More effective cross-country skiing training: 5 tips from Katharina Hennig

How to train more effectively with more power

Special challenges in cross country skiing

Due to its extreme intensity, cross-country skiing is often considered THE supreme discipline in endurance sports. Almost every muscle is used – and the metabolism is boosted tremendously. 

Another challenge is the cold, which again increases energy consumption. Therefore, proper nutrition in cross-country skiing is the key to train more effectively and have more power in competition.

A nutrition strategy can contribute significantly to success: For the classic distances of 30 or 50 kilometers, i.e. a cross-country marathon, nutrients should always be supplied during exercise – this also applies to amateur athletes, by the way.

Sensational Olympic champion Katharina Hennig has repeatedly optimized her diet in recent years to train more effectively and thereby improve her results. And with great success!

In general, a high-energy, nutrient-dense, carbohydrate-rich diet is recommended. Combined with a high quality protein intake, as proteins play a crucial role in recovery. 

Cross-country skiing training: how the pros do it

As already mentioned, cross-country skiers have a particularly high basal metabolic rate and energy requirements due to the special characteristics that this sport entails. 

Katharina Hennig competes at the top level, like the 2022 Winter Olympics. Consequently, the preparation for such competition phases is also correspondingly demanding for the mind and body. 

In summer, the intensity of training is usually the highest. Hennig trains four to five hours a day – on the ski roller cross, the bike or in running shoes. There is often a day of rest during the week. The closer a competition gets, the lower the training load becomes in order not to tire the body beforehand. 

The load rhythm is divided into blocks over the season. 

“Each week, the focus shifts so that adaptation processes can take place,” says the Olympic gold and silver medalist, explaining one of the keys to more effective training in cross-country skiing. 

Thereby the endurance hours and the intensity of the units vary. During Olympic preparation, athletes have integrated altitude training blocks, as the Games in China will take place at extreme altitudes. “Everyone reacts individually, of course, but I have already noticed that the training has helped me tremendously,” says Hennig. 

As a cross-country skier, do I actually have to watch my weight like ski jumpers, for example?

According to Hennig, this is also very type-dependent. In general, she finds it neither beneficial to be too heavy nor to weigh too little. “The requirement profile for us cross-country skiers is very high. We simply have to eat a lot to meet our enormously high needs. I eat a balanced and healthy diet. But that doesn’t mean I don’t treat myself once in a while. The mix and the measure are critical.”

More power on the trail: How to train more effectively in cross-country skiing

One of the most important things to achieve more effective training in cross-country skiing is proper nutrition and food.  MoN -Athlete Katharina Hennig gives a few insights into her diet.

Nutrition in cross-country skiing: The main meals

On training days, the DSV World Cup athlete usually relies on whole-grain products such as bread or rolls, as well as fruit and nuts for sufficient vitamin intake. “I’m not a big fan of oatmeal,” she admits. “Before a competition, however, I do venture into it because it simply provides the best energy.” 

Hennig mixes the oat flakes with water or plant milk. “We actually all avoid conventional milk because the lactose would be difficult for the stomach to digest during competition.”

After the race, it is important to quickly replenish the stores so that the body can regenerate ideally. “Most hotels have carbohydrates in the form of pasta, potatoes or rice. I like to eat salad with it. It is important to note that there should not be too much oil in the dressing. Because we simply do not need too many fats. I generally try to eat little animal protein. Ham on bread is often the maximum. Instead, I eat a lot of vegetables and replace meat with chickpeas.” 

However, Hennig would not describe herself as a vegetarian. “I’ve noticed that it’s good for me to avoid animal proteins as much as possible.”

If it is known that the food at a competition venue is not ideal, a chef will travel with the team and ensure that the DSV athletes are provided with food that is suitable for the athletes.

The optimal catering during the load

Optimal nutrition during stress, i.e. in training or competition, is an important but not always so simple topic. The runners arrive at the aid stations with a lot of speed. 

“That’s when it happens that I spill half of my drink. But it’s also mostly about taking a few sips instead of drinking half a liter.” Hennig tries to avoid missing an aid station, “Because that can have a really negative impact on performance and ultimately results!”

Unlike road cyclists who can stow their food on the bike, it is more difficult for cross-country skiers to carry anything with them. The 25-year-old relies on a hydration belt that also has room for a bar: “I find liquid nutrition ideal. In the race, it’s water or lukewarm tea mixed with some gel. If a lap is 5km long, I ideally feed myself twice.”

Hennig gets along very well with the MoN products. Depending on the intensity and length of the load, it resorts to SLOW CARB and PORRIDGE BAR (for longer, calmer endurance training) and FAST CARB (for shorter, intensive training). In the (longer) competition comes especially POWER CARB is used, which can be dosed even higher – namely up to 120g KH/h).

Meanwhile, the Olympic gold and silver medalist makes sure to always carry drinks or bars with her. “If I’m only running for an hour, I often think: That’s fine without food. But I just get hungry during the run and then it’s actually already too late.” Because this way the quality of the training is not good and this should definitely not be the goal. 

Plan the catering in advance

For cross-country skiing training to be maximally effective, Hennig still believes it is advisable to plan energy intake in advance. On the one hand, it is about achieving optimal results with the necessary energy and power. On the other hand, it makes sense to test the compatibility of the products and certain (high) quantities that will be used in the competition already during training.

This is because there is a risk that you will supply too many carbohydrates and your body will not be used to them. This can lead to problems during the race. The other danger is to simply consume too little energy due to concerns about incompatibilities – so that in the end the necessary power is missing. 

The good news: A high carbohydrate intake can be trained (“train the well”) – and natural sports nutrition is characterized by a higher tolerance. 

Better regeneration by using the Open Window

Immediately after the competition it is important to supply carbohydrates and high-quality proteins. Because “when you’ve just crossed the finish line totally exhausted, that’s when the immune system is at its weakest.” The susceptibility to infections is increased, and regeneration must be boosted. 

Here, Hennig takes advantage of the window of 30 to 60 minutes after exercise, when the body is particularly receptive to all the important nutrients that the  RECOVERY SHAKE  provides. 

Example diet plan for a more effective training 

For this nutrition plan, it is assumed that Katha Hennig will train twice a day; in the morning, a relaxed workout of 90 minutes and in the afternoon, an interval workout of about one hour. This results in a basal metabolic rate of 1540 kcal, which is added by the two units (approx. 2000 kcal).

Breakfast: intake of 110 g carbohydrates (KH), 25 g protein (P), 25 g fat (F).

3 tablespoons of fine oatmeal, 3 dried apricots, apple – cooked with water, plus 1 slice of wholemeal spelt bread with 1 tablespoon of almond paste or some avocado, boiled egg or 150 g of natural yogurt, 2 teaspoons of honey or maple syrup.

Plus green tea, herbal tea/coffee 

During the 1st training (90min): SLOW CARB, 30-35g in 500 ml → corresponds to approx. 25 g KH

Lunch: Intake of 110 g KH, 40 g P, 30 g F.

Carrot-apple raw vegetable salad (1 large carrot + 1 tbsp. olive oil + handful of walnuts + 4 tbsp. apple juice ), carbohydrate source (potato 3 to 5 pieces depending on size or pasta/rice 2 cups), protein source (e.g. fish/meat or beans/chickpeas, approx. 120 g each), water, possibly some apple juice 

During the 2nd training: FAST CARB (40g to 500ml water), approx. 0.5 to 0.7l/h → corresponds to approx. 60g KH to supply quickly available carbohydrates that immediately provide the necessary energy without burdening the digestive tract.

After training (ideally within the first 30 minutes): RECOVERY SHAKE (40g in 300 ml rice milk) + banana, because for optimal recovery, carbohydrates AND proteins are crucial (this amount corresponds to about 80g of KH and 18g of protein).

Dinner: Intake of 100g KH, 35 g P, 30 g F

Vegetables of choice steamed or vegetable soup/ vegetable stew unlimited, carbohydrate source (e.g. pasta, rice, bulgur or polenta), 1 tbsp. olive oil, approx. 100 g protein source (e.g. fish, white meat, lentils cooked, mozzarella), water

In total, Hennig would have consumed 505 g of carbohydrates, 118 g of protein and 87 g of fat on this day and thus has a basal metabolic rate of 3375 kcal.

Katharina’s top 5 tips for more effective cross-country ski training

1. keep changing the training focus so that adaptation processes can take place, and pay attention to competition-specific conditions (e.g. altitude training).

2. test competition food in advance for compatibility and handling.

3. oatmeal or porridge mixed with fruit and nuts are ideal energy providers in the morning before a competition or intense training.

4. even if the distances are shorter: It is always better to have a KH drink, gel or bar with you before a feeling of hunger arises.

5. post-run nutrition is critical immediately after training/finishing, as this is the time frame when the immune system is most vulnerable and the body is most receptive to important nutrients for recovery.

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