Most people understand the importance of staying hydrated in hot and humid conditions, but it’s just as easy to become dehydrated in cold weather. For starters, the air is drier, so you are losing more water with respiration. You are also wearing layers of clothing, making it harder work to move during exercise. The harder your body works, the more you sweat, and more water needs to be replaced. Here are a few tips for staying hydrated in cold weather, especially if you are exercising for an hour or more.
Dress in Layers
Wear moisture absorbing layers of clothing to wick sweat away from your body and keep you dry. I like a polypro base layer with a middle layer of light-weight to mid-weight (depending on weather and what activity I’m doing) wool or fleece. Your outer shell should be wind proof but breathable. Be careful not to overdress as this can cause excessive sweating making you cold and dehydrated, which in turn forces your heart to work harder to maintain blood flow to your working muscles and regulate body temperature.
Add Electrolytes to Your Water Bottle
You are bringing a water bottle with you, right? Putting electrolytes into your water ensures that you’ll be replacing salt lost in sweat. It also lowers the freezing point of water making it less likely that your bottles will freeze. I like Endurolytes powder by Hammer Nutrition for this purpose. If you’re exercising for more than an hour, you may want to consider using a sports drink that contains carbs as well as electrolytes.
If you prefer to wear a hydration pack instead of carrying water bottles, blow back into the drink tube after drinking. This will prevent water in the tube and bite valve from freezing (and they freeze up pretty quick in these parts). It can also help if you’re able to wear the hydration bladder under your outermost layer so that your body heat prevents the pack and tube from freezing. I’ve never found the insulated tubes to work, but the “blow back” method has served me well even at below zero temps.
Replace What You Use
Just like hot weather exercise, it helps to weigh yourself immediately before and after your workouts to get an idea of how much water you lost during your session. Your before and after weight should be the same – if your post-workout weight is down, you need to drink more water to replace what you lost: 16 oz for every pound. Your urine should be pale, clear, and normal volume. If it’s dark and scant, or you haven’t urinated in more than a couple of hours, you need to drink more fluids.
Alcohol has a dehydrating effect as well as a vasodilating effect, meaning you lose body heat at a faster rate as well as body fluids. Caffeine can also have a dehydrating effect, but many endurance athletes experience improved performance with small doses of caffeine (which is why some sports gels include it). For most folks, save the caffeine or alcohol for afterwards.
When you live in Minnesota, you’ve got to embrace the cold climate – but treat it with respect. There’s no reason to avoid outdoor exercise if you’re properly prepared and dressed for the conditions. Your winter wonderland adventures will be much more enjoyable if you’re properly hydrated and able to function at full capacity for the duration of your workout, race, or special event. Get out there and play in the snow!