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Like Water for Skiing


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Anyone who wants to stay warm on the slopes, fight end-of-the-day fatigue, avoid injury, frostbite and altitude sickness or just plain ski better, raise your hand.

OK, now raise your water bottle.

There’s nothing more important for your body than water. Yet skiers largely ignore the benefit of hydration on the slopes. Why? One reason, according to a study conducted by Ed Burke, director of the Sports Science Program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, is that water simply isn’t available on-slope. “People don’t want to take time out from their skiing to go through the hassle of stopping at the lodge for a water break,” he says.

While water may not be the beverage of choice when it’s cold outside, the fact is that while you’re skiing, you can lose 1 to 2 quarts of water per hour. If you don’t replace it, your heart will be forced to work harder to compensate for the lower volume of fluids in your body. This extra exertion can cause quicker fatigue-including cramping and lost reaction time, coordination and endurance, according to Dr. Ken Zafren of the Wilderness Medical Society.

Blood is also better able to circulate through the body when it’s fully hydrated. Good circulation keeps you warmer and reduces your risk of frostbite, hypothermia and acute mountain sickness.

There are several ways in which your body loses fluids while you’re skiing. If you’re properly layered, you may not even feel as if you’re sweating-but you are. The moisture from your body evaporates into the dry mountain air almost instantly. You also lose a lot of water in cold weather just from breathing. On cold days, you can even watch it go. When you see your breath, you’re seeing air that your body has moisturized to protect your throat from drying out. In dry climates it takes a lot of water to keep the air you breathe moist, and you lose all that moisture when you exhale. There’s also a process known as “cold-induced diuresis,” which means that your body produces more urine in the cold.

Between sweating, breathing and urinating, it’s not uncommon to lose as much as 4 percent of your total body weight in a few hard hours on the mountain-more than enough to affect your performance.

But how do you know how much water is enough? It takes about a half-hour for the “thirst response” to kick in-even longer as your body ages or becomes accustomed to dehydration. In other words, by the time you get a craving to drink something, your body can be as much as 2 percent dehydrated. While it is possible to drink too much, most healthy individuals don’t have to worry about it. Experts recommend you drink about 16 ounces of water two hours before exercising, have some more about 15 minutes before exercising and continue to drink small amounts (before you get thirsty) throughout the day.

While thirst isn’t an adequate indicator of when or how much you need to drink, there are several easy ways to tell if you’re fully hydrated. By weighing yourself before and after a day on the slopes, you can tell how much weight you’ve lost in water. For example, if you lose three pounds, you’ll need to drink at least 24 ounces of liquid-eight ounces for each pound lost-your next time out. Also, your urine should be pale-if it’s not, you need to drink more.

But keep in mind that what you’re drinking is just as important as how much. Be careful to stay away from diuretics (drinks that tend to increase urine production) such as alcohol or anything with caffeine. Your body also needs a lot of water to process sugary drinks such as soda (which may also contain caffeine) and fruit juice. If you do quench your thirst with any of these drinks, you may actually be dehydrating your body. Be sure to drink extra water to balance it out.

In an age when winning coaches are doused in Gatorade, the question of sports drinks vs. water is an interesting one. The American College of Sports Medicine points out that because a day on the mountain can last for a numberr of hours, you also need to replace carbohydrates and electrolytes. Certainly, sports drinks or mixing equal parts fruit juice and water can help you accomplish this. U.S. Ski Team athletes use sports drinks and water interchangeably, but regardless of what they choose, they’re sure to drink at least 6-10 quarts of fluid per day, according to Ron Kipp, director of athlete preparation for the USST. For the recreational skier, water can save you some money and be more effective in keeping you hydrated than any drink on the market.

The importance of drinking during a day on the slopes is indisputable. You may choose to stop at the lodge, carry a water bottle or wear one of the many back or hip-mounted water systems. Regardless of how you do it, Kipp has a simple rule that can make your day safer and more enjoyable: “Just drink like heck.”

Many sports drinks are acidic enough to erode tooth enamel. Experts recommend drinking them from a squirt bottle.