Do You Need to Drink as Much During Cold Weather Workouts?

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One of the data points we monitor with a lot of athletes is how much fluid they consume during workouts. When temperatures drop, we often see a decrease in the amount of fluid they consume per hour and per workout. When we point it out to the athlete, the response is often a question: Do I need to drink as much when it’s cold out? 

When it’s cold outside, there are fewer environmental cues telling you to consume fluids. You’re not dripping with sweat and you don’t feel overheated. If anything, you’re fighting to stay warm with layers of clothing, booties, and thick gloves, and the air pouring into your lungs feels like it’s freezing you from the inside out.

In these conditions, it’s understandable that the idea of drinking cold fluids (whether they’re intended to be cold or just chilled from being outside) is unappealing. But an athlete’s hydration needs don’t decline very much when it’s cold. Yes, you can get away with less fluid per hour in cool and cold weather compared to extreme heat, but it’s important how you view that comparison.

In hot weather, your sweat rate increases dramatically above normal, so the demand for fluid can be extreme. However, many of us view that as “normal”. With lower temperatures, that additional demand may not be there, but you still have your normal sweat rate to replenish. It’s not so much that you sweat less in cool weather, but that you sweat normally in cool and moderate temperatures; in hot weather you sweat profusely and must increase your fluid consumption accordingly.

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You should aim to consume at least one full bottle of fluid each hour during cold weather workouts, and you should weigh yourself before and after cold weather rides to see if your fluid intake has been sufficient to keep your fluid loss to about 1% of your pre-ride bodyweight. Regardless of how much fluid you lose, aim to replenish 150% of those losses within the four hours following your training session. So, if you lose 16 ounces (1 pound), aim to consume 24 ounces.

Tips for consuming more fluids on cold days

  • Drink on the way up: A lot of people get conditioned to grabbing a drink at the top of a climb or during a descent. But in the winter the summits and the descents are where you get chilled, and at these times you’re less motivated to drink an already-cold drink. You’re warmer on the climbs so even if you don’t feel the need to cool yourself down, the cold water from your bottle won’t leave you feeling chilled for very long.
  • Use an insulated bottle: Once you’ve had your water bottle freeze solid a few times you realize that insulated bottles are very handy. Warm drinks don’t stay warm very long, but they stay warmer longer than they would in regular bottles!
  • Use landmarks or a timer: Since the environmental cues telling you to drink are not as strong when it’s cold outside, augment your strategy with timers or landmarks. Athletes tend to use tried-and-true routes during workouts and endurance sessions, so pick out specific locations where you’re going to drink.

 

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Bonus Tips

Here are a few bonus tips for cold-weather training days:

  • Keep your food close to your body to keep it warmer: Food is a lot harder to eat when it’s frozen or nearly frozen, and on very cold days your food can get quite hard in your jersey pocket. If you’re wearing layers and your inner layers have pockets, stash food in the pockets closest to your body. If the only pocket you have is on your outer layer, take the next thing you want to eat and tuck it into the front of your jersey or between your shoulder blades in the back of your jersey. This works better if your clothing is pretty snug so the food doesn’t migrate down. Your body heat will warm it up enough to make it edible.
  • Keep stops short: Clothing is good for keeping the elements from robbing you of body heat, but the engine inside is what generates heat! When it gets really cold it’s tempting to duck into a coffee shop or convenience store to warm up. That’s fine, but keep those stops short. Despite feeling cold you are still sweating and that moisture builds up in your layers of clothing the longer you are stopped. (Removing layers or opening zippers inside will minimize the buildup of moisture.) When you get going again after a long stop that moisture chills you quickly and it takes a while to get back up to the workload required to overcome that loss of heat.

Have a Great Weekend and Stay Warm!
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS


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Comments 12

  1. Pingback: Winter Workout Tips For Exercising Outdoors – SkyyPro News

  2. Thanks for this Chris,
    I live in the desert, so “hydrate or die” can be real.
    I have a Camelbak Rouge, (I know it’s not the most aero on my back), but I do drink more.
    When I take clients on a 8k ft. climb, (hiking) here, I require them to have a hydration pack, since fumbling with bottles behind you takes energy, (mentally & physically when your pushing hard).
    I know I drink more when all I need to do is direct a tube 6″ from my mouth.
    The benefit I get by staying more hydrated I’d imagine far out-ways the little lose of aero.

  3. Great tips and reminders! The body is still working just as hard and with multiple layers it is easy to start sweating just as you would if it is warm out. I know for running that I work even harder on the snow and sweat more. Also, living in the midwest we are used to the humidity drenching us, but in the winter we have the dry air that is similar to the mountains. The sweat evaporates easier making us forget how much we need to stay on hydration. Thanks for the article! Run and Ride on!

  4. One of the things I use to remind myself to drink is, when someone in the group takes a drink from the water bottle, I hit the water bottle.

  5. Great article and I tired to drink this much last year sticking to recommendations of winter training fuel – the problem is that mean on a 4-5 hr winter ride I’d be carrying 4-5 water bottles (700ml each). This fine in summer on long hilly rides where I can nip in shop/cafe and fill up bottles – but on a long steady endurance rides in winter I try to keep going without stops (or water stops are closed), do you have any recommendations on how to deal with carrying more water than the typical 2?

    1. On rides longer than two hours, I typically carry a third bottle in the middle jersey pocket. It’s under my jacket so it stays a bit warmer than the two in the cages. If I’m going longer than three hours, I’ll plan my route so it includes a convenience store during the last hour so I can refill the bottles.

      I’m in Louisiana, and in summer, I go through a bottle every 45 minutes. I’m used to carrying that third bottle. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Insider Course Details and Tune-Up Workouts for the 2015 US Cyclocross National Championships in Austin, Texas-Carmichael Training Systems - Cyclocross Magazine - Cyclocross News, Races, Bikes, Photos, Videos

    1. Fill your bottles with warm fluid before you go out, keep them inside your inner layers in the back pockets too, and stop for a moment when you need to drink, or only keep one bottle in the cage at a time. You get used to the bump on your back.
      There are also small, 12 oz thermoses that you can fill with hot chocolate or tea, and keep one in a back pocket.

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