When you wake up, check the snow report, and see the wonderful news of 11 pristine, beautiful inches fallen on the ground, the first thing on your mind is probably fresh tracks and a good excuse for getting to work late—not breakfast. And after hours of ropes dropping and perfect runs down the Wasatch’s finest, odds are that more snow is what’s on the menu for lunch. By the time you’re done for the day, so is your metabolism. So how can you keep your engine burning hot during long days of snow sports?
And while we’re on that question, how about some others: How can you avoid altitude sickness as you’re traveling to mountaintops and high-altitude mountain towns? How can you make healthier choices at the resort? Are carbs actually bad for you?
We tapped Anne Pesek-Taylor, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist at the University of Utah Health, to answer these questions and give us a healthy dose of unfussy, evidence-based nutrition. Her guidelines cover know when to eat, how to eat, and what to eat to stay healthy as winter sets in—so you can catch all the powder you could possibly chase this season.
You’ve probably heard all the nasty rumors about carbs—but don’t listen. According to research from the US Institution of Medicine, carbohydrates are needed as an easily-metabolized energy source during aerobic exercise, but may also play a particularly important role when addressing altitude sickness. Theoretically, it’s believed that carbohydrate intake may aid with blood oxygenation. “This could be due to higher carbon dioxide production during carbohydrate metabolism in comparison to fat and protein metabolism,” Pesek-Taylor says. “Therefore, including a substantial source of carbohydrates at meals and snacks is ideal when exercising at altitude.”
Staying ahead of altitude sickness is crucial—once you start to experience symptoms it’s often too late to bounce back and feel better. Pesek-Taylor says. “So plan knowing that there is less oxygen here than there is at sea level. You don’t want to get to the point of having headaches, dehydration, nausea, or decreased appetite.
To avoid these gnarly symptoms, Pesek-Taylor recommends travelers coming in to the mountains start monitoring their hydration status before you even board your plane for the mountains. Pay attention your urine color—it’s not gross, it’s smart. If it’s apple juice-colored then you are dehydrated. Replenish fluids by sipping 8-16 ounces of water immediately, and try to drink around 64 ounces (at least) of water daily.
“Don’t go too long between meals,” Pesek-Taylor says. “When you get super hungry and sit down to a big meal it’s hard to regulate how much you eat.”
She recommends scheduling snack breaks every few hours, and focusing on rich carbohydrate and protein sources to replenish glycogen stores that can build and repair muscle tissue damaged during a day on the slopes. Try packing some dried fruit, Lara bars, string cheese, Graze snack packs, trail mix, Oatmega bars, or pretzels into your pockets or sit down and have a cup of hot chocolate (prepared with milk) at the resort in between runs.
To avoid eating too much or too little, it’s important to be aware of what you’re activity level is. There are increased needs for carbs to fuel your workout and replenishing protein for muscle tissue health no matter what if you’re outside and active, but it’s an important caveat to “increased needs” based on how much you’re increasing your activity level.
“There’s a huge difference in nutrition needs between folks who are going down the bunny slopes a few times and people who are having intense full-day snowshoe treks or ski days all over the resort or in the backcountry. Know where you’re at on that scale,” Pesek-Taylor says.
If you’re on the lower end of activity levels, Pesek-Taylor says that it’s important to eat a balanced breakfast and to hydrate. She recommends 16 ounces of water with toast with nut butter and a piece of fruit like a banana.
For moderate- to high-intensity workouts lasting more than an hour, choose a carbohydrate-rich meal an hour or two prior to exercise. Try oatmeal topped with milk, dried fruit, and nuts or a whole wheat bagel topped with nut butter and sliced banana. Like savory foods? Try a breakfast of two eggs, two slices wheat toast, and ½ cup fresh fruit or a two-egg veggie omelet with fruit and a slice toast.
Really want that chocolate chip cookie? That’s okay, have it. But make sure you’re also having a meal full of veggies and protein to go with it. "Try using the ‘Plate method’ of eating for a general mealtime guide. The Plate method encourages you to fill half of your plate with veggies and fruit, while the other half consists of a portion of protein and grain. When you’re on vacation or it’s the weekend, go ahead and know that it’s okay to enjoy less healthy favorites in moderation,” Pesek-Taylor says. “Everything does fit in a balanced diet—but the Plate method makes you more conscious of portions. It lets you choose your favorite pastry to eat instead of trying all the pastries at the buffet,” she says.
There’s plenty of room in a skier’s diet for a smoothie or a hot chocolate—or even a beer or two but you have to remember that they count towards your daily diet intake. ““Alcoholic beverages, smoothies, and hot chocolate provide nutrition too,” Pesek-Taylor says. “When enjoying these, you might want to scale back on portions at meals or substitute a snack for your smoothie or hot chocolate to compensate for the added liquid nutrition."
We know, restaurants make eating after a day on the slopes easy, but they also make eating healthily pretty damn tough. That’s why Pesek-Taylor wants to give you some lunch and dinner hacks. When you’re in the lodge or a post-slopes restaurant, order one of these options off the menu:
a. ½ sandwich + ½ salad
b. Cup of broth-based soup + ½ salad
c. Lean Fish/chicken (baked, broiled, grilled) + veggie side
d. Leaner cuts of red meat (pork chop, sirloin steak, or flank steak) + veggie side
e. Salad with fish, grilled chicken, beans or eggs for a protein
f. Something more decadent sound most appealing? Everything fits in moderation. Ask for a half portion or see if someone at the table wants to share. Portion size greatly impacts the nutritional content.
Believe it or not snacking strategically can help to keep you warmer out there as temperatures drop. The phenomenon is called “thermogenesis,” and allows you to stay warm and in turn, as wells as burn extra calories for what else, more snacking! “Eating and digesting your daily snacks and meals can trigger thermogenesis to help warm the body,” Pesek-Taylor explains. “But it’s important to note that the individual calorie expenditure associated with thermogenesis varies substantially, usually accounting between 15 to 50 percent of one’s total energy expenditure.” So either get a puffier down jacket or stuff your pockets with a few more pretzels.
Words by Lauren Steele
Sponsored by University of Utah Health