Y.E.S. News

Fueling For Cold Weather Exercise

If you are interested in exercising in the winter months, pay careful attention to your diet. Otherwise, lack of food and fluids can take the fun out of your outdoor activities. These tips can help you fuel wisely for cold weather workouts.

Winter hydration:

  • Human cells rely on water to function. Sixty percent of the human body’s weight is water. Water brings nutrients it needs and removes products from the cells. Water provides lubrication to joints, the digestive tract, respiratory tract and it protects tissues and helps maintain the body’s temperature.
  • Failing to drink enough fluids is a mistake. A study comparing hydration status of athletes who skied or played football or soccer, reported the skiers had the highest rate of chronic dehydration. Before a competition, 11 of 12 alpine skiers were dehydrated.
  • Some winter athletes purposely skimp on fluids to minimize the need to urinate. There is no doubt that undoing layer after layer of clothing can be a hassle. Yet, dehydration hurts performance and is a cause of failed mountaineering adventures.
  • Cold blunts the thirst mechanism; you will feel less thirsty despite significant sweat loss and may not “think to drink”.
  • Winter athletes need to consciously consume fluids to replace the water vapor that gets exhaled via breathing. When you breathe in cold dry air, your body warms and humidifies that air. As you exhale, you lose significant amounts of water.
  • Unless you are hot, you do not want to drink icy water. Cold water can cool you off and give you the chills. It is better to drink room temperature or hot fluids.
  • Dress in layers, so you sweat less. Sweaty clothing drains body heat. If you start to become too hot, take some layers off. You will stay drier and warmer. Simply taking off a hat is cooling; 30% to 40% of body heat gets lost through the head.

Winter fuel:

   You need adequate pre-exercise fuel to generate body heat. Therefore, you want to fuel-up before you embark on winter exercise, particularly before you ski, run outside, or do any outside activity in extreme cold.

  • Food’s overall warming effect is known as thermogenesis (heat making). Thirty to sixty minutes after you eat, your body generates about 10% more heat. Eating not only provides fuel but also increases heat production (warmth). Nutritious whole grains and high-quality carbs such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin and squashes are great fuel foods.
  • Aerobic workout can increase your metabolism by 7 to 10 times above the resting level. That means if you were to exercise hard for an hour and dissipate no heat, you could cook yourself in the process! In the summer time, your body sweats heavily to dissipate this heat. However, in the winter, the warmth helps you survive in a cold environment. Exercise is a great way to warm up in the winter!
  • If you become chilled during winter exercise you will likely find yourself searching for food. A drop in body temperature stimulates the appetite and you experience hunger. Your body wants fuel to “stoke the furnace” so it can generate heat.
  • For safety purposes, you should always carry some source of emergency food (energy bar) with you in case of an incident that leaves you static in a frigid environment.

Energy needs:

   Cold weather itself does not increase energy needs, but you will burn calories if your body temperature drops and you start to shiver. Shivering is involuntary muscle tensing that generates heat at about 400 calories per hour. Such intense shivering quickly depletes your muscle glycogen stores and drains your energy. This is when you will be glad you have emergency food with you!

  • Your body uses a considerable amount of energy to warm and humidify the air you breathe when you exercise in the cold. For example, if you were to burn 600 calories cross-country skiing for an hour in 0° F weather, you might use about 150 of those calories to warm the air.

Winter recovery foods:

  • To chase away chills, replenish depleted glycogen stores, and rehydrate your body, enjoy warm carbohydrates with a little protein, such as hot cocoa made with milk, oatmeal with nuts, lentil soup, chili, and pasta with meatballs. The warm food, added to the thermogenic effect of eating contributes to rapid recovery.
  • In comparison, eating cold foods and iced fluids can chill your body. In winter, you want warm foods to fuel your workouts. Bring out the mulled cider or thermos of soup.

Winter weight gain:

   Many people regret winter weight gain. Some eat too much because they are bored and less active. Others experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as the change of seasons has a marked affect upon their mood. Changes in brain chemicals increase carbohydrate cravings and the desire to eat more. The temptations of winter holiday foods can also contribute to weight gain.

  • To limit winter weight gain, stay active! Exercise helps manage health, weight, and the winter blues. The tricks are to invest in proper clothing, fuel well, and prevent dehydration so you can stay warm and enjoy winter’s outdoor wonderland.

Resources: AAHR; Livestrong


I enjoy developing personal, trusting relationships with my clients.