4 Tips to Help Your Clients Fuel Up for Winter Activities

By Nanna L. Meyer, PhD, RD
two people cross-country skiing - 4 Tips to Help Your Clients Fuel Up for Winter Activities

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Winter has arrived, and while many people look forward to the cold weather for skiing and other outdoor activities, others head indoors until spring, cutting down on their opportunities for the exercise they need.

Whether it's spending an afternoon at the local sled hill with the kids or skiing down the Alps, you can help your clients and patients – not to mention yourself – maintain an active lifestyle in the wintertime.

Shoveling snow, building a snowman or going on a deep-snow hike all increase a person's heart rate, oxygen consumption and energy expenditure. Skiing, snowboarding or ice skating strengthen the musculoskeletal system and improve balance and skill. Cross-country skiing, with its whole-body challenge, improves cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance. And all winter sports connect us with the elements: wind, snow and, for some, the sublime beauty of the mountains.

Winter Nutrition Needs

Participating in winter activities may increase energy and fluid needs, especially if the person is engaging in vigorous and demanding activities. High altitude and cold temperatures can also increase energy expenditures — as much as two- or three-fold if you're shivering. With winter activities, it is easy to forget to stay hydrated and fueled all day, so it's imperative to take breaks to fuel up.

Fluid Balance

Exercising in the cold and at altitude exacerbates fluid loss in the body. A significant amount of fluid is lost through increased respiration and the body's need to humidify dry, cold mountain air. In addition, cold-induced diuresis can lead to increased urinary volume and fluid loss. And cold reduces the body's thirst response, making it a challenge to maintain fluid balance in the cold. However, dehydration in the cold has serious consequences; it impairs thermoregulation and increases the risk of hypothermia.

With this in mind, it is best to begin exercise well-hydrated with water breaks (3 to 8 ounces) every 15 to 20 minutes if going out on the slopes for less than 60 minutes. For any time longer than an hour, consider recommending a sports beverage.

The Air Up There

Altitude may increase the body's need for vitamins and minerals. Adequate iron stores are necessary to increase red cell mass if exposure to altitude occurs on a regular basis. In other words, iron depletion interferes with the positive adaptation of the blood's oxygen carrying capacity that typically occurs in response to exercise at altitude. Furthermore, altitude exposure increases the generation of reactive oxygen species. However, it remains debatable whether antioxidants such as vitamin E and C are needed in higher amounts to protect cells from damage when participating in exercise at altitude.

This topic is largely understudied in winter sports, and may be more concerning for elite athletes training at altitude. A balanced diet including a hearty vegetable soup with herbs and spices, a handful of nuts, an orange and a cup of green tea may be plenty to protect the cells from occasional winter outings.

Be Prepared

Engaging in any type of cold-weather sports, especially at higher elevations, requires appropriate preparation in terms of clothing, shelter and the foods and fluids a person consumes before, during and after the activity. Recommend that your clients and patients take breaks throughout the day and listen to their bodies to ensure that they are feeling well and ready for another round of winter activity.