So you have those new snowshoes. You have snow. You have the gear to go and run out there and have some fun. But now as you get outside to exercise snowshoeing makes you hungry and thirstier than you anticipated. Here are some of my simple observations while out on the snowy trails the last decade.
WE ARE AN EXPERIMENT OF 1.
The Disclaimer here, is I am by no means a sports scientist, nutritionist or dietician. What works for me may not entirely be the case for you. And my greatest bit of advice is experiment with yourself. You learn by trying and training is the testing grounds to try. Test out how you feel with a gel while out on a snowshoe run. Try drinking some water, or an electrolyte drink. Do you feel better when you do this? How far can you go and feel okay? The list goes on.
The Truths: Snowshoe Running is a very taxing sport. The demands on your body are much higher than a road run or trail run. You burn more calories because of the added weight of snowshoes and moving through the snow as well as the fuel needed to regulate your body temperature. What can derail a perfect snowshoe run or race is LACK OF FUEL. When you are not properly fueled, your body gets cold faster and what once felt like a leisure snowshoe stroll is now an arctic run of survival.
So how do I fuel?
When I think of endurance sports and the demands on our bodies, I like to ingest an omnivore diet. What that means simply are fats, carbs and proteins. I have made the switch to whole foods over processed gels and carbs. I am a sucker for avocado (guac) , baby food packets, hummus, potato chips, bananas and olives with feta cheese. I have started using whole food gel options like Spring Energy and Muir Energy and personally love them for where they bring all the nutrients in a easy to carry pouch. Because you burn more than a traditional trail race–I like to have a nice breakfast before a race and snack on something like a Honey Stinger waffle or a Clif Bar before the race. The shorter the race, the more you can rely on your breakfast rather than in-race fuel. I still take a gel or two for a 5k-12k snowshoe race just in case I need a boost of energy.
For efforts in snowshoes-Half Marathon and beyond, you need to approach this like running an ultra marathon. That means, carrying fuel with you, rely on aid stations and get into a routine of taking in calories throughout the race or long effort. Colder weather for me means less GI distress so whole foods that might be harder for me to ingest during a summer ultra I can often consume while snowshoeing. I still go for foods like hummus that are easier to take down, but that is just me. Remember: Experiment of 1.
In terms of frequency, I try to eat something at least every 5k. Usually it is a few gummy bears, a gel, a few potato chips. Not a big serving. Just grazing. Think steady stream of fuel. For a 10k snowshoe race- it depends on how I am feeling. Often I take a gel mile 4-5 if I am really hurting to help me get a second wind into the finish. The hardest part of this is eating while breathing heavy. It takes practice. You can do it. Also remember colder temps can take your favorite candy bar and turn it into a chocolate rock. I like to stash my food in a pocket in my jacket or vest so my warmth from my body keeps it warm.
Yes, you have to hydrate. Sure it is cold out so the thought of sweating does not seem as common as those hot summer runs. But you do sweat and with snowshoe running, not hydrating enough is probably the biggest thing we all skimp on and pay the price. My best race results have been when I have fueled well and been hydrated well before and during a competition. I approach my hydration strategy as such. Say before a big ultra race in the Spring and Summer I drink a 32 ounce bottle of water before hand. For snowshoe, I maybe will drink 24-30 ounces. I think of it as 1/4 less. This has worked for me. For longer snowshoe event, I approach it the same way I would any ultra. Your body needs it. Being hydrated means you will not cramp up as easily and can also regulate your body temp better. I like to sip on water from a small 10 ounce bottle as that has been sufficient in a 12k snowshoe race. For longer snowshoe distances marathon and beyond, having handhelds, hydration pack, or a combination of both work great for me.
Some Hacks of Fueling and Hydrating in snowshoe running.
Insulated bottles, hoses, …Insulation.
I cannot stress that word enough. Insulation is your best friend. From the Apparel you wear to the hydration vessels that you use, Insulation is essential. I use hard bottles over soft because soft bottles freeze more easily than hard bottles. Hydration bladder hoses are usually the first to go. You can find insulated sleeves that go over the hose and the bladder for your hydration pack that helps keep things protected but in severe cold temps, hard bottles work better. Insulation. My friends at Nathan make killer insulated bottles. They work amazing in very cold temps. This also protects you from having your hands freeze when you hold or touch these bottles. I like to have my hydration in a pocket, or sleeve of a vest or jacket. Hydration packs work well and I have used a Neck Gaiter to line the pocket of the hydration vest to help add more insulation to the bottle. The nozzles and caps of bottles are critical. I like the Nathan Push-pull caps as they prevent blockages as the push-pull of the cap can also help dislodge any ice build-up. Bite valves freeze easily. Be careful of this. Simple valves are best.
Keep food close to your body. Just like Napoleon Dynamite and his tater tots, keeping your fuel close to your body heat is essential to not bite into a brick.
Preventative measures. You do not have to carry everything with you and the kitchen sink on a snowshoe race or run. But having a little bit of something vs nothing is my main message to bring home to you. Whether that is a gel or two, a small bottle of water or your favorite electrolyte drink, I would bring it along and of course try it out in training first before committing in a race. What you can put in your body before the race and early on will pay dividends later down the trail.
Recovery: I love that good craft beer but recovery for snowshoe is super important. Make sure you take in some calories lost in a hard effort. I like to add more foods that are salty and savory here to replenish my fats, proteins and carbs used as fuel. Whether that is a protein shake, a recovery drink, smoothie, you name it; I like to get a nice balanced meal or snack after that hard effort along with hydration (water first, beer later). Roll out your legs and muscles and take care of yourself over the next few days. This should help you work out any of the stiffness and soreness associated with crushing a big snowshoe run effort.
I try not to overcomplicate things with fuel and hydration. Listen to your body and try to give it the fuel and hydration it needs. See what works best for you and know that we are constantly evolving and changing. So what might have worked for you 5 years ago may need some revision in the here and now. Experiment of 1. Go out there and have some fun.