Nutrition for High Mountain Skiers

Nutrition and Altitude

At altitude, nutrient absorption is not impaired, but the hunger sensation is dulled. Accompanying weight loss is often referred to as high-altitude anorexia. Even well trained individuals may lose weight at altitude even though caloric intake remains the same as at sea level. This phenomenon may be caused by a combination of both neurological and biochemical imbalances due to reduced oxygen pressure at altitude. Physiologists consider any altitude changes exceeding 6,000 feet (1,829 meters) a physiological change in altitude. Any such gain can decrease the appetite for food and water between 40 to 60 percent of normal. Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that you need to eat while at altitude even though you may not feel like it.


Coffee was once banned by the IOC and NCAA as an ergogenic aid that gave the edge to one athlete over the other. That ban is no longer in force. In 2010, Caffeine was shown by researchers at The Society of Experimental Biology Meeting in Prague that caffeine is indeed an aid to athletic performance. It does several things: It increases alertness obviously. It also releases fat from storage depots in the body allowing it to be used for energy sparing glycogen (muscle fuel) that is in muscles themselves. It increases the amount of force the muscle can produce and for a longer time. However, it causes dehydration so you have to match your cafeine intake with water intake.


You have to drink water before you get on your skis. Hot chocolate and coffee will dehydrate you before you even start. The air is drier at high altitude in addition to the dehydrating effects of sucking in massive amounts of dry air that must be moisturized as it goes into your lungs. You are literally exposing the inside of your body to the outside causing convection and loss of water to the environment. However, the demand for water is an individual thing. Dartmouth physiologist Heinz Valtin (2002) reviewed 30 years worth of hydration studies. The daily intake was approximately 4 glasses per day. Contrary to the 8 glasses that was once advocated. One nice thing about the new “Camelback ™” hydration systems is that you can take in many small amounts over time. Theres is nothing wrong with adding energy powder to your water. Water supplements can replace electrolytes reducing cramping and sorness in the muscles. Gatoraide ™ has really disappointed me due to a weak mix of electrolytes. But Advocare Rehydrate ™ and Cytomax ™ really have a good balance of the important electrolytes sodium and potassium. But don’t over do it. In fact your stomach will suck water from your body to dilute it so it can absorb these mixes and in the process make you drier which negates the whole reason you drank it in the first place. Follow the directions, they were written after much trial and error. Cramps are caused by the lack of water and the electrolytes that it speeds to the muscles. In addition to sodium and potassium, calcium is a must for sleep and recovery. I take it nightly

Fats, Protein, and Carbohydrates

Some climbers tell the joke that “Cliff ™ Bars (energy bars) should be a food group”. As much as I like energy bars and energy gel, they are not a substitute for good nutrition and real food. The problem with these energy products is that they require a lot of water for their assimilation. If you don’t do this you can really get dehydrated. There is a story of two climbers who climbed the Polish Route on Denali and ate Cliff bars and gel for two days. When they got to the medical camp at 14,000 after the climb they were greatly dehydrated and required intravenous rehydration. Recent research shows that you need 25% fat, 15% protein and 60% carbohydrates for strenuous exercise at low to high altitudes. This ratio has been used on Everest climbs and at sea level during the Steger Arctic expeditions. After a hard day of exercising outside peanut butter and cheese really tastes good. That because our fat stores are decreased and fat is really brain food. Exercise demands mental work as well as physical work. Chocolate is also like coffee in that it is a stimulant that effects the same neuro pathways. Don’t eat too much chocolate at night or else you won’t sleep well enough for the next day.