Training

Nutrition

Nutrition for cross-country skiers is the same as nutrition for runners. What you need in your diet is: Carbs, Carbs, Carbs! And if you ski for more than an hour, you also need to pay attention to drinking fluids. When temperatures are below freezing, you may not feel motivated to drink, but you will still lose fluids though perspiration. Since a dehydrated skier can't ski as fast or as well as one properly hydrated, bring an energy drink with you on the trails. Also pack some snack food, such as an energy bar. If you compete in ski marathons, you need to pay very close attention to refueling, particularly since, compared to road races, there often are fewer aid stations in the woods.

Also important is nutrition before and after skiing. I devoted an entire chapter to nutrition in my best-selling book, Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. In the following paragraphs, I have borrowed and modified material from the chapter titled: "The Distance Runner's Diet," changing running references to cross-country skiing references at appropriate points.

When you ski long distances, your energy requirements increase. In an article on endurance exercise in The Physician and Sportsmedicine, Walter R. Frontera, M.D., and Richard P. Adams, Ph.D., comment, "During sustained exercises such as (cross-country skiing), total body energy requirements increase 10 to 20 times above resting values." Skiers need to eat more of the proper foods to fuel their muscles. They also need to drink more, even in cold weather.

Linda Houtkooper, Ph.D., a registered dietitian at the University of Arizona, stated at a sports nutrition conference before the 1992 men's U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Columbus, Ohio that endurance athletes in particular need to get most of their calories from carbohydrates. No argument there. The only problem is that with 35,000 items in the supermarket, cross-country skiers sometimes need help in determining which foods are highest in carbohydrates. Unless you plan to eat spaghetti three meals a day (and even pasta contains 13 percent protein and 4 percent fat), you may need to start reading labels.

Dr. Houtkooper explained that the body requires at least 40 nutrients that are classified into six nutritional components: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. "These nutrients cannot be made in the body," she said, "and so must be supplied from solid or liquid foods." Dr. Houtkooper listed six categories that form the fundamentals of a nutritionally adequate food selection plan: fruits, vegetables, grains/legumes, lean meats, low-fat milk products, and fats/sweets (in descending order of importance).

The recommendations for a healthy diet suggest 15 to 20 percent protein, 30 percent fat and 50 to 55 percent carbohydrates. (Forget fad diets that suggest a different low-carbohydrate mix.) All carbohydrates, however, aren't created alike. There are simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates include sugar, honey, jam, and any food (such as sweets and soft drinks) that gets most of its calories from sugar. Nutritionists recommend that these simple carbos make up only 10 percent of your diet. It's complex carbohydrates you should concentrate on--the starch in plant foods--which include fruits, vegetables, bread, pasta, and legumes. Cross-country skiers in particular benefit from fuel-efficient complex carbohydrates because of the extra calories burned each day.

Finally, let me offer eight important words taught me by Joanne Milkereit, R.D., a dietitian connected with the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. We once co-authored a cookbook, and she told me that every runner (read "skier") should clip these words to the refrigerator: "Eat a wide variety of lightly processed foods."

The better you eat, the more you will enjoy the sport of cross-country skiing.

Getting Started Ski Technique In Full Stride
Introduction Moving Forward Destinations
Conditioning Going Uphill Racing
Equipment Going downhill Nutrition
Where to Ski Turning Snowshoes
Two Techniques Stopping Downhill Skiing