Teenagers playing rubgy in winter

Winter Sports vary in their intensity, length and the environment in which they are played (i.e. both outdoors and indoors).  Playing sport requires a nutritious balanced diet high in carbohydrates for energy, protein for muscle repair and recovery, fluid for hydration and a range of vitamins and minerals to support immunity and general well-being. The focus for achieving this should be on consuming whole foods such as bread, rice, pasta, cereal, lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and healthy unsaturated fats. However, specifically formulated sports nutrition products can be useful in certain situations to complement the diet and provide a convenient source of carbohydrate, protein and fluid to support both sports performance and recovery.

Everyday Nutrition

When you’re active, it’s especially important that you focus on your diet and what you are eating everyday. Eating nutritious food day in and day out will help to ensure you are performing at your best as well as making sure you don’t come down with any winter illnesses that keep you off the field or out of action!

The Ministry of Health has developed a set of healthy eating guidelines for all age groups and what you should be eating each day to get the nutrients you need. Below are the recommendations for adults, however bear in mind that if you are active or a teenager you will need to eat slightly more to keep up with your energy needs.

Daily Recommendations for Adults

Fruits and vegetables

  • 2+ servings of fruit and 3+ servings of vegetables (1 serving = 1 handful of fruit or vegetables)

Breads and Cereals

  • 6+ servings of bread and cereal foods(1 serving = 1 slice bread, 1 cup cereal, 1 cup cooked rice/pasta, 1 roll)

Milk and Milk Products

  •   2+ servings of milk & milk products (Teenagers = 3+) (1 serving = 1 glass milk, 1 pottle yoghurt, 2 slices cheese)

Meat and vegetarian alternatives

  • 1+ serving of lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds (Teenagers = 2+) (1 serving = 1 slice cooked meat, 2 chicken drumsticks, 1 piece fish, ¾ cup cooked mince, 1 egg, ¾ cup cooked beans or lentils, ½ cup nuts or seeds)

Long Events or Games

Once you have your everyday nutrition sorted, there are certain foods and fluids that can help you perform better during training, races or games.

After about 90 minutes of continuous exercise, the body runs out of stored carbohydrate to fuel the muscles. For this reason, during events or games longer than 60-90 minutes you should have a source of carbohydrate and fluid to provide the body with on-going fuel during exercise. This extra carbohydrate and fluid is likely to result in a performance benefit because your body can easily access carbohydrate for energy and fluid which helps to avoid dehydration.

Some great choices to have during long events or games are:

  • Water
  • Sports drinks (look for one with 4-8% carbohydrate and 20-30mmol/L Sodium)
  • Sports gels
  • Lollies (i.e. Jelly beans)
  • Banana
  • Jam sandwich made with white bread

Recovery During Multiple Events or Games

Winter Sports can often involve multiple events or games over a weekend such as multi-stage races or a sports tournament. During such events, you often have little time for recovery and limited time to eat and drink between different stages or games. There are three key factors to consider with recovery nutrition:

  1. Carbohydrate to re-fuel muscle stores
  2. Protein to support muscle repair and recovery
  3. Fluid to replace sweat losses and aid hydration

To ensure you tick off all three, you need to plan ahead and make sure you have nutritious, high-carbohydrate snacks and fluid with you. The best time to have these is immediately after the game or stage race (ideally within 30 minutes). Some nutritious choices to support recovery include:

  • Sports Drink ( 4-8% carbohydrate and 20-30mmol/L Sodium)
  • Fruit juice
  • Jam/honey sandwich made with white bread
  • Fresh fruit
  • Cereal Bar
  • Creamed rice
  • Bowl of cereal with milk
  • Yoghurt and fresh fruit
  • Sports bar containing carbohydrates and protein
  • Liquid meal supplement or protein shake
  • Formulated recovery beverages containing carbohydrates and protein


A nutritious diet rich in carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals with plenty of fluid is vital if you’re taking part in winter sport. Sports nutrition supplements are complementary to the diet and can provide a convenient source of fuel and fluid in certain situations when time is limited and fast recovery is required.

By Emily Hope, Nutritionist
Vitaco Health (NZ) Ltd

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