By Teemu Virtanen
Research material by New York Times, Ola Rønsen/Heikki Rusko’s study (Nutritional and Fluid Intake in Cross-country Skiing)
Cross-country skiing, and long distance in particular, is a strenuous sport, which requires a lot of work, patience and tons of energy. Our athletes can train from four to five hours a day at their peak and push their bodies to the limit. As a result, cross-country skiers, on average, also have the biggest fueling demands of any athletes, besides perhaps triathletes and long distance cyclists. While there have been big eaters in other sports, too, such as Michael Phelps in swimming, many scientists say the effort to stay in calorie balance is most daunting for cross-country skiers.
A typical elite cross-country skier burns about 30 calories a minute during training, which means that an active male cross-country skier skier must consume 7,000 to 8,000 calories a day, which is more than three times the caloric needs of an average male, to meet the energy demands of the sport. Female elite skiers must eat about 3,500 to 4,000 calories a day, which is about double the calories consumed by the average woman. That’s a lot of food to consume — the equivalent of about 20 plates of lasagna or 40 scoops of ice cream.
For cross-country skiers, who often have slim builds and limited stomach capacity, it means eating several times a day, and often planning their schedules around their constant meals. Many have tricks to help them fuel. They eat mashed foods, high-calorie bars, calorie-laden sports drinks and make sure that their daily meals are full of good carbs and calories.
When training really intensively and pushing really hard, the athletes’ bodies release hormones that suppress appetite making it an even bigger challenge to get the necessary nutrients. They don’t simply get enough energy and nutrition as they don’t feel hungry.
For example, Daniel Rickardsson, who finished 18th at Jizerska 50 this Sunday and who has several Olympic and World Championship medals under his belt, admits that he constantly needs fuel in order to meet his training and racing load. In a long distance race, he needs to consume about 100 grams of carbohydrates every 15 to 20 minutes, which is very much the same as with all of our Pro Team athletes. He also needs to eat three regular meals each day and six small meals.
So, it’s not an easy task to re-fuel yourself when you train hard and aim to achieve great results in Visma Ski Classics. We have published several articles about sports nutrition, carbohydrate intake, fat burning and such, which you can check out on our website.
To recap the most important message that these articles have brought up, we can say that our body needs high quality food and not just “empty” calories from plain fats or sugars. In simple terms, it is vital to be concerned with both quantity and quality of foods. A variety of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates from various food sources are necessary to build the many tissues of the body, and supply the body with the best energy for physical performance.
Vasaloppet is the next event in the Pro Tour, and that is a long 90 km race that requires a thorough preparation both physically and mentally. Therefore, Vasaloppet participants should pay a close attention to what they eat, when they eat and make sure that they will get enough energy for their final workouts leading up to the D-Day on Sunday, March 1.