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Eating for Altitude: Nutritional Strategies for Adventures at Elevation

Bodhi Canmore Spa Director Emma hiking Middle Sister

Just like that, we’re already entering the third month of 2024, and March happens to be Nutrition Month! This month-long nationwide focus on nutrition shines a light on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating habits, which is especially crucial for those of us embracing Canmore’s active mountain lifestyle. 


So, we thought it was the perfect time to delve into how our elevated lifestyle and love for high-altitude adventures shape our nutritional needs, and how we can optimize our diets for energy, endurance and wellness amidst the breathtaking yet demanding terrain of the Rockies.


 

How Altitude Changes Your Nutritional Needs



Ever wonder why you feel more drained after a day on the slopes here compared to skiing out east, or back in your home country at lower elevations? Canmore's elevation, sitting at a modest 1309m, might not present the stark challenges of higher altitudes where oxygen is scarce, but it does subtly influence our metabolic rate and hydration needs. The air is thinner, which can slightly increase metabolic rate and, consequently, our bodies' caloric needs. The cooler, drier climate also contributes to faster dehydration, and for some, the change in elevation can subtly affect appetite and digestion.


Whether you're hitting the slopes at Sunshine, cross country skiing in the Spray Valley, touring Kananaskis, or simply enjoying the mountain views, understanding how to adjust your diet can enhance your energy levels and overall well-being.


 

Nutritional Adjustments for Life at Elevation


Caloric Intake: The elevated metabolic rate at higher altitudes means your body burns through calories slightly faster, particularly after a day filled with mountain activities. Incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your meals can help meet this increased caloric demand, ensuring you have the energy you need for your adventures.


Hydration is Key: The dry mountain air can dehydrate you more quickly than you might expect. Prioritizing hydration is crucial; we should be aiming to drink more water than usual,  and replenishing electrolytes can help maintain balance and prevent dehydration.



Balanced Macronutrients:

A nutritious mountain-ready breakfast of complex carbs, proteins, and healthy fats
  • Carbohydrates: Your primary energy source, complex carbohydrates, should be a staple in your diet. They provide the quick energy needed for activities like skiing and snowboarding and support overall health and endurance.


  • Proteins: Essential for muscle repair and recovery, proteins are particularly important after engaging in the physically demanding activities that our mountainous terrain offers. Incorporating lean proteins into your diet supports muscle health and aids in recovery.


  • Healthy Fats: Fats are a vital energy source and help keep you warm and satiated during outdoor activities. Including healthy fats in your diet, from sources like avocados and nuts, supports sustained energy and overall health.


Essential Micronutrients

  • Iron: With its crucial role in oxygen transportation, iron is a key nutrient for those living at altitude. Ensuring adequate iron intake supports energy levels and endurance, essential for mountain life.

  • Antioxidants: Physical exertion, especially at altitude, can increase oxidative stress. A diet rich in antioxidants, from colorful fruits and vegetables, helps combat this stress, supporting recovery and overall health.

  • Calcium and Vitamin D: Essential for bone health, these nutrients are vital for anyone engaging in high-impact outdoor activities. They support strong bones and overall health, helping you stay active and resilient.


 

Practical Tips for High-Altitude Nutrition


Smart Meal Planning: 

Nutritious breakfast of oatmeal, nuts and berries to fuel mountain adventures in Canmore
  • Focus on meals that combine complex carbs, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Nutrient-dense meals provide the energy and recovery support your body needs. Swap your morning bagel for a bowl of oatmeal topped with nuts and berries for a carb and antioxidant-rich start to your day. 


  • For dinners, think quinoa bowls with roasted veggies and grilled chicken, or hearty stews packed with legumes and lean meats. 


  • Adjust your diet based on your activity level - if you're planning an intense day of backcountry skiing, consider increasing your carbohydrate intake the night before for sustained energy.


Strategic Snacking:

For your mountain adventures, choose snacks that are both energizing and easy to digest. Oat-based energy bars, nuts, and fresh fruit are great options to keep you fueled on the go. Additionally, incorporating protein-rich snacks like jerky or Greek yogurt can help sustain energy levels and aid muscle recovery during long days outdoors.


Hydration Helpers:

A man takes a break to drink some water and stay hydrated during a mountain bike adventure

Beyond water, integrate hydrating foods into your diet and consider herbal teas to boost your fluid intake, ensuring you stay well-hydrated throughout your activities. Foods like cucumbers, watermelon, and oranges can contribute to your hydration needs, offering a refreshing and nutritious way to replenish fluids lost during vigorous mountain pursuits.


Additionally, for extended or strenuous activities, supplementing with electrolyte-rich drinks or tablets can help maintain electrolyte balance, preventing cramps and optimizing muscle function.


 

Listening to your body is key as you engage in higher-altitude activities. Start with easily digestible foods and gradually increase your intake to match your energy expenditure. Again, hydration should always be a top priority, especially during and after outdoor adventures. By focusing on increased caloric intake, balanced nutrition, and ample hydration, you can ensure your body is well-equipped for every hike, ski run, and mountain adventure.



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