing session is longer than an hour.”
Foods that provide fast carbs:
- Energy gummies
- Sports drinks
But remember, you can’t make a lasting fire with kindling alone, so balance the fast carbs out by adding slower burning carbs.
Slow burning carbohydrates:
- Whole wheat bread
- Peanut-butter sandwich
- Whole grain crackers
- Energy bars
Last but not least, don’t forget about hydrating your body. When we’re skiing, we’re usually at higher elevation where the air is dryer and you lose more water. Drinking regularly is crucial to keeping your body going so you can ski bell to bell. Make frequent stops in lodges to rehydrate throughout the day, or carry a water bottle, soft flask, or hydration pack.
“When it comes to hydration, it’s better to take smaller sips more frequently than it is to gulp a whole bunch at once,” says Tran. Your body, especially when it is dehydrated, can’t absorb large amounts of water at once, and it may just end up passing right through you. However, electrolytes can help your body retain water.
Pro tip: Throw in an electrolyte tab or mix into your water bottle, or even add just a pinch of salt, to help your body retain water and hydrate you.