Winter Hydration For Endurance Athletes

By Dietitian Ellen A bottle of water helps you hydrate in the winter.We all know maintaining hydration is crucial during the hot, humid summer months. It is no problem to gulp down a glass of ice-cold water after a long, sweaty run. But what about now, when it is so cold that your nose hairs freeze when you step outside? During the cold weather of winter months, it is just as important to keep hydrated, especially for endurance athletes. Dehydration can cause muscle cramps, nausea, headaches, dizziness, confusion, weakness, inability to concentrate, and many more unfavorable things. Consider your winter training schedule. Pool. Trainer. Treadmill. Repeat. This type of intense activity requires diligence when it comes to maintaining hydration levels. If you are lucky enough to be able to do some snowshoeing or show shoveling, these activities require proper hydration, too. :) Water is essential for our body to function. Being well-hydrated lubricates joints, helps move nutrients in the body, and maintains body temperature. Checking urine color is one way to tell if you are hydrated. If urine is colorless or a pale yellow, you are probably well-hydrated.

Am I Hydrated - Urine Color Chart

Some people will post this urine color chart in their bathroom for an easy reference. I might suggest placing it in a discrete place, in case you have non-endurance athlete friends over to visit. (They might not understand.) Water is important for many reasons.
  • In blood, water helps to transport glucose, oxygen, and fats to muscles and carries away things like lactic acid.
  • Water absorbs heat from your muscles, dissipates it through sweat, and regulates body temperature.
  • In urine, water eliminates metabolic waste products. The darker the urine, the more concentrated the wastes.
Being dehydrated puts stress on the body. Your body temperature can rise, your heart beats faster, you burn more glycogen, your brain has trouble concentrating, and exercise feels harder.
  • A 1% deficit in hydration can cause your heart to beat 3–5 times more per minute.
  • A 2% deficit is considered dehydration.
  • A 3% deficit can significantly impair aerobic performance.
To put this into perspective, for a 150 pound person, 3% body weight is 4.5 pounds. If you have ever experienced a 3% weight loss during a workout or race, your performance was probably negatively affected by dehydration. Prior to exercise, the goal is to achieve water balance before you even begin your workout. It may take 8–12 hours to properly hydrate before a workout, depending on the intensity. If you hydrate with a drink containing sodium or eat a few salty snacks with your water, your body may retain some fluid so it doesn’t go in one end and out the other. If a pre-exercise caffeine boost is in your regular routine—fear not!—about 12 ounces of coffee is unlikely to cause you to become dehydrated. Enjoy! For during-exercise hydration, I suggest calculating sweat rate to have a better understanding of how much fluid one should consume during a workout. Weigh yourself without clothes or shoes before and after a specific workout. For every pound of body weight lost during the workout, replace with 13–16 ounces of fluid during other workouts of that type. This will improve recovery time and also enhance the workout itself. If it is impossible to rehydrate during the workout, still weigh yourself before and after exercise. For every pound of body weight lost, replace with 16–24 ounces of water. If exercising less than 60 minutes, hydrating with plain water is sufficient. 4–6 ounces (1–2 gulps) of water every 15 minutes is suggested. If exercising longer than 60 minutes, it is beneficial to replace carbohydrate and electrolyte stores. Each athlete has different needs, but in general it is recommended to consume 120–140 carbohydrate calories per hour (after initial hour of exercise) and 110–170 milligrams of sodium per 8 ounces of water. Carbohydrate and sodium can be found in the form of sports drinks, supplements, or food like bananas and pretzels. To fully replace water and electrolyte loss after a workout is complete, most athletes are able to replace their needs with a meal and drinking plain water. If you are severely dehydrated, sip on fluids over a period of time rather than drinking large amounts in one sitting. Water retention is better with sipping. It may take 24–48 hours to fully replace sweat loss. Consider these tips to keep hydrated all year long:
  • Carry a reusable plastic bottle with you.
  • Look for zero-calorie flavored beverages such as Vitamin Water Zero.
  • Beverages such as Smartwater in larger bottles may help increase water consumption.
  • During the cold months, try warm drinks such as a lower-calorie cocoa mix or hot tea.
  • Add strawberries, lemon, or cucumbers to your water for natural flavor.
  • Avoid waiting until you are “thirsty” to consume liquid. You are likely already slightly dehydrated when feelings of thirst arrive.
Remember, the most important thing is to keep hydration a priority this winter. Your workouts will be the proof now, and your races will be the reward later! – Ellen Ries, RD, LD
To help you stay hydrated, we carry a variety of bottles and hydration systems for both running and biking.
9 years ago
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