Baby It's Cold Outside (But You Still Need To Drink Water)

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How do you prepare for exercising in the cold weather? While you probably think about the extra layers of warm and moisture wicking clothing you’ll need, do you think about how you’ll stay hydrated?

It can be easy to forget about packing fluids when getting active in the cold, but getting dehydrated in cold weather can make the difference between feeling great and needing to go home early.  Read on to find out more about why it’s so important to stay hydrated for your health and fitness goals, and how to keep your fluid intake up.

What’s Different about Exercising in the Cold?

Exercising in cold weather is a stress on your body that causes you to make adaptations that don’t work in your favor when it comes to staying hydrated. These include:

  • Decreased thirst and interest in drinking

  • Increased urge to pee

  • Increased breathing rate at altitude

  • Increased body fluid loss from breathing outside in the cold

  • Increased sweating from overdressing

Combine these adaptations with factors such as a frozen water bottle, and self-induced limits on fluid intake to avoid having to stop and pee (or take off layers to do so) and it becomes very easy to get dehydrated.

What Happens When You Get Dehydrated?

When you get dehydrated, how you feel exercising and your performance suffers. Though the impact on performance is not as severe as when you’re exercising in extremely hot or humid conditions, being dehydrated in cold weather forces your body to conserve fluids by restricting sweating.

Sweating is your body’s way of giving off heat to maintain a stable temperature. If you’re dehydrated, you can’t do this well. Your body temperature increases, heart rate will increase (red flag for anyone using heart rate training), and you’ll feel like you’re working much harder, (because you are).  

In a Northern climate, many people put it a lot of hours training in the Winter months to get ready for Spring and Summer races. If you’re not hydrating properly for longer workouts both your training and performance will suffer.

How to Stay Hydrated in the Cold:

Start hydrated

  • Top up your fluids before heading out

Find fluids that appeal to you in cold weather

  • Water is often not appealing, but sports drinks and herbal tea often are

Warm up your fluids

  • Put warm drinks into water bottles or bladders; they are less likely to freeze

  • Taste test some warmed up sports drinks to see what appeals to you; citrus flavours are often more palatable warm compared to others.

 Keep fluids from freezing

  • Use an insulating warmer over your bottle, hydration pack, tube or valve

  • Keep the tube and valve from your hydration pack inside layers of clothing

  • Blow back into the valve after drinking to prevent water from staying in the tube  

Drink on a schedule

  • Remember that you’re less likely to feel thirsty in the cold

  • Set your phone or watch to beep every 15-20 minutes to remind you to take a sip

 Monitor your sweat losses for different sports in cold weather

  • Look at the colour of your pee after cold weather workouts. If it’s darker than lemonade, you need more fluid

How Much Fluid Do I Need?

Hydration needs vary greatly between individuals. Best practice guidelines recommend 400-800 ml per hour, but factors such as level of fitness and intensity of exercise, individual sweat rates, body weight, and of course the outside environment all play a role.

Meeting your body’s fluid needs becomes particularly important if you are planning for workouts lasting several hours, are a particularly heavy sweater, or if you have multiple training sessions planned for a day. Staying hydrated will allow you to stay out there.

So what do you think? Do you take in fluids in the cold? Have you found a way to keep your liquids from freezing during longer workouts? I’d love to hear your comments below

References:

1 American College of Sports Medicine, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, (2015). Joint Position Statement on Nutrition and Athletic Performance, Medicine & Science in Sport and Exercise.

2. Ross, M. L. & Martin, D. T. (2015). Altitude, cold and heat. In Burke, L. & Deakin, V. (5th Eds), Clinical sports nutrition (pp 767 - 791). Sydney, NSW: McGraw-Hill.

3. Ryan, M. (2005). Performance Nutrition for Winter Sports. Boulder, Colorado: Peak Sports Press.