Next Monday is officially “the dead of winter.” This means that more winter is behind us than ahead of us. I’m certainly looking forward to running in the warmer days ahead. However, until then, I will continue my training in the cold. It’s certainly better than being stuck on a treadmill (or should I say the dreadmill). From the layers of clothing to the burn in my lungs from the cold air, exercising in the winter certainly feels different, but how does this influence nutrition recommendations? I’m going to unpack this topic in today’s blog on winter nutrition.
Despite what you may believe, dehydration when exercising in cold weather is a major concern. Many athletes overlook the importance of hydration in cold weather. However, sweat losses can still be significant in the cold weather due to heavily insulated clothing. In addition, there are extra respiratory losses of water when exercising in the cold. You can see this extra water loss as “vapour” or “steam” when you breathe. Athletes are also more prone to become dehydrated since there is less incentive to drink if you are cold and the fluid is also cold. As anyone can attest to who has had to make a winter pit stop and had to peel off the layers, the concern of urination can make some athletes purposely avoid proper hydration. Try weighing yourself pre and post-winter workout to see your fluid losses. You should aim for no more than 2% loss of body weight during a workout. For instance, a 65kg athlete would want no more than a 1.3kg weight loss pre and post exercise. If you do have greater than 2% loss of body weight, then you should be actively replacing the fluid losses during exercise. Drinking cold fluids can give you the chills, so unless you are hot while exercising, try using an insulated water bottle for your fluids.
Properly hydrating due to the extra respiratory losses is not the only concern while exercising in the cold. What you eat before exercising in the cold also becomes very important. This is because the pre-exercise meal helps to generate body heat. About 30-60 minutes after a meal, your body generates about 10% more heat. Therefore, pre-exercise nutrition serves two important purposes when exercising in the cold, providing both a fuel for working muscles and a source of heat production to help you stay warm during your workout. Check out my last blog on pre-exercise nutrition for some different pre-exercise nutrition ideas.
Many people believe that they burn more calories in cold weather, but cold weather does not necessarily increase your calorie burn. A situation in which you would have an extra energy need includes becoming cold enough that you begin to shiver. You may also burn extra calories while exercising if you are wearing considerably more clothes due to the extra weight of the clothing. Uneven and slippery surfaces can also make exercising in the snow more difficult and result in a higher calorie burn. But don’t be fooled into thinking you have a significantly higher calorie demand in the winter, especially because winter weight gain is common. One reason for this weight gain is because a drop in body temperature stimulates appetite in a quest to generate body heat. As I mentioned above, our body temperature increases after eating a meal. Another reason for winter weight gain is brain changes that increase carbohydrate cravings and the desire to eat. Try to stick to your regular exercise and eating routine during the winter months to avoid any weight gain over the winter months.
As with any activity, it’s important to replenish protein and carbohydrate stores within 30 minutes of finishing exercise. As promised, click this link for a delicious slow-cooker enchilada recipe. It’s a great source of protein and carbohydrates so it will not only help you properly recover, but also warm you up after a cold winter workout!