Hydration for the winter months

Most of us assume we don’t need to hydrate as much in winter as in summer, but that’s simply not the case. Believe it or not, your risk for dehydration can be greater during the winter.

Really? How is that?

The human body loses fluid four main ways, including peeing, sweating, breathing and pooping. The organs responsible include the kidneys, skin, mouth, ears, nose, throat, lungs, stomach and intestines, all of which are affected by the winter cold:

  • Our kidneys have receptors that monitor blood volume (hydration). Normally, when those receptors detect low blood volume, they signal the brain to make us feel thirsty. But when we’re cold, the blood vessels in our arms and legs, and especially those near the skin constrict to reduce heat loss by moving more of our blood to the core of the body. Perhaps you’ve noticed your hands and feet become pale and shrunken in the cold. In any case, the kidneys excrete more urine instead of less, (and you may find you need to rush to the loo whenever you come in from the cold). As a result, the body loses more fluids without making you feel thirsty… a recipe for dehydration!
  • In winter, we usually wear more layers of clothing, even during exercise. So we may sweat more, although we don’t perceive it because the clothes absorb the moisture. Again, more fluid loss, without feeling the need to hydrate.
  • When you see your breath on a cold day, you’re actually watching your body lose precious fluids in the form of water vapor. And because winter air is extra dry, the air you breath in steals an extra measure of moisture from your lungs. It’s called respiratory fluid loss, and it’s generally worse in winter.
  • Increased blood flow to the core (to reduce heat loss through the skin) means greater blood flow to the stomach and intestines, which in turn adds more water to your poop. Enough said!

For those of us who enjoy exercising outdoors in the winter, we are at a much higher risk for dehydration, and especially if we don’t see it coming!

By the time we’re thirsty in the winter, our dehydration can be much more severe than it would be in the summer. And don’t be surprised if you start getting muscle cramps. If you do, go straight to where it’s warm, and hydrate. When I ski, I always wear a hydration pack and I drink every time I’m on the chair lift.

My inspiration for this article occurred last weekend. I was at the gym working out on what was a bitter cold Chicago day. I walked over to the gym and, for some reason, just didn’t feel my usual sense of energy. While I was stretching I felt the bottoms of my feet begin to cramp. It dawned on me that I was also very thirsty, and I knew I was behind on my fluids. Lesson learned, once again!

As I’ve said before, hydration does not necessarily mean ‘drink more water’, and it certainly doesn’t mean ‘drink more sugary sports drinks’. Instead, in the summer I recommend drinking 20 oz of GoHydrate, 30 minutes before, and then immediately after exercise. In the winter, I recommend double that amount, regardless of thirst. By the time you notice you’re thirsty, you are already at risk and may begin experiencing muscle cramping. If so, keep drinking GoHydrate until your cramps resolve. That’s exactly what I have been doing, and it’s working!

Stay hydrated, and enjoy the winter.