We often conjure images of the Sahara desert when thinking about adequate hydration; however, it may also be appropriate to think of the Arctic tundra when thinking about hydration for endurance activities. In this article, Team RunRun discusses the importance of staying hydrated in the winter for runners and how it impacts performance. 

Challenges of Winter Hydration

When you are cruising along, hot and sweaty, during a midsummer run, getting something to drink is usually at the forefront of your mind, but hydration can often be forgotten when focusing on wearing your winter layers, keeping your hands warm, and trying to stay on pace with your teeth chattering. 

One of the first reasons that people don’t drink enough when exercising in the cold is that they do not feel as thirsty. When our blood flow is prioritized to our internal organs to keep them functioning optimally during cold exposure, the increased blood volume in our core causes a signal to the brain to turn off our thirst mechanism since the organs regulating our fluid volume are well supplied. Additionally, our kidneys will often respond to the high volume of fluid in the abdominal cavity by making us urinate. This is why we often have an increased urge to pee when we get cold. 

Another reason we struggle to drink in the cold is that frigid temperatures set up a recipe for increased fluid loss through sweat evaporation. Most winter running layers are moisture wicking, so they pull sweat away from our skin and to the surface of the clothing. Cold environments often have dryer air and moisture evaporates from our clothes and skin quickly in dry conditions. This combination can give us the illusion that we are not sweating very much when running in the cold, when we are actually losing our fluids at a high rate. 

The bottom line is that you need to drink on cold winter days even though you might not feel like it. When running across the Sahara desert, the dehydration danger is that there is no water in sight. With the Arctic tundra, our body’s compensatory responses to the cold trick us into forgetting to melt the icebergs and to drink the water!

Coach Misha Knea rockin the hydration vest on a chilly run

Tips for Combating Winter Dehydration

Hydration is incredibly important for many essential physiological functions and for optimal endurance performance. Here are a few tips that you can use to help with hydration in the winter time!

  • When it is cold outside, remember to drink water! This tip is incredibly simple and obvious, but many of the most important tips are.
  • Drink room warm beverages. When we are already cold, a tall glass of ice water doesn’t always sound appealing. It can be easier to get yourself to drink fluids if they are warm. 
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol. These compounds act as diuretics and increase the rate of urination. Skip the pre-run coffee and go with decaf! 
  • Don’t rely on thirst! There are many hydration tips out there that say you should drink to thirst; however, in cold conditions, the thirst mechanism becomes an unreliable indicator of hydration status. Instead, you should make a hydration plan and stick to it. 
  • Eat fruits and vegetables! Most of these foods have high water contents and we can get hydration through the foods we eat, as well as, the fluids we drink. So enjoying an apple a day in the winter can help us hydrate and keep the doctor away!***

Conclusion

Winter time running often presents challenges that are unique to the season, and staying hydrated in the winter for runners is one challenge that often goes unseen. Knowing that some of the mechanisms associated with hydration in cold weather can be deceptive and counterintuitive, understanding them and knowing what steps you can take to navigate hydrating will help make winter a more productive season of training. Enjoy your run and don’t forget to drink your water!

***Disclaimer: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is not sound medical advice and you should make sure to schedule regular check ups with your healthcare provider.

Maxx Antush is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Maxx, check out his coaching page.