Take Home Points

  1. The inadequate energy and nutrient intake in the Greek national cross-country ski team could put the athletes at risk of nutritional deficiencies, and possibly compromise their athletic performance.

Cross-country skiing is an endurance sport popular in Northern Europe, Canada and the USA. Individual races last 12 to 90 minutes for female athletes, and 22 to 140 minutes for the men, involving downhill, uphill and level skiing (Papadopoulou 2011). This is different when comparing distance running and long-distance cycling. Cross-country skiing uses a combination of both upper and lower body muscles. Athletes in endurance sports train for years building their aerobic performance. Elite cross-country skiers show an increased training age compared to athletes from other endurance sports (Papadopoulou 2011). A sport-specific body size and body composition is important in order to maximize athletic performance. Elite cross-country skiers have a lean physique much like distance runners. With the high exercise demands on the body, spot on nutrition is important for performance and endurance in cross-country skiing. Replacing or regenerating hormonal depletion, nervous functions, energy reserves, dehydration and electrolytes transfer, can be accomplished through adequate nutrition (Papadopoulou 2011).

Papadopoulou (2011)assessed the anthropometric characteristics and dietary intake of the Greek national cross-country skiing team. Thirty-three athletes (10 females aged 20 years; 23 males aged 20 years old) participated in the study. All athletes were members of the Greek national ski team, and they had been selected to take part in the Winter Olympics, World Ski Championships, European Ski Championships or other international events, according to their performance. Body composition was estimated by bioelectrical impedance (BIA) and skinfold thickness. The athletes recorded their physical activity and dietary intake for 3 training days, and on a competition day. The female skiers had 14.2 % body fat, the men 11.0 % body fat. Female athletes consumed a diet of 1988 Kcal during training days and 2011 Kcal during competition days. Male athletes consumed 2255 Kcal and 212 Kcal respectively. These values are below those recommended for highly active people. During the training period, carbohydrate, fat and protein contributed to 44.5%, 39.2% and 16.1% of the total energy intake (EI) respectively for the males, and to 52.8%, 33.0% and 14.3% of the EI of the women. Between training and competition days, men demonstrated an increased carbohydrate and reduced fat consumption when competing. Women, on the other hand, consumed more carbohydrate and less protein during competition days. Protein intake was within the recommended range for both males and females, but fat exceeded the recommended values and was consumed at the expense of carbohydrate. Vitamins B12, D, E and K, biotin, folate, Ca, Mg, K, I were inadequately consumed (below the RDA) by both women and men, while the women also exhibited inadequate intakes of iron and the men of manganese. The inadequate energy and nutrient intake in the Greek national cross-country ski team could put the athletes at risk of nutritional deficiencies, and possibly compromise their athletic performance.
In this study, female cross country skiers had higher body fat and lower lean body mass and body water compared to male cross country skiers. Both male and female Greek cross-country skiers had lower energy intake compared to their estimated energy expenditure and follow a diet inadequate in nutrient content (Papadopoulou 2011). The athletes diet was low in carbohydrates and several micronutrients. Improving macronutrient and micronutrient intakes could increase energy for performance and decrease the chances of fatigue and the risk of injuries. Athletes can benefit with the use of sports nutritionists to increase athletic performance. There are limited studies on nutritional habits among cross-country skiers. Future studies are needed to establish specific dietary guidelines for cross-country skiing.
Reference:
  1. Papadopoulou SK, Gouvianaki A, Grammatikopoulou MG, Maraki Z, Pagkalos IG, Malliaropoulos N, Hassapidou MN, Maffulli N. Body Composition and Dietary Intake of Elite Cross-country Skiers Members of the Greek National Team. Asian J Sports Med. 2012 Dec;3(4):257-66.
Written by Chris Barber, CPT