Fuel up right: nutrition for cross-country skiing

The snow is finally here and the days are getting longer, so everybody wants to get out and explore our region's endless cross-country trails.

But to really enjoy a long ski day, one thing is more important than equipment, the right wax and a good technique: Nutrition. Whether going on a daylong recreational adventure or racing like a pro, fuelling up correctly can make the difference between enjoyment and success, or fatigue and defeat.

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Cross-country skiing is a full-body workout and recreational skiers and athletes burn between 500 and 1,000 calories per hour. Whether you are racing or going on a demanding tour, you should eat or drink small portions regularly. Eat and drink before you feel hungry or thirsty, roughly every 20 to 30 minutes. A constant nutrition rhythm prevents you from running out of fuel, which can eventually end in lightheadedness, fatigue and cramping - and an abrupt end to your ski day.

Ideal fluids to carry are water and carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drinks, as you will lose salt through sweating. Think about the way you are carrying your fluids - on cold days waist belt bottles may freeze, so you might consider using a backpack, thermal flask or insulating tubing. Especially on warm spring days, mind your body's higher need for fluids - depending on the intensity of your ski and the temperature you might lose up to one litre per hour through sweating.

Aside from fluids, scientists recommend an intake of 120 to 240 calories per hour for adults. The harder you ski, the more carbs your body will need, and on colder days your body will burn even more energy to stay warm. Good snacks (and light for carrying) are energy gels and bars (or, as a "real food" alternative, cold cooked nugget potatoes with salt). Figure out which product works best for your body in advance.

When touring or racing with kids, bring tasty and nutritious treats like cereal bars or dried fruit and nut mixes. If you get cold and weak during your ski, stop immediately and fuel up, even if that means losing ground in a race - you will not finish successfully when dehydrated and out of energy. Take your time and listen to your body!

Nutrition is also essential in the run-up to touring days and races. To let your body build up sufficient glycogen stores, consume a higher amount of carbs throughout the whole week leading up to your big day, as opposed to eating just one huge portion of pasta the night before the race. Eat your last meal one to two hours before you start skiing and snack on an energy bar immediately before you head out. After exercising make sure you get enough carbs to replenish your glycogen stores, protein and antioxidants to aid muscle recovery and fluid to avoid dehydration. If you are not sure on how to prepare, do not be shy about talking to a specialist about your nutrition.

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