Nutrition for Cold Weather Sports

As a dietitian with Alberta Sport Development Center, I get to work with a variety of young athletes. A special small component of these athletes are the ones that train and compete in cold weather sports such as alpine and freestyle skiing or snowboarding. Many of our athletes also continue to train outside such as running and cycling even in the snow and cold. There are unique food and fluid challenges athletes face when they train and compete in the sub zero temperatures outside. These challenges include

  • An increase risk of hypothermia with the cold temperatures. Athletes may feel a reduced desire to eat and drink.
  • As an athlete sweats and then cools down after waiting for the next event or training run they can start shivering. Shivering uses up a lot of energy and can quickly tire an athlete, affecting their performance.
  • Access to food and fluids may not be easily available for cold weather athletes as they are often outside in the country or on a ski hill. They may also find it difficult to eat and drink, by having to undress or take off gloves. I also find that it can be hard to convince athletes to take a break to eat and drink because in Southern Alberta we don’t always have a lot of snow so athletes want to take advantage of all the time they can get on the hill!

So when it comes supporting winter sport athletes to drink and eat enough to support their activity we have to come up with some different strategies. It is really important for athletes to focus on drinking adequate fluids prior to their training and competition so that they start off well hydrated. Two to three hours before hitting the slope they should aim to have two to three cups of fluid. When they are at the ski hill they can carry a water bottle in a backpack which can be left at the top or the bottom of the hill so they can have a drink before or after a run. I have learned that while that seems like a very practical strategy, that in reality sometimes their water freezes when they leave it in their backpack. So other strategies that can help prevent their fluids from freezing include:

  • wrapping their water bottle up in extra clothing they carry in their backpack
  • keeping their bottle of the ground and snow
  • using an insulated container to keep water cool but not frozen
  • packing warm beverages or soups in insulated containers to help take away the chill of training outside as well as hydrate.

Cold weather can suppress an athlete’s appetite so they don’t feel like eating. Packing small carbohydrate based snacks that are easy to eat with gloves are key. Foods that can be stuffed into jacket pockets include dried fruit, trail mix and granola bars. Snacks that can be packed in a backpack include peanut butter and jam sandwiches, wraps with lean meat, crackers and cheese, chocolate milk (hot or cold) or a juice box. Yogurt tubes are also convenient because even if they freeze they still taste great and are easy to eat!

With a little planning athletes who train and compete in cold weather sports can ensure they are meeting their food and fluid needs to perform at their best.

Kimberlee Brooks, RD, MSc, is a sport dietitian with the Alberta Sport Development Centre and can be reached at asdc@mhc.ab.ca

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