Monday Medical: Good nutrition for cold-weather exercise

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— Winter is just around the corner, and as we switch clothing and gear, we also should consider how we fuel our bodies for cold-weather exercise.

Monday Medical

Monday Medical columns publish weekly in the Steamboat Today's Yampa Valley Health section. Read more columns here.

Medjool date power balls

1 cup raw unsalted almonds

18 medjool dates, pitted

Water for blending

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1/3 cup raw unsalted almond, cashew or peanut butter

3 tablespoons pure cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pulse almonds in food processor until coarsely ground. Transfer to bowl. Pulse dates in food processor until almost smooth, adding 3 tablespoons of water as needed. Add almonds back to food processor with coconut, almond/cashew/peanut butter, cocoa powder and cinnamon. Pulse, being careful to scrape sides as needed. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Scoop into 2 tablespoon balls, rolling with your hands. Place balls on baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover and refrigerate.

Options: Roll balls in almond meal, flax meal, extra coconut, crushed dark chocolate or sesame seeds for added flavor and calories.

Calories: about 155 per serving

Yields: 18 servings

Adapted from Bard Valley Natural Delights

A big mistake winter athletes can make is not drinking enough fluids, said Cara Marrs, a Yampa Valley Medical Center registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition. Every time we breathe out, sweat or eliminate waste, our bodies lose fluids. In the winter, we breathe out significant amounts of water as our bodies warm and humidify the cold air we breathe in. Cold temperatures also tend to mask or alter the body’s sweat and thirst mechanisms, reducing our desire to drink.

As we lose fluids, our bodies compensate by releasing stores of water, mostly from muscles. Dehydration affects physical performance and the body’s ability to keep warm, increasing risk of frostbite.

“I think dehydration is a big problem in the winter,” Marrs said.

Winter hydration packs are a convenient way to carry water and snacks while skiing. Sports drinks (avoid those with high-fructose corn syrup and added colors or chemicals) can provide a quick hydration and energy boost. You can carry single servings of freeze-dried coconut water or powdered sports drinks such as Scratch Labs or Tailwind Nutrition and add them to water during a break.

Fruits, vegetables, soup and herbal tea are good sources of water. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine also helps prevent dehydration.

Depending on the activity and duration, nourishing meals and snacks generally should involve a combination of healthy carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables or whole grains; protein such as nuts, seeds or eggs; and healthy fats such as flax meal or nuts. Ideally, it’s best to eat a meal about two hours before exercising to allow the body time to digest nutrients, Marrs said.

A person heading out for a short (less than one hour) vigorous run, snowshoe, skate ski or bike ride should focus on eating a smaller, carbohydrate-focused meal such as oatmeal with fruit, which will be digested fairly quickly. If a person is planning a longer activity, he or she should add some nuts and seeds to the oatmeal for a protein boost that will “stick with them” a bit longer, Marrs said.

A daylong downhill or backcountry ski excursion warrants a meal with more protein and healthy fats, such as a whole-grain tortilla with scrambled egg and avocado or a frittata with fruit. Marrs recommended eating a snack with carbohydrates and protein every 45 to 90 minutes for endurance endeavors. The recipe below is an example of a healthy snack for sustained energy and performance.

Marrs stressed that calorie-laden sports drinks and snacks should be consumed only if you are exercising and burning calories quickly. Serious athletes should meet with a registered sports dietitian for more specific nutrition recommendations. Individuals with diabetes or other medical conditions also should see a registered dietitian for nutrition guidelines specific to their health status.

Tamera Manzanares writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at tameramanza@gmail.com.

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