What can you do to make sure that you’re on top of every run, and that your body lasts the season, plus the next 10 seasons to come?
This program is based on a study carried out at five snow sport areas in Western Canada on patrollers, instructors and lift operators just like you. Follow the advice in this booklet to:
Carbohydrate equals energy
Carbohydrate is the key nutrient for fueling your activity. Carbs are the preferred fuel for the brain and nerves, and for muscle movements that are fast or powerful. Snow sport professionals and other active people need to get as much as 70% of their calories from carbohydrates.
Sugars are simple carbs (white and brown sugar, honey, jam, syrup, almost all sweet tasting foods). They’re digested and absorbed quickly (within 5-10 min) so they generally cause a large rise in the hormone insulin. Insulin in turn causes the sugars to move from your blood into cells where they can be used. If you’re not exercising the sugars are mostly converted to fat and stored instead of being burned, and once they are turned into fat they can’t easily be used by your nerves and brain.
When blood sugar changes too much it makes it hard to concentrate and react quickly to unexpected events like catching an edge. People who ate snacks high in complex carbs and low fat protein every 2-3 hours while working were able to make the correct choice faster when faced with a complex visual stimulus. Overall, their performance was improved by 15% vs. when they ate more sugar and fat. Just think about how much better you would read the terrain if your nervous system was reacting that much more accurately.
Complex carbs are starches, made up of long chains of the sugar glucose. You can find them in all grains (rice, oats, corn, quinoa, barley, millet etc); flour products like breads, crackers, and pastas; as well as in fruits and vegetable foods. Since you have to break complex carbs down to release the glucose units, the sugars are released in small amounts over about 1 hour. This makes them perfect for supplying your nerves and brain with a slow steady supply of fuel.
If you’re going to start skiing, boarding or shoveling right after you eat, foods that contain simple sugars can give you a jumpstart.
But sometimes you have a long wait in between eating and starting an activity, like during the drive to the hill or if you have an hour in the shack. In this case, choose complex carbs with more fiber so that you don’t trigger a large release of insulin which leads to a drop in blood sugar and you crashing! Most active people know the feeling caused by low blood sugar; irritability, fatigue, shakiness, loss of attention, dizziness, and maybe some nausea.
Carbohydrates are also a critical fuel for your immune system. If your diet is too low in carbs your ability to fight infections will be impaired, and being sick on a powder day sucks!
Protein for punch
Protein is in constant demand for the repair of body tissues, to create fresh enzymes, and build new muscle. Your protein requirement may be slightly higher than usual when you’re skiing and boarding all day, every day. Since your muscles contract as you resist gravity pulling you down the hill, (eccentric contractions) small tears are more likely to occur in working muscle. A little more protein can help keep your muscle from breaking down too much and give it the building blocks to make necessary repairs.
Protein, which is made up of units called amino acids, is more complicated than carbohydrates and takes longer to digest (about 2 hours). Since protein takes longer to digest, it can supply you with energy longer. When protein is part of a meal or snack, it slows down the digestion of carbohydrate, providing a slow, steady release of fuel. So eating a little protein every 2-3 hours with each snack is a good strategy, it can help keep you from running out of energy.
Protein from meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products – often referred to as complete protein has all the amino acids your body needs to create new tissue. (Some of these foods also contain substantial amounts of fat, which is a good reason not to overdo some high-protein foods like cheese, beef and nuts).
Protein from tofu, dried beans and lentils is also highly useful. These vegetable sources are sometimes said to have incomplete protein because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. But eaten in combination with each other, vegetable proteins have what it takes (Combine beans or tofu with whole grains over the course of your day to get “complete” protein). Vegetable protein also has the advantage of being lower in fat and full of great vitamins, minerals, and disease fighting fiber. Plus, it’s generally way less expensive than animal protein foods.
For a nice steady supply of energy all day long, try to include a small amount of low-fat protein, such as lean meat, skinless chicken, fish, low-fat milk products, tofu, or cooked dried beans in every meal and snack. Check out the Fit for Snow manual for menus, recipes and great snack suggestions that have just the right combination of complex carbs and proteins to keep you skiing and boarding like a champ.
Cap the fat
Fat is twice as concentrated in calories as carbohydrate and protein and it can be stored in unlimited amounts (darn!). But don’t trash fats completely, they do provide the very important essential fatty acids and vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Fats have the most staying power because they’re high in calories and digested very slowly (three to four hours). But because the release of energy is so slow, fat will only fuel slow work. If you want to ski or board hard, too much fat can make you feel sluggish. And it’s never a good fuel for your brain and nerves.
Save your fat allowance for places where it really makes a difference. You can often reduce the fat in a meal by half or more without it changing the taste or texture of the foods Check out the Fit for Snow manual for some great low fat recipes and tips on to how to take your favorite food and decrease the fat content.
Make your fat choices count for health too, by avoiding trans and saturated fats and using nutrient-rich unsaturated oils like olive or canola when you have to add a bit of fat for cooking. You’ll find the important inflammation fighting omega-3 fats in cold-water fish, canola, walnuts, and fresh ground flax seed; try to eat a little of these foods on a regular basis.
Choose leaner cuts of meat and remove the skin from chicken. Skim milk and other low fat dairy products are great sources of protein and calcium to keep your bones strong enough to withstand damage when you bite it big time.
Switch out high-fat margarine or butter for nutrient rich cottage cheese mixed with a little jam as a topping for your toast. Use chutney or mustard and vegetable slices on your sandwiches instead of cheese, butter and mayo, and your sandwiches will give you the energy you need when you need it.
This attention to fat may seem a bit picky when you’re shoveling, loading chairs, or riding all day. But you need the right kind of fuel at the right time to work at your peak, avoid injuries and stay healthy.
Focus on the fluids
Staying hydrated is important for health and your ability to concentrate, make good decisions and avoid injury. This holds true even though dehydration doesn’t impair physical performance as much in the cold as it does in the heat. You should try to drink about 3 L of water each day, best if consumed in small amounts.
Dehydration occurs because physical activity in the cold still generates heat. While it’s possible to release heat into the cold air, it’s likely that you are all bundled up to stay warm while riding the lifts or standing around waiting for students/chairs/toboggan. So by creating your own mini climate with your down jacket, you lose water through sweat when you are working hard. There is also a fair bit of water lost by evaporation into cold dry air as you breathe, especially at higher altitudes.
Drinking 3 L of water already presents an on-the-job challenge, but it becomes even harder to stay hydrated if you are a coffee drinker or been out boozing the night before. Both of these substances have strong diuretic effects. After a night of partying with a wee bit too much alcohol, there are significant decreases in your ability to be attentive, to concentrate and to react to unexpected situations.
The more hung over you are, the worse your performance at both mental and physical tasks.
Consuming the equivalent of 4 drinks will dehydrate you by about a liter; combining alcohol with energy drinks makes that even worse. The energy drink masks your perception of how affected you are by the alcohol, making it more likely that you will drink more, do more tabletop dancing, and sleep even less.
And the caffeine it contains will dehydrate you even further. So if you do find yourself in that situation try to make sure that you drink WATER to replace that litre, while you are consuming the alcohol. (You might just find that your hangover is not quite so severe.)
The fastest way to move liquid into your body is to drink cool water, just a small amount at a time. Adding a little carbohydrate together with a small amount of salt and potassium (like in a sport drink) speeds the process up even further. But unless you’ve been sweating very heavily (big shoveling job), been drinking heavily (partyin’ down), or you don’t have access to enough water (big hike), you probably don’t need to worry about the electrolytes.
And sorry to say, but beer is not an effective hydration drink, unless its alcohol content is less than 2%. (Most beer is at least 4%).
Timing is everything
The timing of eating is particularly important for people with strenuous jobs – just as it is for athletes during competition. When you eat your meals and snacks and what you choose to eat at particular times can make a huge difference to your ability to stay alert, slay the gnar, and have fresh legs each day.
The key to working the energy game successfully is to look at which fuels generate power and speed (complex carbs and low fat protein), which are slow and steady (fats), which fuels are in limited supply (carbs) and which ones are stored in bulk (guess? Your hint is muffin top).
Carbs are great for keeping us alert and making good decisions, speeding up our reflexes and generating powerful movements. The problem is, we don’t store very much of them.
After a night of sleep, or about 90 minutes of moderate activity carb stores (called glycogen) are pretty much depleted. At that stage we eat; or get grumpy, stop paying attention, lose coordination, slow down and feel tired.
Eat breakfast to make sure you have energy to get the hill opened up.
Fats are big complicated molecules that we store in abundance, so while they have a lot of energy available, they also take a long time to break down, and the brain and nerves are never very happy running on fat. It is possible to increase our ability to get more power out of fat burning. That’s how marathon runners get such great speed for such long races, but you have to put in a lot of hard training to get there.
So most people need to keep their carb supply topped up, and that’s where timing becomes important. In order to make sure that you have enough glycogen, first you need to eat breakfast just like Mom said. Afterwards, munch on small complex carb and low fat protein snacks every 2-3 hours. Leave it longer than that and your blood sugar won’t be able to supply your brain, nerves and muscles. Remember that workers who followed the small complex carb, low fat protein snack regime every 2-3 hours were able to perform 15% better when faced with a complex visual task than when they ate high fat and sugar foods. Faster reaction time combined with increased accuracy is guaranteed to take your riding up a notch or two not to mention how it might help save you from hitting that tree.
And what you eat right after work will make a big difference to how your legs feel the next day (please read on).
Make meals work for you
Each meal should be based on complex carbs. Look for whole grain products to include fiber, vitamins and minerals. The less processing the product goes through the more likely it is to contain nutrients. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also great carb sources and are almost limitless in variety. Then add in a little low-fat protein; both animal and vegetable sources have their advantages, so mix it up.
Breakfast to Order:
For a drive to the hill of 1.5 – 2.5 hrs, go for low-fat proteins: Wholegrain bread french toast with non-sugar yogurt and fruit, or an omelet made ½ whole eggs and ½ egg whites, some veggies plus whole grain toast are both great choices.
If you have 1 - 1.5 hrs, favor complex carbs with protein such as low fat cottage cheese with fresh fruit, slow cooking oats (but stay away from the sugar or syrup) or a power smoothie (see the Fit for Snow book for great recipes).
For less than ½ hr, you’ll want foods that digest quickly: Wholegrain no-sugar cereal plus low-fat milk or no-sugar-added low-fat yogurt; or toast with non-fat cream cheese and fresh fruit (this won’t last very long though so be sure to pick power snacks from Tip #7 to make it ’til lunchtime!).
Munch Some Lunch:
Lunch should be a readily digestible, power snack (see Tip #7), and a couple of your favorite runs. That means not settling for a pocketful of candy or a plate of french fries. Choose a sandwich or power muffin (see the Fit for Snow manual for some great recipes), plus fresh fruit. Bonus: Fruit is full of protective antioxidants and hydrating fluids!
This is your secret weapon; don’t share it with the competition. It will prevent “heavy leg syndrome” on day 4 of a storm cycle, big tour, or race series!
Immediately after you stop physical activity, your body is primed for restoration and repair. This is a key time to take in mostly quick digesting carbs and just a bit of protein – the sooner the better. The enzymes that replenish glycogen are highly active only in the first 1 to 2 hours after exercise stops.
So unless you will be eating supper within 1-2 hr of stopping work, be sure to pack an extra power snack (small sandwich, fruit, and baked good) for the drive back. This is the one time that getting some insulin going is helpful – it will promote recovery and muscle building in this short window of 1-2 hours after exercise. So you can go ahead and have something sweet (but low fat as it needs to digest quickly).
You won’t be ravenous at suppertime if you’ve fueled up all day – and that’s a good thing. Eat what you like and let your body tell you when you’ve had enough (be sure to listen for that STOP signal). BUT - if you haven’t eaten since skiing, pay special attention to carbs (rice, pasta, potatoes, bread). It’s critical to replace muscle glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate) before tomorrow.
Pick power snacks
Snacking has a bad rep. That probably comes from the term “snack food” which usually refers to high fat and sugar foods that aren’t particularly good for you. But eating small amounts of nourishing foods often is a good way to keep your body functioning smoothly 24/7.
For hardcore skiers and boarders, snacking is indispensable. How else to keep your energy level steady so you can keep going hard? And avoid the discomfort and loss of performance that comes with being either hungry or stuffed.
Pack some solid nutrition before you leave for work each morning. The more variety, the better:
Whole grain bagel with light cream cheese.
Low fat, high protein muffins with ingredients such as berries, banana, and bran and wheat germ.
Fresh fruit and low fat non sugar yogurt (aspartame does NOT cause cancer).
Raw veggies: Carrot, parsnip, squash, jicama, radish, zucchini, cucumber, hot or sweet peppers, broccoli and cauliflower with bean spread or non fat cream cheese dip.
Whole grain buns, bagels, bread, or pita with lean meat, chicken or turkey breast, or bean spreads and lots of veggies.
Whole wheat wraps with rice plus chicken, or cold cooked dried beans or lentils and some veggies.
Cold potatoes (skin on) with lean meat, chicken, cooked lentils or dried beans or hard-cooked eggs.
Cold whole wheat pasta with a little lean meat or fish and low fat sauce (see the Power Eating book for some recipes).
A few nuts.
Power squares or cookies from the Fit for Snow manual that are high in complex carbs, low fat protein, low in fat and taste yummy of course!
There are small nerve endings located inside of muscle, tendon, ligament and the joint capsule that provide information to your brain and spinal cord about your body position and how fast it is changing. These nerve endings are very important to protect us against injury because when something is changing very rapidly there is a much greater chance that it may be forced beyond its normal range.
The good news is that these sensors are very sensitive and they respond very quickly, sending their information back out to the muscle to get it ready to support the increasing load. For example as you are landing a jump, the increasing pressure in the joints between your vertebrae tell the muscles of the back and abdomen to contract and support the spine.
The bad news is that these nerve endings are very easily damaged. Previous injury, pain, swelling, cold, vibration, and fatigue all slow or even distort the signals. The end result is that the force on the joint or the muscle increases faster than the protective reflex can kick in. An injury results because the force exceeds the strength of the joint structure when the muscle doesn’t provide support in time.
The other thing that contributes to the problem is when because of a previous injury, poor fitness or bad habits, the reflex is re-set so that the wrong muscle is recruited. In some cases, this not only reduces the muscular support, but can even increase the force being exerted on the joint making it even more susceptible to injury.
Recently this whole field of muscle recruitment and stabilization has become a focal point for injury prevention and performance enhancement for sport scientists. Programs designed to reset and sharpen the reflexes have been shown to be very effective at decreasing injuries in non contact sports like soccer, basket ball and volleyball. Even more recently it is being applied to snow sports and occupational injuries.
Focused agility exercises and correct core activation can be incorporated into an exercise program to reduce the risk of injury. The bonus is that when the right muscle is recruited at the right time, with increased speed, you get much better power outputs!
Fitness is the key
If you want to attain peak physical performance, you need to be fit. It doesn’t matter whether it’s skiing, boarding, free heeling, shoveling, hiking or bumping chairs. It’s the powerful muscles, stable joints, good endurance, fast reflexes and speed when you need it that will allow you to reach that higher level you are aiming for.
Don’t plan to wait until you start your season: There just isn’t enough recovery time if you want to push the limit every day. Add-in sleep loss due to socializing and a poor diet, and instead of adapting your body starts to break down.
Without the resources to heal the small bits of damage that occur each day, they get worse and worse until all of a sudden it hurts too much to go for a run and you have a repetitive strain injury.
In the research study most snow sport workers tested were not very good at completing a series of functional movement tests that were designed to evaluate strength, endurance and stability. And 80% of patrols, 92% of instructors and 88% of lift operators reported previous injuries that caused chronic pain or some limitation of activity.
It takes time and hard work to get in shape. When you work out harder than usual you send your body a signal that it needs to adapt. Then you need the right building materials to create new tissue and enzymes (amino acids, sugars, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals) and then finally you have to make sure that you have the energy and time to allow your body to make the desired changes. But increased fitness has been proven over and over to reduce overuse injuries.
The fit for snow manual has the training program designed specifically for patrollers, instructors and lift operators. It’s not the only way to get in shape, but it was designed to help you get in shape faster than a standard program. Based on the latest in sports science techniques, it’s aimed at strengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are under stress during skiing and boarding, shoveling, bumping chairs and lifting up students, and training them to work along with your nervous system to protect your joints.
If you are already into your season, you won’t be able to do the full program, but even just getting started with some of the core work will help to reduce further injury and decrease existing pain.
Learn to be weight-wise
If you are like almost 80% of the population, you probably have some concerns about your weight being either too high or too low. Surprisingly, many of the participants in the research study at the 5 ski areas were overweight.
Regular, strenuous exercise is the best technique for burning fat. But don’t use a scale to assess fat loss. Chances are you’ll build muscle while working at a snow sport area, and muscle is heavier than fat. Know that if your clothes are getting looser, you’re losing fat.
If you were lean before you started your season, make sure you eat enough healthy food to keep your weight up. When you don’t take in enough food to meet your energy needs, your immune system can’t fight off infections like colds and flus, or repair the small bits of wear and tear in your muscles and other tissues.
Even worse, your nervous system won’t be getting the fuel it needs to keep your reflexes working at top speed, leaving you vulnerable to injury. A quick way to pack in some healthy calories is to add ¼ cup of dry skim milk powder to anything. It’s a great inexpensive source of low fat protein and some carbs, and will help maintain your weight.
Even if you would be happy to shed a few pounds, eat to keep your blood sugar stable and supply your body with all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. Lose weight too fast and your body will do everything in its power to gain it back – and more. Human bodies are programmed for survival: the rate at which a body burns calories will drop if you don’t eat enough.
Be cautious of cafeteria food. High fat items like pizza, french fries and commercial muffins might look attractive, but they are loaded with nutrient poor calories. The combination of fat and sugar is guaranteed to decrease your performance on the hill.
If you practice the recommendations in this program you will be learning healthy eating and activity patterns. Wherever you go at the end of the winter, you can take those good practices along. You may not be worried about your health now, but did you know that there are 4 simple things that are guaranteed to significantly lower your risk of death? Compliance with a program of:
Diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low in fat
No more than two drinks of alcohol/day
decreases your risk of cancer by 25%, cardiovascular disease by 45%, back pain by 65%, diabetes by 70%, and depression by 95%. Pretty nice odds!
This material is based upon the results of a study with patrollers, instructors, and lift operators at snowsport areas in Western Canada. Written by Delia Roberts, PhD, FACSM © 2012.