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Ask the Nutritionist

Park City sports dietitian Nanna L. Meyer, Ph.D., R.D. (and former member of the Swiss Ski Team) fields crucial questions - one or ten beers? - to keep you fit for the slopes.
posted: 06/09/2008

Skiing Magazine's monthly "Ask the Nutritionist" section features Nanna L. Meyer, Ph.D., R.D., a sports dietitian at Salt Lake City's Orthopedic Specialty Hospital and a former member of the Swiss Ski Team.  These are her answers to our burning questions.

Will caffeine help my skiing?
Face it: You wouldn't make it out of bed, much less to the slopes, without your morning coffee. So you have a minor addiction – but this doesn't mean you're bound for rehab. Like Alberto Tomba, who used to pound espresso in the starting gate, you're a fan of coffee's strongest ingredient, caffeine, which naturally causes your brain to fire off more neurotransmitters, the chemicals that relay messages between your gray matter and your muscles. The result? You're more alert and motivated, which translates to powerful skiing and increased tolerance for pain. Exactly how much caffeine you need to notice the benefits depends on your bulk. A 130-pound lightweight will show more alacrity with two to three shots of espresso, or one to two cups of black gold. Up the daily intake to four espresso shots, or three cups of coffee, for someone tipping the scales at 180 pounds. Soda, tea, chocolate, and guarana – a Brazilian plant that's the main ingredient in many energy drinks – all feed your need, but don't overdo it. Caffeine stays in the body for about six hours. Drink too much, and you may be jittery and irritable. For maximum effects, start with a higher dose morning brew. Follow with an antioxidant-rich green tea, black chai, or mocha midafternoon. Save the Red Bull and vodka for midnight dancing. Got it? If not, go chug a latte, then give this another read.


One beer or ten?
Sure, you want to knock back a few beers or cocktails after a day of ripping on the slopes. And you might even assume you're doing your body a favor by carbo-loading. But just because there's barley in those drinks doesn't mean you're getting an athletic edge by downing them. The alcohol in beer and other spirits impedes your muscles' storage of glycogen, the carbohydrate in the alcohol. That means fewer energy stores, which leads to weakened performance the next day. Also, alcohol can dehydrate your body. The combined effect of low energy and dehydrated cells leaves you feeling tired before you hit the slopes. And that could set the stage for a crash. Not that you should be a teetotaler on your next ski trip. Drinking a glass of wine or beer with dinner can be a great way to relax and get a good night's rest.  –Editor's note: C'mon Nanna, just a beer? How about three? And about those 10 Jager bombs…or should we keep that to ourselves?

 

What's the best diet for my joints?
If your joints hurt, they're probably inflamed. But popping ibuprofen isn't the only way to stop the pain. You can eat your way to more comfort with a fresh, unprocessed diet. Try eating fish like sardines, wild salmon, or cod at least twice per week. Include daily servings of whole grains and legumes, fruits (particularly berries), and vegetables, being sure to hit the olives, nuts, and seeds. This will give you the vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients you need to protect cells from inflammation.

  But that doesn't mean you have to give up your happy-hour binge on nachos, onion rings, and chicken wings (even though they're known to increase inflammation). Just cut back on the fatty foods and make a low-fat, fiber-rich diet your mainstay. Actually, the most important thing you can do for your joints is to maintain a healthy body weight. Every pound of weight lost reduces joint pressure by four pounds. In other words, drop 10 pounds and you'll the ease the pressure on your knees and hips by 40 pounds. Best of all, adding healthy foods to your diet will keep you trim and keep your joints from screamming "Hey, fatass, give us a frickin' break!" first thing in the morning.

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What's up with the camel effect?
Some skiers brag they can charge all day without stopping to eat and drink. But even if they make last chair without refreshments, they're more likely to bonk and crash than someone who breaks for lunch. That's because the body stores only a limited amount of energy as carbohydrates. Once it's depleted, it needs to be replaced. And the only way to refuel is to eat nutrient-rich food.

A skier's body gets most of its energy and power from glycogen: carbohydrate stored in the muscle. Once the glycogen's gone, the body resorts to burning fat, an energy source that takes much longer to metabolize than glycogen. When the body switches to fat, the muscles lose their strength, quick reflexes, and power.  The skier bonks and has to slow down. And if he's skiing steeps, bumps, or trees, he's more likely to crash. Dehydration further complicates things by increasing strain on the heart and causing headaches and nausea, especially at altitude.

So the next time you're skiing with a self-proclaimed camel, don't be a copycat. Stoke your engine with a lunch of soup and bread and drink fluids all day to stay strong.


 

Best fuel for the slopes: candy or sports bar?
Chocolate might seem like the perfect skiing snack food, but when you want to push all day, leave the Kit Kat behind and reach for an energy bar. With a precise balance of carbohydrate, protein, and very little fat, energy bars provide a steady, easily absorbed stream of important nutrients and minerals during skiing. Combined, carbohydrate and protein satiate your hunger, deliver fuel directly to your muscles, and efficiently help your recovery. A candy bar (or toaster pastry, or other sweet) is loaded with fat, which slows digestion and nutrient absorption. Not all fat is bad, however. Though it should be consumed only in small amounts during exercise, fat remains an important fuel on long, grueling days when you expend a lot of energy. To replenish your fat stores after such an excursion, eat a well-balanced meal, such as a pasta dish with fish and olive oil. Remember that too much protein will have the same effect as too much fat, so no snacking on sausage links.

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