Making mountain resolutions
Vail CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – The holidays are over, and it’s back to life as normal – especially when it comes to eating and exercise.
Making gains in health and fitness after the too much holiday food and too many skipped workouts can be hard – but according to some local experts and athletes, it’s not too late.
Working out wisely and eating right during the winter months can make a substantial difference in how you feel, how much you’ll enjoy winter activities, and even how fit you’ll be over the summer, said Rod Connolly, owner of Dogma Athletica, an Edwards gym.
Whether you’re looking to eat healthier, ski better, bike faster or recover from an injury, here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your winter, and maybe even have your best summer yet.
Choose your fuel
According to health experts, Americans typically gain 5 to 8 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year. But eating well and avoiding extra poundage won’t only mean looser clothes, but feeling better and stronger in general – just ask a group of local residents who recently participated in Dogma Athletica’s 50-day fitness challenge. Participants were on a daily exercise and nutrition plan before Christmas, aiming to go into the new year healthier and stronger.
“A few weeks in, people were skiing better, feeling better and actually enjoying the holidays a little bit more instead of feeling sluggish and hung over,” Connolly said.
Edwards resident Jerry Nichols, 51, said he’s been enjoying winter activities more than he has in years after losing almost 26 pounds on the challenge.
A 25-year valley resident, Nichols had always enjoyed outdoor activities. However, he found himself spending more time shuttling the kids to ski practice rather than skiing himself. The weight crept on, and when he weighed in at the gym in November, he was surprised to see 209 pounds on his 5 foot 11 inch frame.
By the end of the fitness challenge, he had not only gotten down to 182 pounds, but had more energy, thanks to new workouts like circuit training and yoga, as well as an eating plan that focused on unprocessed, natural foods.
You won’t be too far off if you focus on eating whole foods like vegetables, fruits and lean meats and avoiding things in packages, said Boulder-based nutritionist Jennifer Tingstad, who designed the nutrition plan for the fitness participants.
As general rules, she said, shop around the perimeter of the grocery store, avoiding the middle aisles where the processed foods are, and keep your cart colorful – load up on nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits like kale, spinach, berries, and melons.
Nichols said the hardest part of adjusting to a new diet was the initial phase – but after a couple weeks, clean eating became much easier. Now, he said he’s excited about his newfound fitness.
“I’m excited for the summer and to do the Bec Tri,” said Nichols, referring to an annual sprint triathlon held in Avon. “I know I’ll take so much time off all my sprints and the climbs.”
Better skiing starts off the slopes
The winter season is underway, but it’s not too late to improve your on-hill fitness. The obvious way might be to hit the slopes often, but off-hill training is just as important, said local trainer and former U.S. Ski Team member Caitlin Ciccone.
The two key components, she said, are a strong core and a little cardio.
“Skiing is a very anaerobic sport, and you end up building a lot of lactic acid in the legs,” she said. “People will go ski all day, but what they don’t do is get in the gym in the afternoon and get in some cardio. A 30 minute spin on the bike will help push through some of that lactic acid, and you’ll really feel better.”
In addition, a strong core will translate directly stronger skiing and riding – Ciccone said she remembers times that she had early-season legs, but still skied well because she had a strong core.
“If you don’t have that core, you can’t support your body. You can control your whole body using your core,” she said.
She recommends workouts such as medicine ball exercises in the gym, as well as Pilates or yoga.
“Yoga and Pilates are saviors from skiing. You just get so stiff from the cold,” she said. “Also, it really gets those little muscles in the stomach to fire, which some people never do just lifting weights in the gym.”
Nichols and others who shaped up during the fitness challenge discovered just how much gaining muscle and dropping fat could make on the slopes.
“I’ve been skiing the best that I’ve skied for years, and I know it,” Nichols said. “I stop a lot less, and I’m skiing top to bottom runs multiple times. One day I went out and did nine runs on Red Square before lunch – that was a real eye opener.”
Winter work for better biking
Eagle resident Jake Wells spends most of his year on the bike, whether he’s racing on the professional cyclocross circuit in the fall and winter, warming up his legs in Front Range road races in the spring or putting local mountain bike pro Jay Henry to the test in the summer town series.
While the winter months might be a “break” from cycling, it’s an important time for anyone looking to be a faster and stronger cyclist come summer, he said. The temptation might be to hang up the bike and ski all winter, but Wells recommended maintaining aerobic fitness through winter activities and building muscle in the gym.
“You can still be doing stuff you enjoy so you don’t lose everything you’ve worked for all summer,” he said. “A lot of people think, ‘It’s winter – I’ll ski. Then March comes around, and they haven’t been on a bike. Then the mountain bike season is over, and they’re just getting into shape.”
His weekly formula is a combination of cardio workouts such as Nordic skiing or snowshoeing, hitting the weights in the gym to build the legs and core, and a day or two of recovery. You shouldn’t completely ignore the bike either, he said.
“You can build muscle in the gym, but it’s a different thing to transfer that power to the bike,” he said. Wells spends a couple days a week riding his bike on a trainer or sometimes he even bundles up and braves the elements outside.
Healthy eating during the winter is especially relevant for summer athletes, whether they’re cyclists, runners, triathletes or hikers – all sports that have a power versus weight component, said Connolly.
“The lighter you are, the faster you climb hills, and the easier it is to run,” he said. “Most athletes know that, but they don’t try to do something about it until they go into their season. Really, people should work on eating cleaner now in the winter.”
January and February are the months to start cutting back, he said – not during the summer when you begin doing higher intensity workouts.
Come back from an injury
Laurie Johnson had competed in triathlons and, but the Edwards resident admitted that her fitness and nutrition habits were inconsistent. She’d tried fad diets in her 20s and 30s, made and broke many New Year’s resolutions, and was much more active some summers than others, she said. However, a couple of years ago, several injuries sidelined her and she never quite regained her post-injury form.
That isn’t an uncommon situation for many with injuries, Connolly said. One of the most important components of recovery is continuing to rebuild even beyond physical therapy.
“What often happens is that when insurance stops for physical therapy, people stop doing those exercises, and they run into chronic injuries,” he said.
This fall, Johnson joined Dogma’s fitness challenge looking for some motivation and structure to her workouts. She began going to yoga classes, began eating more healthily, and exercising more regularly.
The results have encouraged her to continue, she said – she plans to continue practicing yoga, attending gym classes, and is even considering entering the Beaver Creek Snowshoe Series.
“My truer goal was just to be healthier, feel healthier, have more energy,” she said, “In the process I also lost 10 pounds, which I’m very proud of. I definitely feel like I have more energy, and I feel like I can run further or for longer, and increase my top intensity. I just feel like I’m continuing to get stronger and healthier.”