Filed under: Cold
Winter isn’t over yet, so here’s a reminder: You can get dehydrated in cold weather. And it isn’t always easy to hydrate, especially when you’re on a mission. If you’re active outside for less than 2 hours, it isn’t likely to be a problem. But if you’re out in the cold for hours or even days for a field deployment, the combination of heavy clothing and high-intensity exercise can lead to sweating, which contributes to dehydration.
You might not even feel as thirsty in cold weather as in the heat, because your cold-weather body chemistry could affect your brain’s ability to tell you when you need liquid. Cold weather also tends to move body fluids from your extremities to your core, increasing your urine output and adding to dehydration.
So when you’re in a cold climate, don’t rely on thirst to tell you when you need to drink. Drink often and before you’re thirsty. One way to determine your hydration status is to check the color and volume of your urine. (Snow makes a good test spot.) Dark, scanty urine indicates dehydration. Ideally, urine should be light yellow.
Water and sports drinks are the best fluids to maintain hydration, even in cold weather conditions. Carbonated and caffeinated beverages (including energy drinks) have a dehydrating effect because they increase urine flow. Also avoid consuming alcohol in cold weather. It might make you feel warm initially, but it can reduce your body’s ability to retain heat.
Enjoy exercising in the cold weather, but be sure to keep your water bottle in tow.
Don’t let cold weather freeze your exercise routine. Use these tips to stay motivated, safe, and warm.
- Dress in layers. Choose synthetic materials such as polyester or polypropylene that stay close to the skin. Avoid cotton since it soaks up sweat! You can always remove layers as you get warmer.
- Protect your extremities—especially your fingers, toes, and ears. Circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather.
- Check the forecast. Wind chill, snow, and rain can make your body more vulnerable to the outside temperatures. Plan an indoor workout when the wind chill is extreme or the temperature drops below 0°F.
- Apply sunblock. You can still get sunburned in the winter so don’t forget the sunscreen!
- Stay hydrated. When exercising in cold climates, don’t rely on thirst to indicate hydration since you usually don’t feel as thirsty in cold temperatures. You need to stay just as hydrated in cold weather as you do when it’s hot outside.
- Ask your doctor. Certain symptoms might worsen in cold weather if you have asthma, heart issues, or Raynaud’s disease (when specific body parts feel numb due to to cold temperatures or stress). Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns before heading outside for your cold-weather workout.
Each year, the average adult catches 2–3 colds lasting 7–9 days each. That’s almost an entire month—YIKES! What you eat and drink each day can impact your body’s resistance to sickness. Want to keep the doctor away? Eat 9 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables daily.
Choosing nutritious foods when you’re sick shortens the number of days you feel badly and helps you feel better while you’re recovering. Here are some tips to help you get well soon:
- Grab a mug of chicken soup to clear your head and soothe your throat.
- Drink tea (black, green or white) to break up chest congestion and stay hydrated. Tea also contains a group of antioxidants, which could boost overall immunity.
- Take a spoonful of honey before bedtime to quiet a cough. You could also add honey and lemon juice to one cup of boiling water. (Not for kids under one year of age.)
These recommendations might have previously been considered folklore or old wives’ tales, but science now shows that Grandma knew best!
Daily exposure to cold weather increases your nutritional needs. But if you only PT outside for an hour or so a day, workout in a gym, and spend the rest of your time indoors, your daily food and fluid needs don’t change much—even when it’s cold outside. If you’re training in the cold for long periods of time, such as during field deployment or cold weather operations, here are a few ways to help maintain peak performance:
- Calories. Moving through snow and icy terrain while wearing heavy gear causes your body to use more energy. Consume three to four standard MREs or three MCW/LRP rations per day to meet your energy needs. (At times you may have to force yourself to eat.)
- Carbohydrates. Carbs are your body’s first choice for energy. When your caloric needs increase, you’ll need to eat more carbs. Be sure to eat high-carb foods such as rice, noodles, bread, First Strike Bar, fruit or sports bars, crackers, granola, pretzels, and carb-fortified drink mixes from your MRE or MCW/LRP rations. Store snacks in your pockets so you can fuel on the go, between meals, and before bed.
- Hydration. Yes, you can still get dehydrated in the cold. Cold temperatures increase your fluid loss through increased urine output, breathing, and sweating (due to insulated clothing and intensity and duration of exercise). Fuel with fluids (excluding alcohol) even when you’re not thirsty. Make sure to monitor your hydration status by checking your urine color.
Remember, this isn’t the time to start a new diet (such as a low-carb diet) or lose weight, so fuel up to perform well.
Training on the treadmill and “overground” running are not the same. If you’ve experienced treadmill running and find yourself more tired afterwards than you would on an outdoor run, you’re not alone. It seems athletes actually run slower on a treadmill than their normal pace outside, yet they perceive treadmill running as being more exhausting. In other words, even though it feels more difficult, treadmill running is usually less intense and less physically challenging than running outdoors.
If you’re training for an outdoor race, ideally you should run most of your training miles outside. However, running indoors can be helpful if you’re recovering from an injury since running on a treadmill is easier on your joints than running outside on concrete or even grass. When you want or need to run indoors on a treadmill, set the incline at 1–2% to increase your exertion level to more closely replicate your outdoor runs.
If you decide to run outside during a cold spell, take a look at our article with tips for staying safe in cold weather and the many resources on cold environments where you can find more ways to keep warm and hydrated even in frigid weather. Remember: Whether you stay in or venture out, any exercise is better than none!
Winter’s not over yet. The next month or more can bring anything from ice and sleet to “Snowmageddons” and polar vortexes. Winter weather can be dangerous for you, your family, and even your pets if you’re not prepared. In the event of an emergency you should know what to do to protect yourself and your loved ones. The National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health has compiled a list of resources that offer information, tips, and checklists for winter-weather emergencies and general cold-weather health. Stay warm, safe, and resilient!