Monday Medical: Winter sports preparation |

Monday Medical: Winter sports preparation

Mary Gay Broderick
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Whether you’re a teen, a senior or somewhere in between, a little planning and preparation can ensure that snow and cold temperatures won’t shut down your athletic pursuits.

“You have to be prepared for whatever is thrown your way in the winter,” said Justine Elder, a certified athletic trainer with UCHealth SportsMed Clinic who supports student athletes in the Steamboat Springs and Hayden school districts. “Make sure you are ready for the elements so you can continue to enjoy doing what you love.”

Elder has plenty of winter sports expertise for the teen competitors who participate in winter sports such as wrestling, basketball, hockey, and downhill and cross country skiing. The same advice she gives student athletes can carry over to active adults.

She recommends taking care of any lingering fall maladies before plunging into a new sport. That includes muscle sprains or strains, or concussion-related injuries.

“Reach out to your coach, athletic trainer or primary care physician for injury management,” she said.

Understand sport-specific demands

It is important athletes realize that activities have a specific demand – either aerobic or anaerobic – and that training should be done accordingly to promote optimal athletic performance.

For instance, sports where duration is a primary component such as cross country skiing rely on aerobic or cardiovascular exercises that increase breathing and heart rate for a sustained period. That means athletes should build up their stamina through training via indoor cycling, swimming or running, as well as strengthening exercises that maintain good core, hip and glute strength.

Anaerobic sports such as basketball, wrestling or hockey need quick bursts of energy over shorter periods of time and rely on stored energy rather than oxygen to help fuel the body. Training for these sports should include different cross-training and interval activities that may include cardio, weightlifting and plyometrics, or exercises that use speed and force.

“Most sports rely on both aerobic and anaerobic energy,” Elder said. “Understanding the physical demands of your sport can help you accomplish your goals.”

The right way to keep warm

Knowing your environmental condition is also an important component of training in cold weather.

“There’s a proper way to layer clothing to avoid cold-weather injuries such as frost nip, frost bite and hypothermia,” Elder said. “Time and duration of your workout make a difference.”

Elder is a believer in three layers for outside athletics – a base layer, a mid-layer and an outer layer.

The base layer is the most important one and should be made of wool or a synthetic material, like nylon or polyester, to move sweat away from your body.

“Avoid cotton,” Elder said.

The second layer should insulate to trap the body heat that you radiate, and should be wool, fleece or down. The third layer, or a shell layer, needs to prevent moisture and wind from penetrating.

According to Elder, socks made with a wool blend that wicks moisture to the surface and dries quickly are best. A warm hat or helmet, depending on the activity, as well as gloves or mittens with warmers complete your outdoor winter activity wardrobe.

“Always keep extra clothing with you in your car, locker or sports bag so you have the ability to add a layer or change, especially if you get wet,” she said.

Don’t forget sunscreen, protective eyewear and coating your lips with something that has SPF in it, too.

Hydration and nutrition equal good performance

When temperatures drop, many people decrease consumption of water and other fluids, which can be detrimental, especially when exercising in places with higher altitude, like Steamboat Springs.

“We tend to not want to drink as much water as we do in the summer, but dehydration can be just as common,” Elder said.

Elder wants student athletes to drink fluids before, during and after working out. If the activity is less than an hour, water is fine. If it’s longer, she suggests mixing in a sports drink containing carbohydrates and sodium about two hours beforehand, as well up to two to three hours after.

A healthy meal or snack is also essential to performance. Pre- and post-exercise food should focus predominantly on high-quality carbs, with some protein and healthy fats as well. Long drives to and from activities make for hungry athletes, so pack snacks to replenish energy.

“Steamboat is a great place to be active, no matter what the age,” Elder said. “Practice healthy indoor and outdoor exercise habits so you can enjoy your winter sport, whether it’s through school or in the greater community.”

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be reached at

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