cold weather hydration {nutrition]

The other day I was doing a phone interview about fueling during winter running, and one of the things I emphasized is the importance of hydration on cold days.* When it’s freezing outside, we may not think we’re sweating as much as those 80 degree, 90% humidity days, but the reality is that sometimes we are. And even if we don’t arrive home looking like we jumped into a lake or got caught in a downpour after a wintry long run, chances are a significant amount of fluids have been lost through sweat. Just think about all of the layers you wear when it’s cold out, and how sweaty they are when you get home and peel them off.


*I don’t do media interviews all the time, but it has become an exciting “extra” of my job. And as a former PR person who used to try to get media for clients, it’s way more fun to be on the other side as the interviewee!

For me, and probably a lot of runners, I don’t feel thirsty when I’m running in the cold. In fact, on my long run this past Saturday I ran 16.5 miles without any fluids. That was dumb. Not only was I not practicing what I preached, but I felt really off for the rest of the weekend and had to play “catch up” with my hydration. Here’s what I’m going to do moving forward, and I’d recommend the same for any client or fellow runner:

1. Drink before thirst: make sure to hydrate throughout the day, and if possible, start hydrating for a run or race several hours beforehand. Don’t go crazy, but just make sure you’re drinking and your pee is a pale yellow color. For runs lasting more than 45-60 minutes or so, think about drinking during the run. The amount you should drink depends on a few things – weather conditions, body weight, etc. – and the easiest way to figure it out is the sweat test.

  • Weigh yourself naked before running
  • Weigh yourself naked after a run
  • Estimate how much fluid you took in during the run, if any

Now, subtract the post-run weight from the pre-run weight. For every pound lost, you should be drinking about 16 ounces during the run. Add that 16 ounces to any fluids you consumed while running to get your total fluid needs. Divide this number by the duration of your run to help give you an estimate of how much you need per hour on a run in similar conditions, effort and duration. Results will likely differ for different times of the year and intensity of the run, but you can always re-do your sweat test as much as you need to.

2. Plan ahead: part of the reason why I didn’t drink during my long run was that I didn’t want my hand to get cold holding a water bottle that may or may not freeze a little. My hands get really cold, but still, this shouldn’t be an excuse. To make matters trickier, all of the water fountains are shut off in Central Park and the West Side Highway in winter (much like everywhere else, I’m sure). So to drink on the run requires a little planning, but it’s definitely possible. I’ve used hand warmers between my hand and the bottle to help keep warm, or suggest bringing a few dollars for a pit-stop at a drug store or bodega for some water or Gatorade. A lot of runners also carry a bottle to the park and stash is somewhere for easy drinking later.


3. Post-run hydration: this is probably the easiest one, as now we are back in our warm homes with fluids readily available. Even so, it’s less enticing to drink a big glass of cold water when your lips are frozen. Here’s where hot beverages can come in handy, because they count as fluids too! Coffee and tea are great, but if you want to get more bang for your buck, I usually suggest a flavored latte or hot chocolate made with low fat, skim or soy milk for that optimal carb:protein ratio (4:1) to replenish glycogen stores and rebuild broken down muscles while getting you nice and toasty.

My running!
Training is going well. I was a little tired after last week’s half marathon and most of my miles were easy paced, but by the end of the week felt pretty much like my old self and got in a great long run workout on Saturday (minus the hydration fail). A brief recap:

  • Monday: 4 miles easy, yoga
  • Tuesday: 10 miles at a steady pace (not easy, not hard?), strength (abs, arms)
  • Wednesday: 8.75 easy miles with Betsy, strength (abs, legs)
  • Thursday: 9.25 miles easy, strength (abs, arms)
  • Friday: 8.25 miles easy, yoga for runners
  • Saturday: 16.5 miles: 5.5 miles w/u, alternating 90 seconds at 10K pace, 6:00 minutes at marathon pace x 7, 4/5 miles c/d. I have no idea where I heard of this workout, but I’ve had it written down for a while and was eager to try something a little different. It was tough, but the 90 second pick-ups actually made the marathon pace minutes feel easier and I loved the variety.

Screen shot 2014-02-02 at 6.43.20 PM

  • Sunday: 7.5 miles super easy, strength (abs, legs)

Total: 64.25 miles. Planning on taking the day off today and then getting in a good new-to-me workout (400s, yikes!) on Tuesday if it’s not too slippery out there. Is winter over yet?

Thoughts on hydrating in the winter? How do you do it (or don’t you?)?

6 thoughts on “cold weather hydration {nutrition]

  1. Laura

    Great post. I always skimp on the winter hydration and fueling for those same reasons. The hand warmers are a good idea.

  2. RunTheLongRoad

    nice weekly mileage!

    it bugs me to see people skimp on hydration during the winter. so, so important! i carry my handheld with me all year round – even if i run just a few miles. i use the hand warmers too.

    1. MealsforMiles

      yeah! they are so helpful. In the summer it’s easy to drink here with water fountains everywhere, but in the winter handhelds are key (for me), I just need to make myself use them!

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