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How to feed yourself on a day of skiing

Elena Casiraghi, PhD – Equipe Enervit
The ski season is now here. Most of the slopes are snow-covered and already at full capacity thanks to the recent favourable weather that has allowed all the prerequisites to open the ski facilities on time. Whether you prefer downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, skimming, and whether you are a skier on the slope or a fresh snow skier, it doesn't matter. The doubt, in fact, is always the same: what’s the best food to eat before a day out on the slopes?

Surely you need energy as low temperatures increase the demand for it. But this does not translate into consuming as much as possible in breakfast with the idea of getting full of energy. This is unfortunately still the widespread belief today. But it is a false myth. Let's find out how to eat in a day on the snow.

Pre-ski breakfast: what to eat before going down the slope

Surely it is necessary to have breakfast. The reason is simple. Taking a small meal within an hour of waking up allows the body to get going and recover oxidized sugars during the night from the nervous system to provide it with energy. This reserve of sugar consumed is called liver glycogen. The quantity in question is actually limited. It is therefore not necessary to consume large quantities of food. On the contrary, this is an important mistake that could put the body in crisis during the day. Once the oxidised liver glycogen has been recovered, the energy reserves can be considered to be mostly saturated. The excess carbohydrates taken could then be accumulated as fat mass. But there is more.
If you eat a lot of carbohydrates at breakfast, less energy will be available in the following hours. This is a physiological event called reactive hypoglycemia. In other words, after a meal rich in carbohydrates, the concentration of blood sugar (glycaemia) increases. This event indicates the synthesis of the hormone insulin. It is no coincidence that insulin is also referred to more simply as "storage hormone". It therefore happens that after about 60-90 minutes all the sugar consumed disappears from the bloodstream. This sudden drop in glycaemia induces as a first symptom a sensation of energy emptiness which translates into "hole in the stomach", dizziness, a decrease in attention, that is the effectiveness of reflexes, nervousness, an increasingly strong feeling of hunger. The result is that at the first refuge we will take off our skis and throw ourselves inside to order a slice of tornado with hot chocolate. It follows that in doing so we will trigger this vicious circle.

So how do we take on energy but without excesses and maintain mental lucidity?

It's simple. Just balance each meal and in particular breakfast. In other words, it means taking in every nutrient that is needed without excess. It’s just as important to eat the right amount of protein from lean sources as it is carbohydrates. This combination has several advantages: it promotes satiety at mealtimes and in the following hours, optimises mental lucidity and helps maintain physical fitness and muscle tone. All this is very interesting, but how does it translate into practical terms at the table? Here are some examples:

  • Porridge based on oat flakes with milk (cow's milk, soya, oat) or water with dried fruit and nuts (eg. walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts). The ideal would be to add half a portion of powdered protein from whey or vegetable sources; as an alternative to porridge it is possible to consume cow's white yoghurt or natural soya yoghurt;
  • Wholemeal toast with lean sliced meat to which you can add a fresh fruit;
  • Eggs beaten with wholemeal bread and/or fresh fruit. If you consume it is advisable to choose only egg white;
  • Wholemeal toasted bread with natural jam and smeared cow's milk ricotta cheese.

The advice is to combine breakfast with a hot drink such as tea or coffee both to promote rehydration after the long night interval and to promote body thermoregulation.

Hydration and integration during the morning

Here you will find some strategies to keep you healthy and efficient from a sports point of view to face your skiing day in the best shape.
Carbohydrate supplementation during exercise in gel or bar format
In the event of prolonged events on days of harsh weather, athletes are at risk of hiker's hypothermia (hiker's hypothermia). Prolonged exposure to cold and fatigue induced by prolonged physical exertion can compromise the mechanism of chills and vasoconstrictive response to cold. This modification increases the risk of hypothermia. It is not clear why this happens but there is evidence that a drop in blood glucose may increase this danger. This seems to suggest that a large intake of carbohydrates is particularly important when the exercise is conducted in an extremely rigid environment.
Studies also show that the energy that is spent to stay warm in extremely cold conditions can increase by a factor of 5 compared to milder temperatures. In practice, the oxidation of carbohydrates increases 6 times while that of lipids increases only 2 times. Because every gram of oxidized fat provides more than twice as many calories as carbohydrates and because fat is a good insulator, many people have mistakenly taken fat-rich foods with the belief that they can adapt to the cold.

Maintaining a wide availability of carbohydrates even at cold temperatures becomes essential, if not vital.

The gel format reduces the time it takes for carbohydrates to remain inside the stomach (compared to solid carbohydrates such as energy bars), thus favouring both the availability of energy and optimal gastric emptying, as well as winning in terms of low weight and practicality of use.
Rehydration also wants its share
There is undoubtedly a false myth that in the cold the body does not lose its optimal state of hydration. Sometimes it is true, one does not sweat, but this does not mean that the body, to dissipate the heat produced by muscle work, does not use alternative mechanisms to sweating. One of these is the so-called perspiratio insensibilis. Better understood is that little cloud that can be observed coming out of the mouth and nose during exercise conducted in a cold environment.
The intake of cold drinks would undoubtedly take heat away from the body, which is certainly not beneficial. The advice then is to use thermos with hot water and diluted isotonic drinks or tea-based drinks (be careful not to overdo it during the day). If the activity gets really intense you can add powdered maltodextrins so as to provide energy quickly. They also have an almost neutral taste by their very nature.

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