Heather Mangieri, MS, RD, CSSD
Sports Dietitian/Spokesperson/Speaker

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Winter Dehydration: Are you at Risk?

Researched and Written by: Laura Maydak, Nutrition Intern
Reviewed by: Heather Mangieri

Here’s a question: is the risk of dehydration in the winter similar to
that in the summer?

Using context clues (the title), you may have an idea as to the correct
response. But, if you still aren’t sure, the answer is yes. Here’s the
next question: do you know why?

Think about summer: it’s hot and humid, the sun is blazing, and you’re noticeably sweating.  You’re losing a lot of body water when you exercise, and you’re fully aware of it.

Now, think about winter: the air is dry and cold, you can see your breath when you breathe out, and you’re bundled up in layers.  You’re losing a lot of body water when you exercise, but you’re unaware of it.

The reasons for fluid loss in the winter are less obvious than those in the summer, but understanding them is critical for optimal hydration status and athletic performance.  Here’s what you need to know:

The air is dry and cold

When you breathe in, your body humidifies the air.  This is the reason you can see your breath when you breathe out.  What you may not realize is that this causes you to lose considerable amounts of fluid through respiration.

Also, these conditions make for fast evaporative sweat loss.  Any part of your body that is exposed to the elements will not be sweaty for long, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t losing body water.

You’re bundled up in layers

Depending on how many layers you wear, you may be carrying a considerable amount of extra weight.  Extra weight means extra effort to move.  Extra effort to move means increased exercise intensity.  Increased exercise intensity lends itself to heavier breathing and more sweating, which takes us back to the problems listed above.

You don’t feel thirsty

This is the most important issue of which to be aware.  In the summer, when we become dehydrated, our bodies elicit a thirst response, helping to prevent dehydration.  In the winter, our body’s ability to elicit this response is hindered.  Without getting into the specifics, the way our bodies respond to cold temperatures alters the brain’s ability to detect dehydration.  When we aren’t thirsty, we may not drink, which allows for further dehydration.

Dehydration seriously hinders performance and wellbeing.  Avoid it by taking note of these tips:

Hydrate early and often:

  • Drink non-carbonated, non-caffeinated fluid (about 16 oz every hour) before you exercise to ensure that you start fully hydrated
  • During exercise, drink 4-8 oz of liquid every 15-20 minutes
  • For workouts lasting longer than 1 hour, drink a sports drink to replenish lost electrolytes
  • After exercising, drink 16-24 oz per pound lost (weigh yourself before and after you workout to determine pounds of water lost)

Be aware of the signs of dehydration:

  • Early fatigue
  • Faster breathing and heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Dark yellow urine (you want it to be almost clear)

So remember, bundle up and drink up!

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