Eyes watering, nose dripping, body sweating….sounds like a typical winter run! The cold weather brings out different physiological responses from our bodies than warm weather. Think of all of the fluid that is being lost through our eyes, nose, and mouth during a winter run! While proper hydration is on the minds of runners during the warmer weather, it is often forgotten during the colder months, and the cold months are certainly upon us!
Proper hydration during winter running is necessary to keep our muscles healthy and our bodies performing at their optimal level. Since we don’t feel as thirsty during the cold weather, drinking water is not on our minds. About 60% of our body is made up of water. Water is essential to the proper function of our muscles to our brain and everything in between! Fluid loss, even as little as 2% of our total body weight, can negatively affect our mental and physical performance.
There are a few reasons why dehydration can sneak up on us during colder weather compared to warmer weather:
1) Cold air contains less moisture than warm air. With each breath we take, our lungs must moisturize the air, which steals moisture from our body. If it’s really cold out, you can try wearing a mask or a balaclava that covers your face which will help to moisture and warm the air before it enters the lungs. The air inside of buildings is also really dry during the winter months. If you are traveling and will be flying, you can add that to the list of dehydrating factors. Think of how dry the air inside of an airplane is.
2) Sweat evaporates quicker in cold weather. If you are properly layered, your base-layer should wick the moisture away from your body, so you won’t feel like you are sweating that much. Perspiration that does reach your skin is quickly evaporated and you might not even feel that sweaty at the end of your run. You might think, I didn’t sweat that much, so I don’t need to drink that much. Not true! Try weighing yourself before and after your run. You should drink about 20 ounces of fluid for every pound that you sweat out.
3) Urine production is increased during cold weather. Blood flow is constricted when it’s cold. This constriction causes an increase in blood pressure. The body tries to counteract the higher blood pressure by getting rid of some of the volume of water in the blood. It does this by increasing urine output which contributes to dehydration.
4) Cold weather does not trigger the thirst response like warm weather does. Blood flow to the extremities is constricted during cold weather. The blood instead is directed towards the internal organs in an attempt to maintain core body temperature. As long as the core has sufficient blood flow, the brain does not detect dehydration, and the thirst response is not activated. This is good for survival, but bad for runner’s hydration! The take home point here is, don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink!
How much and what to drink?
Everybody is different in terms of how much fluid they need. A general rule of thumb is to take in about 6 ounces of fluid for every 20 minutes of exercise. For exercise lasting less than an hour, water typically does the job just fine. When running (or performing other exercise) for greater than an hour, you should also be replacing electrolytes.
Electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) regulate much of the processes of the body at the cellular level. A decrease in electrolytes can cause symptoms of fatigue, gastrointestinal (GI) distress, nausea, headache, and muscle cramping, just to name a few.
There is a point during exercise when replenishing with plain water is not enough. There are a lot of “sports drinks” on the market that claim to replace electrolytes and provide energy. Many of these drinks contain a large amount of sugar, which can cause a spike in energy, followed by a crash, as well as GI distress.
Two healthier options for electrolyte replacement are Nuun and Skratch (a relatively new product on the market, and brand new to Fleet Feet West Hartford)!
Nuun is a low calorie (8 per serving!), sugar free electrolyte tablet that dissolves in water to form a tasty, easy to drink beverage.
Skratch is an all-natural, gluten free powder that is mixed with water to provide a low calorie, “light and clean” taste. Developed and tested in the field of the Tour De France, Skratch does not cause GI distress or give a bloated feeling since there is nothing artificial in it! With a company slogan of Hydration. Nutrition. Bacon,” it must be good stuff!
If you have been feeling sluggish on or after your winter runs or dealing with muscle cramping and tightness, take a look at your hydration habits. Paying more attention to this aspect of your routine might make the difference that you need to feel good and perform at your best, both mentally and physically. Drink up!