There are some specific nutritional issues associated winter sports - with training and competing often occurring in the cold and at altitude.
In an article on the preparation of the US Winter Olympics athletes for Vancouver 2010, sports dietitian Nanna Meyer made these interesting observations about the winter sports athletes she worked with.
- Chronic dehydration is a problem, as fluid intake is often compromised due to lack of thirst, transient urinary water loss at altitude, and lack of restroom facilities. Also athletes often restrict their fluid intake in order to avoid the hassle of having to remove excess clothing to use the bathroom, further compounding the issue of dehydration.
- Training at altitude accelerates the making of new red blood cells (a positive adaptation for endurance based athletes), however if an athlete has depleted iron stores to begin with, they may not be able to adapt as well to altitude, leading to greater fatigue and inadequate recovery.
- The Aerials athletes use water ramps in the summer to simulate winter ski jumping. This results is higher calorie needs as athletes must climb stairs while loaded with equipment filled with water when returning to the top of the water ramp.
- For athletes training high on the mountain who may have a 2–3-hour time lag before they can get back to the hotel for a good meal, it is important to have recovery foods and fluids in their backpacks so that they are able to eat and drink straight away after training.
Training at Altitude
Although there are physiological benefits of training at altitude, athletes and coaches need to be aware of the potential effects on your nutritional status. More details can be found in the article on Nutrition and Training at Altitude.
- Fuel usage - Exposure to high altitude results in an increase increased utilization of blood glucose as a fuel at rest and during exercise. The shift for fuel usage is from fats to carbohydrate, and hence a corresponding reduction in the use of dietary fat and stored fat.
- Fluid loss - Acclimatization to altitude causes a reduction in total body water and plasma (or blood) volume. Given that the air can be cold and dry more fluid is also lost while breathing. Therefore athletes need a higher fluid intake than at sea level to maintain hydration.
- Weight management - it is common for athletes to lose weight at altitude. This may be a result of fluid losses, reduction in muscle mass, increase energy expenditure (higher BMR) and a reduction in food intake as a result of altitude sickness (mountain sickness).
- Iron requirements - there is an increase in dietary requirements of iron as the body adapts to the low atmospheric oxygen by increasing hemoglobin in the blood.
As for any Olympic Games, there is a lot of downtime and plenty of food available at the Olympic Village. This can sometimes lead to weight gain and potential changes in body composition. See more about Olympic Village Nutrition.
- Athlete Cold Climate Nutrition
- Nutritional Considerations for Training at Altitude
- Olympic Village Nutrition at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics
- Anthropometry of Olympic Cross-Country Skiers
- Nutrition for other sports