Winter sport athletes have specific nutritional requirements: Fluid intake for example needs special attention. That’s because in the cold, fluid loss is not only higher than in moderate temperatures, but also often the perception of thirst is diminished. The right food supply also needs to be taken, so that a constant energy level can be maintained during training. The energy expenditure on the cross-country ski trail or loipe is not to be underestimated. Especially as the body’s carbohydrate stores (glycogen stores) are in higher demand during low temperatures. Here Andreas Birnbacher shares some valuable information with us. The German Biathlete is in the middle of the competitive season, but has nonetheless taken time out for an interview about nutrition with us.
What do you typically eat and drink while training?
I’ve always got a flask of warm tea, sweetened with honey with me. My favourite is fruit tea, or a mix of peppermint and camomile. With this I have an Energize Wafer, which isn’t only tasty, but also easy to chew in freezing temperatures.
Have you got an individual strategy to avoid fluid deficits in winter temperatures?
Spaced evenly over a whole the day I drink a minimum of 3-4 litres, which includes the training sessions. A good sign to check whether the fluid intake is adequate is when the colour of the urine is a light yellow. In the cold you often feel it in the feet and lips whether you are ‘dried out’, e.g. whether you need to drink more.
Do you follow any specific sports nutrition practices when you’re preparing for a competition?
For a few years now I’ve been taking Beta Alanine specifically in an 8-week cycle in the preparatory phases, and also during the competitive season. It gives me good sensations in the muscles. To compliment this I also take creatine during intense periods of training. A few Biathletes use caffeine, but I haven’t tried that yet.
The World Cup Season demands a very high number of races in a short space of time. Fast recovery after each race is therefore very important. Have you got any specific methods to achieve this?
Yes, definitely. Immediately after a race I don’t just make sure I replace all lost fluids, but also that I eat a mix of carbohydrates and protein. In most cases I’ll have a protein bar and 2-3 performance smoothies. I really like the taste of these fruit pouches, and at the same time it allows me to consume the optimal amount of carbohydrates for my needs. However, recovery also takes place in my head! I need to rid it of the stress of racing. By watching a gripping film I find it easy to take my mind off things and distract myself. Among the most important aspects of recovery is sleep. The night before a race I always sleep 8.5-9.5 hours.
How would you rate your nutritional habits in general?
In my junior years I ate everything I could get my hands on and that tasted good. Often that included fast food. Nowadays I eat much more consciously and healthier than before! I also change my nutrition according to the different competitive and training phases. For example, before a race I’ll always have a breakfast that’s easy to digest, such as white bread rolls with jam or honey. On a training day I typically drink a carbohydrate-protein shake with oats, flaxseed, and fresh fruit. Today I know lots more about nutrition than even compared to a few years ago. I get my up-to-date information from good books, but also from different online portals or the PowerBar Nutrition blog.
“IT’S IMPORTANT TO LISTEN TO YOUR OWN BODY AND THE SENSATIONS YOU’RE GETTING”
‘Train low’ refers to training with low carbohydrate availability to promote training-induced adaptations in fat metabolism. To achieve this there are several known strategies. What is your experience with this practice?
It’s important to listen to your own body and the sensations you’re getting. If you overdo it with limiting the amount of carbohydrates you consume it can backfire badly, and you’ll just end up tired all the time. However, it can be a useful tool to optimize fat metabolism and also to help lose weight. For example, I use targeted training sessions to empty the carbohydrate stores in my body. During these specific sessions I have no energy intake, and then have a low-carb meal in the evening, i.e. extremely few carbohydrates.
ANDREAS, MANY THANKS FOR THE INTERESTING INSIGHTS, AND WE WISH YOU SUCCESSFUL RACE SEASON!
© Corinne Mäder, EU Sport Nutrition Manager PowerBar. International Olympic Committee Diploma in Sports Nutrition, Certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Bachelor’s degree in nutrition.