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Operating on the Edge : Cold Weather Q&A with Resilient Nutrition’s Head of Expeditions, Sam Cox

Nutrition and hydration are crucial to performance in cold weather climates. Whether you are a casual annual skier or an avid high-altitude winter climber nutrition faces unique challenges in these extreme conditions.

We have worked with athletes, expeditions and the military working in locations from the high north of Europe to Antarctica to the top of Everest to aid them in fully understanding and adapting to the intense demands imposed on the body in these climates.

For this blog, we answer some of the most common questions we get asked.

Q: How many calories do I burn when doing activity in a cold-weather environment?

A: It is difficult to put a precise number on this as it depends on the level of activity as well as your height, weight, age and fitness. However, activities in cold weather can burn up from 300 calories an hour for a moderate alpine skier to 1200 calories an hour for an elite-level Nordic skier. This is not only due to the increased physical activity but also down to the body requiring more energy to keep warm, which is called thermogenesis.

Q: What should I eat to keep my energy up?

A: Whilst this additional calorie burn does allow you to eat more than normal, it should be done wisely so you can continue to enjoy your trip without feeling jaded towards the end or risking injury as you tire. This is especially important to note if you only partake in an annual skiing trip, as the techniques used in some of these activities will activate muscles rarely used in your everyday life.

Breakfast

It is a good idea to make an effort to have a robust breakfast and make sure you have something that has slow-release low GI (glycaemic index) carbohydrates in it, such as oats, whole grain toast or bagels. Combining these carbs with an element of fat and protein will allow this energy to be released gradually. A good breakfast could be poached eggs on buttered toast or a Resilient Nutrition high-protein porridge.

Lunch

If you intend to be active in the afternoon, you shouldn’t overindulge at lunchtime as your body will direct blood to your stomach as it tries to digest the meal, meaning that you will feel lethargic and potentially colder as your extremities (hands and feet) have less blood pumped to them.

A good lunch would be soup with a sandwich that contains lean meat or cheese. Remember to hydrate too as people tend to drink less in colder climates. This doesn’t mean excess alcohol as it will impair decision-making as well as give you a false sense of warmth as your blood vessels below the skin vasodilate.

Snacking

If you are partaking in a particularly intense day of activity, such as ski mountaineering or climbing at altitude it is important to maintain caloric intake throughout the day. Depending on the intensity it is recommended you consume between 200 and 300 calories per hour. These snacks should consist of carbohydrate-based items, such as oat biscuits or the Resilient Nutrition Long Range Fuel nut butters. Steer clear of high-sugar snacks unless you are working at really high intensities and even then a carbohydrate drink might be best. Sensibly snacking throughout your activity will maintain your performance throughout the day and will aid in keeping you warm.

Dinner

If it has been a particularly hard day it would be good to refuel as soon as you get off the slopes with a protein snack, which will start to repair your weary muscles and will aid in reducing soreness for the next day. A good snack would be a sandwich with lean meat or cheese or good quality, high protein shake.

At dinner, it is best to avoid overloading, whether on food or alcohol and keep portion sizes sensible. Make sure you have a good portion of protein to further help in muscle repair and don’t eat too late at night as it will affect the quality of your sleep.

Q: What should I feed the kids?

A: The same principles as above apply to children, however, we’d recommend having some snacks with you to feed them throughout the day. Children are not as resilient as adults in the cold so keeping their energy levels up is a must and the Chocolate Orange and Fruit and Nut energy bars on the Resilient Nutrition website are ideal for this as a healthy alternative to a sugary chocolate bar.

Q: Do I need to fuel differently at high altitudes?

A: Being at altitude places an additional strain on the body and increases your metabolic rate (the amount of energy (calories) that you expend). Research has shown that this metabolic change can happen as low as 3,000m for un-acclimatised individuals and can increase your metabolic rate by around 25% at 4,300m, which definitely isn’t insignificant.

Q: What is the role of physical fitness in enhancing performance in snow sports?

A: A higher level of physical fitness can significantly enhance performance and decrease the risk of injuries in snow sports, even for the casual skier. Strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance are all important.

If you want to make the most from your trip we would recommend preparing for it 8 to 12 weeks before leaving with regular cardiovascular and strength-training exercises, including specific exercises to enhance core strength and stability. This will allow you to enjoy your trip further as well as decrease the risk of picking up an injury.

Q: How important is it to warm up before participating in cold weather activities?

A: Warming up before engaging in any activity is crucial as it increases body temperature, enhances muscular flexibility, and reduces the risk of injury.

A warm-up could involve light cardio, such as a brisk walk, followed by dynamic stretches focused on the major muscle groups used in your specific snow sport.

Don’t be afraid to do a few more dynamic stretches after lunch or if you have been sat on a long ski lift!

Q: How does hydration impact performance in cold weather?

A: Proper hydration is critical in colder climates, as conditions can often mask the signs of dehydration, which can lead to reduced physical performance, impaired cognitive function, and increased fatigue.

It’s recommended to hydrate regularly, even if you don’t feel thirsty, to maintain optimal performance.

Q: Is drinking sports drinks better than water for hydration?

A: For shorter sessions of cold-weather sports, water is usually sufficient. However, for extended periods of activity (over an hour), sports drinks can be beneficial as they contain carbohydrates for energy and electrolytes (like sodium and potassium) to replace what’s lost in sweat. But be mindful of their sugar content; too much sugar can lead to a spike and crash in energy levels.

Q: Can I eat snow to hydrate?

A: While it may be tempting, it’s generally not recommended to eat snow for hydration, especially not the yellow stuff. Even clean snow can contain bacteria or other contaminants, and eating it lowers your body temperature, making you feel colder.

If you have the means, you can always melt the snow and boil it first to kill any potential microbes.

Q: Is it safe to consume alcohol before or during snow sports?

A: It certainly isn’t recommended to drink alcohol before or during participation in any physical activity, particularly in colder climates. Alcohol can impair balance, coordination, reaction times, and judgment, increasing the risk of injury. Additionally, alcohol can cause the body to lose heat more rapidly, increasing the risk of hypothermia in cold environments. Maybe save the alcohol until you are safely back in the resort or camp and able to relax in safety.

Q: What about alcohol at altitude?

A: Alcohol’s effects can be more pronounced at higher altitudes. This is because alcohol can exacerbate the effects of altitude sickness, such as headache, nausea, and dizziness. Also, your body metabolizes alcohol faster at high altitudes, which can lead to quicker dehydration, adding another level of complexity.

If you are planning an expedition of any size then please get in contact with our team to discuss your requirements for nutrition or human performance services. Additionally, If you have any questions or would like to understand more about our range of products then please contact us through the website or via our social media channels.

We look forward to seeing you at the Snow Show 2023!