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Fuel the Fire: How eating right can optimize your time on the trail

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A skier has to eat! Even the most effortless glide requires your body to be fueled well with carbs, proteins, and hydration. Instead of getting lost in the blizzard of dietary fads and supplements, stick to some basic and easy-to-remember rules, and you can make the most of every session and every dollar.

[Photo] Cody Downard

Plan, Pack, Snack

If your workout is going to end anywhere other than your kitchen, take a few minutes before you leave to make sure you bring along a snack for recovery. This could be as simple as tossing a granola bar into your ski bag; even if you aren’t hungry during the drive to your ski, you’ll be happy to have some calories waiting for you at the end of your workout. If you want to make sure you’re never risking a calorie conundrum, keep a snack bag kicking around that’s always stocked with favorites, and save yourself a trip to the convenience store.

Eating mid-workout is also important for longer sessions, just as hydrating is important for nearly every session. Find a few foods that you are comfortable eating on-the-go and make an effort to have them along for workouts over an hour in length. Maybe you prefer easy-to-chew fruit snacks, or maybe you like having the more substantial crunch of a bar or trail mix.

Learn your Body, to a point

While you may choose to keep a detailed food log (a great way to track trends and habits, for better or worse), it’s useful to note and remember foods that make you feel like a superhero during a hard session and foods that leave you shuffling back toward your bed. When you’re setting out for a harder workout or a race, select your meals and snacks accordingly.

While this is a good way to ensure you have the confidence and solid stomach to handle a big race, it’s important to also not get pigeonholed into relying on one or two foods or meals before an event. If you are traveling, for example, you might not be able to match your ideal breakfast or dinner perfectly. Be flexible, and make smart and realistic choices. Pack a supply of what you might prefer if you’re on a longer trip or heading into a region in which you haven’t trained or raced before. The more you prepare, the more ready you are for any surprises.

Avoid Trending and Spending

From the latest lab-derived drink mixes to chalky, nutrient-enhanced bars, there’s more “athlete food” out there than ever before. While you may find a few preferred options among these boxes and bags, try to spend more time incorporating meals and snacks with fewer ingredients and chemicals.

When asked about her go-tos, registered dietitian and Master skier Monica John (MS, RD, CD) has the following preference: “Personally, I have a two-pound container of nonfat Greek yogurt, preferably plain, in my grocery cart. It’s high in calcium (10-15 percent of the daily value), low in sugar (none), a good source of protein (12 -15 grams per five-or-six ounce serving), and it’s versatile. It can be a quick snack with fruit for recovery, or add muesli, chopped apple and a little cinnamon for breakfast. Or, you can add it to creamed soups or curries as a thickener to replace cream. People with lactose intolerance can usually tolerate yogurt because the live active cultures or probiotics digest the lactose, adding to its versatility.”

John also suggests knowing the difference between snacks and treats. “Distinguishing between a healthy snack and a treat is important. Healthy snacks are nutrient-rich and provide whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats, such as fig bars and fruit, peanut butter, honey and a banana, low fat chocolate milk, reduced fat cheddar cheese and whole grain crackers and hummus, or even my favorite, maple greek yogurt with blueberries.”

Recipes for healthy snacks are everywhere, and spending the time to prepare ingredients and knowing what foods you’re working with gives you a much deeper appreciation for what you’re putting into your body.

It’s hard to ski on an empty stomach, but each body is different and it might take some time to fine-tune your system to a nutrition plan that works for you. But sticking to some key processes and routines can go a long way. Eat healthy and ski healthy!

Adam Terko is the head coach of Vermont’s Mansfield Nordic Club and has been skiing competitively (and writing about it) since before Fischer skis had holes in their tips. He’s also the technical editor of Cross Country Skier and writes the how-to column “Back Shop” in each issue.

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