Peter Hines

by Peter Hines
Webmaster and contributor

Photo by author

Keep Warm - Eat Breakfast

I have always advocated for checking one's equipment before heading to the slope. There aren't too many things worse than getting to the mountain and realizing that you forgot something. Forgetting an important clothing item can ruin a day on the slopes. When you are cold it is tough to have fun. One thing that ranks up there with forgetting something is being cold. Cold feet, cold hands, cold ears, cold anything can really dampen a great time on the slopes even in the best conditions.

There are two basic things you need to keep warm while on the mountain; good equipment and fuel to burn. You can spend a great deal on good gloves or mittens, pants, coats and helmets to keep you warm. Without a doubt they are essential. Those are one-time expenses so to speak. On the other hand, fuel to burn is a continual need. If you are going out for the day a good breakfast is very important; especially when it comes to performance on the mountain including staying warm and making your turns. Your brain needs fuel too in order to stay acute.

But what constitutes a good breakfast? It is NOT a latte, or caffeinated energy drink, and a sweet roll.

There have been numerous studies that point to the importance of the breakfast meal. How many times have you heard, "breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

Glucose Levels

Glucose/Insulin levels over 24 hours. (Wikipedia image)

Over night your body depletes its blood sugar levels. Glycogen, is slowly drawn down. By morning, the body has run out and breakfast is the first chance for your body to re-energize its glucose, or blood sugar, levels.

Sufficient glucose levels are essential to ensuring your muscles and mind perform optimally, to get to and move around the mountain. It is also a requirement to generate and maintain warmth. In order to jump-start the glucose re-energizing process it is best to begin the process within 30 minutes of waking. If you wait too long your body begins its starvation response. This means that your body is doing everything to preserve fat as the early-morning energy need is increasing. Instead, the liver begins drawing protein from skeletal muscle. Our body begins digesting itself, for energy, muscle first.

After waking is when your body's metabolism is most efficient. If you want to have the most energy and be the most alert you need to eat breakfast.

So what should we eat? Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy. They provide the energy that fuels muscle contractions. Once eaten, carbohydrates break down into smaller sugars (glucose, fructose and galactose) that get absorbed and used as energy. Any glucose not immediately needed is stored in the muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen to be used later.

Not all carbohydrates are the same, however. Processed white bread toast and sugary pastries (refined carbohydrates) are quickly absorbed. This causes a rapid increase in blood sugar and then a dramatic decrease which causes hunger and cravings only an hour or two following consumption. This rise and crash are not good for sustaining warmth.

Foods that promote blood sugar balance, such as fiber and protein-rich foods, promote longer-lasting, or slow-release, energy than processed foods. The slow-release is important to generating warmth. These foods also provide ample nutritional benefits and support heart health, digestive function and weight control.

Your energy levels and ability to stay warm, while initially good, will not last. Instead, optimal carbohydrate sources include vegetables and whole grains like quinoa or sprouted wheat bagels. Caffeinated coffee and a granola bar aren't going to cut it.

The second most important source of energy is fats. However, the right kind of fat is critical. Omega-3 fatty acids found in deep cold water fish like wild caught salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds help the body modulate inflammation. Bacon and fried eggs or cheese and meat filled omelets are not the best.

Water is also an essential part of breakfast. During the winter months indoor humidity levels are generally lower than during other times of the year. Hotel rooms are notoriously worse. After a night of sleep in a dry house or hotel room our bodies are ready for hydration. Water is needed to move the sugars around your body. In order to ensure high levels of performance and warmth proper water consumption is needed.

Bagel Photo
A Good Breakfast - Smoked salmon, cream cheese and onion on a whole-wheat bagel with a large glass of water.

All this said, a great breakfast would be something like smoked salmon, cream cheese and onion on a whole-wheat bagel with a large glass of water. The bagel provides the carbohydrates, the salmon the protein and the cream cheese fat. Water re-hydrates and facilitates the digestion of the food consumed.

Mid morning- Now that you have been fueled up, when do you refuel? Continued hydration is essential to maintaining warmth. When you're dehydrated, your blood volume decreases. The blood is thicker and harder to pump around, and it simply can't cover all the areas it needs to. Poor circulation means that you're more susceptible to the effects of the cold, including hypothermia and frostbite.

Increased activity level, bulky clothing, and altitude are all causes of dehydration. Skiing and/or riding, even re moderate takes a great deal of energy. We also have to work harder than normal at high altitudes, where the air is thinner. Add to this bulky cold weather clothing that restricts movement, and we wind up having to breath and perspire more, which greatly increases fluid loss.

In addition to water some other fuels in the forms of energy bars or simple fruit are beneficial. These should not be consumed in large amounts but rather in sufficient quantities to facilitate the constant release of energy.

Your body needs fuel to give you energy and provide warm. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Planning for and consuming the right breakfast shortly after waking will go a long way to ensuring the best possible day on the mountain.

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