Skiing at altitude is one of the most challenging and stressful environments for exercise to take place and can have a detrimental affect on performance. The greater the altitude (>5000m) the more disturbances occur than at moderate altitudes (2000-3000m).
Common Nutritional Issues during Skiing
Exposure to altitude results in an increased carbohydrate requirement as a fuel source for energy and also an increased resting metabolic rate (energy used while resting). The increased metabolic rate is most likely to be associated with an inadequate food intake. High altitude exposure can result in appetite suppression causing a reduction in food intake. Therefore energy requirements are increased at altitude to compensate for the increased resting metabolic rate and carbohydrate requirements.
Dehydration is a common issue at altitude and can affect physical and mental performance of the skier. Fluid losses via sweat are normal whilst skiing to maintain body temperature but will need to be replaced. Also as the air at altitude is dry and cold, water is lost through breathing. Fluid requirements at rest and whilst skiing need to be increased at altitude to compensate for these losses to prevent the skier from becoming dehydrated.
The Role of Carbohydrates during Skiing
Carbohydrate is an important energy source for skiing performance. Carbohydrates are stored as muscle glycogen, a fuel store that must be constantly replaced. Replacement of muscle glycogen stores are essential after a day of skiing.
Skiing predominately uses carbohydrates in the form of blood glucose (sugar in blood) and muscle glycogen and both of these carbohydrate energy supplies can become reduced after long hours skiing.
Consuming low to moderate intakes of carbohydrate may not replace the glycogen stores used during a skiing day and can result in gradual depletion of glycogen stores and lead to a feeling of prolonged fatigue. Also, 7-14 days continual skiing is an increased exercise load or intensity (than normally participated in) and can place extra strain on glycogen stores. Symptoms of a low carbohydrate intake are muscle heaviness and a lack of energy to ski.
The Effects of Low Glycogen Stores
The fatigue caused by low glycogen stores can predispose the skier to an increased risk of injury especially later in the day as stores become more depleted. Glycogen depletion from muscle fibres that maybe recruited to quickly respond to an unusual situation could increase the risk of a fall or an injury. Carbohydrates (in the form of blood sugar/glucose) are also the main fuel for the brain and can affect mental performance in such activity especially later in the day. Therefore, concentration during skiing is dependent on maintenance of carbohydrate intake.
Replacement of Carbohydrate Stores and Increasing Energy Intake
Higher amounts of carbohydrate are needed to replace glycogen stores and maintain blood glucose levels which can be achieved by consuming high density carbohydrate-containing foods, snacks and drinks.
Ideally consuming 7-10g/kg/day of carbohydrate should be sufficient to replace glycogen stores if exercise is greater than 90-120 minutes, whilst ensuring 15 – 30g/hr of carbohydrate is consumed during skiing.
Sports drinks are a good and quick option whilst skiing that contain 5 – 8% (5-8g/100ml fluid) carbohydrates (see hydration info below) and carbohydrate rich snacks.
Typical Carbohydrate rich foods and snacks can include:
Maintaining Hydration Levels
Consuming a sports drink is the most practical way to ensure adequate fluid intake and also supplies essential carbohydrates for glycogen replacement. Sports drinks also contain electrolytes (sodium, potassium and magnesium) that encourage drinking, minimizes urine losses and helps to maintain hydration levels.
Signs of dehydration are:
Fluid intakes of 250-500ml/hr during exercise is recommended that include 5-8% carbohydrate (5-8g carbohydrate/100ml fluid) with electrolytes.
Examples of typical sport drinks (ready made) include:
6% (6g per 100ml)
Glycose Syrup and Maltodextrin
Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium and Calcium
6% (6g per 100ml)
Sucrose and Glucose
Sodium & Potassium
8% (8g per 100ml)
Sucrose & Maltodextrin
Sodium & Potassium
Cordial/Soft Drink/Fruit Juices/Energy drinks are generally too high in carbohydrate and too low in electrolytes for ideal fluid replacement. Fizzy soft drink decreases fluid intake. As carbohydrate concentration increases beyond 8%, water absorption slows reducing time to rehydrate.
Timing of Fluid Intake
Focus on consuming fluids throughout the morning and afternoon followed by moderate intake during evening meals and pre-bedtime snack. Consuming excessive fluid before sleeping will result in a restless night with frequent visits to the toilet. This will not aid in rest and recovery required for the following day skiing.
1. Before Exercise
Sports drinks are ideal in the hour before skiing. The carbohydrate tops up muscle glycogen fuel levels, while the added sodium reduces urine losses before exercise begins.
2. During Exercise
Sports drinks are primarily designed for use during exercise, for optimal fluid and fuel delivery. They will allow the skier to perform for longer and more effectively.
After a day skiing there may be a delay until arriving at your accommodation for the evening meal (descent from glacier may take 60-120mins). Use this time to start recovery and replacement of glycogen stores for the following day skiing.
Recovery only starts after eating a carbohydrate based snack or meal. One gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight (i.e. 70g in a 70 kg person) is needed to kick-start optimal fuel recovery. This should be followed up with a carbohydrate source at the next meal time.
Sports drinks greatly assist re-hydration and carbohydrate intake. For complete recovery, sports drinks need to be consumed with a food source that provides carbohydrate as well as protein to aid glycogen repletion and vitamins and minerals.
Examples of post-skiing snacks:
600ml sports drink + cereal bar =50g carbs
Banana + Tub of low-fat fruit yoghurt = 45g carbs
Flavoured milk (300 mL) + muesli bar + apple= 65g carbs
Meat/chicken & salad roll + piece of fresh fruit = 50 g carbs
Having a few alcoholic drinks is a typical après ski activity! However, the following points are recommended while at altitude and skiing:
For more information about skiing, health and nutrition, please get in touch and also check out the testimonials in our specialist ski section.