Nutrition for the slopes

During a break, choose warming carbs such as hot cocoa, mulled cider, steaming soup, oatmeal, chili and pasta to help refuel and warm your core.
There's a chill in the air, which means many are starting to chat about upcoming trips to the slopes for some skiing and/or snowboarding. As with any sport, training to prepare your muscles for peak performance will only bring you so far up the mountain.

In order to reach the peak, it's essential to stay on top of your nutrition as well. Below, I offer some nutritional tips that will give you the necessary energy to get the most out of your ski/boarding experience this winter.

Pre-slope fueling

Each and every muscle movement in skiing and snowboarding burns calories, which makes proper fueling prior to hitting your first run of the day essential for optimal performance. Failure to top off your engine before heading out will elevate your risk for premature depletion of liver and muscle glycogen stores, triggering such symptoms as dizziness (not so good when you're traveling at high speeds downhill), muscle cramps, lethargy and a decline in overall performance.

Furthermore, this pre-slope meal increases internal heat production by about 10 percent, thereby helping to warm your core before exposure to the winter chill.

Skiers and snowboarders should aim at consuming 400-900 carbohydrate-focused calories approximately two or three hours prior to hitting the slopes. To promote a more sustained release of energy into the bloodstream and muscles, focus on low- to moderate-glycemic carbohydrates (see ) such as bananas, low-sugar cereals like Special K, energy bars like Powerbar or Clif bar, sourdough toast, berries and lowfat yogurt.

Also include a small amount of protein (egg, dairy, nuts/nut butter or lowfat meat) as part of your pre-slope meal (about a gram for every four grams of carbohydrate). This will help spare muscle glycogen by about 25 percent, keeping you on the slopes a bit longer.

Sample Pre-Slope Meals Calories Carbs

1 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt blended with 1 cup strawberries, 1/4 cup lowfat natural granola, and 2 Tbsp slivered almonds. 440 65 16

2 Eggo lowfat Nutri-Grain waffle spread with 1 Tbsp natural peanut butter and 2 tsp dark honey. Serve with 1 cup nonfat milk or soy milk. 450 80 20

Power Oatmeal: Prepare 1/2 cup dry oats and mix with 1/4 lowfat natural granola, 3/4 cup blueberries, 1 cup nonfat milk, and 2 Tbsp walnuts. 475 75 18

1 PureFit energy bar ( plus 1 banana. Serve with 16 ounces Gatorade. 435 80 20

2 cups Special K cereal topped with 3/4 cup blueberries and 1 cup nonfat milk. Serve with 1 cup 100% fruit juice. 475 100 25

Island Smoothie: Blend 1 cup 100% pineapple juice, 1 cup nonfat key lime yogurt, 1/2 cup frozen sliced mango, 1 sliced frozen banana, and 1 Tbsp vanilla whey/soy/egg protein powder. 570 120 20

Enhancing performance on the slopes

There's no question that a day on the slopes can be both an exhilarating and exhausting experience. According to a Montana State University study, an hour of downhill skiing will burn approximately 3.9 calories per pound of body weight. Snowboarding may generate a higher expenditure if the board is ridden inefficiently (e.g., forcing a turn versus riding a carving edge), the boarder falls often, and/or the boarder has to sidestep or herringbone uphill frequently.

Furthermore, shivering or the involuntary muscle tensing that generates heat and offers a warming effect can increase your metabolic rate two to four times. This means an additional 400 calories/hour may be burned, ultimately contributing to depleted liver and muscle glycogen stores and causing you to "bonk" or "hit the wall" quicker.

Beyond dressing appropriately and learning proper ski/boarding technique, nutrition will play an instrumental role in maintaining energy levels and optimizing muscle performance during prolonged runs. To elevate your ski/boarding performance, be sure to carry energy bars (about 200 calories/bar), energy gels (about 100 calorie per pack), sport drink (about 50 calories per 8 ounces), or other snacks (such as peanut butter crackers, dried fruit/trail mixes or pretzels).

Try to consume about 200 calories per hour of continuous skiing/boarding. During a break, choose warming carbohydrates such as hot cocoa, mulled cider, steaming soup, as well as oatmeal, chili and pasta to help refuel and warm your core.

Hydration on the slopes

Perhaps the biggest mistake winter athletes make is waiting until they're thirsty to start drinking, which generally signals a three percent level of dehydration and up to a 15 percent decline in maximal performance capacity. To make matters worse, the winter chill can actually further alter thirst sensation by as much as 40 percent due to a physiological response that occurs when the body doesn't feel hot.

Unfortunately, failure to drink outside of a "thirst window" will not only lead to declines in physical performance but can also affect thermoregulatory mechanisms and ultimately elevate the risk of frostbite. This is why fluids, especially water, are as important in cold weather as in the heat. To avoid dehydration, try to consume 4-8 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes of activity.

Post-slope refueling

Inevitably, after a long day of skiing and/or boarding, both liver and muscle glycogen stores will be partially or fully depleted and there will be a large calorie deficit. This makes proper refueling essential for those looking to extend their skiing experience beyond one day.

Within 30 minutes of completing your day on the slopes, try to drink about 200-400 carbohydrate-focused calories. A personal favorite of mine after being exposed to the cold is hot chocolate (click here for recipe), which packs the desired 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein for optimal muscle recovery, as well as the desired electrolyte profile for muscle rehydration.

After liquid refueling, be sure to have a carbohydrate-focused meal with a small amount of protein (such as spaghetti with meatballs, chicken stir fry, turkey served with sweet potato and cranberries or fish served with rice and green beans) before getting the necessary sleep for day two of your adventure. Happy winter trails!

Want more tips to help improve your athletic performance? Kim Mueller, M.S., R.D., is a registered sports dietitian and competitive endurance athlete who provides nutrition counseling and customized meal planning to athletes worldwide. More information on Kim's services can be found at or by contacting her at 858-337-3612 or

Reprinted, courtesy of Competitor Magazine. For more articles and information for Competitor, please visit

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