July 22, 2024

Are You at Risk? by Laura Maydak

Winter Dehydration: Are You at Risk?

Here’s a question: Is the risk of dehydration in the winter similar to that in the summer?

Using context clues (the title), you may have an idea as to the correct response.  But, if you still aren’t sure, the answer is yes.  Here’s the next question: Do you know why?

Think about summer: It’s hot and humid, the sun is blazing, and you’re noticeably sweating.  You’re losing a lot of body water when you exercise, and you’re fully aware of it.

Now, think about winter: The air is dry and cold, you can see your breath when you breathe out, and you’re bundled up in layers.  You’re losing a lot of body water when you exercise, but you’re unaware of it. The reasons for fluid loss in the winter are less obvious than those in the summer, but understanding them is critical for optimal hydration status and athletic performance.  Here’s what you need to know:

The air is dry and cold
When you breathe in, your body humidifies the air.  This is the reason you can see your breath when you breathe out.  What you may not realize is that this causes you to lose considerable amounts of fluid through respiration.
Also, these conditions make for fast evaporative sweat loss.  Any part of your body that is exposed to the elements will not be sweaty for long, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t losing body water.

You’re bundled up in layers
Depending on how many layers you wear, you may be carrying a significant amount of extra weight.  Extra weight means extra effort to move.  Extra effort to move means increased exercise intensity.  Increased exercise intensity lends itself to heavier breathing and more sweating, which takes us back to the problems listed above.

You don’t feel thirsty
This is the most important issue of which to be aware.  In the summer, when we become dehydrated, our bodies elicit a thirst response, helping to prevent dehydration.  In the winter, our body’s ability to elicit this response is decreased.  Without getting into the specifics, the way our bodies respond to cold temperatures alters the brain’s ability to detect dehydration.  When we aren’t thirsty, we don’t drink, which allows for further dehydration.

Dehydration seriously hinders performance and wellbeing.  Avoid it by taking note of these tips:
Hydrate early and often:
- Drink non-carbonated, non-caffeinated fluid (~16 oz every hour) before you exercise to ensure that you start fully hydrated
- During exercise, drink 4-8 oz of liquid every 15-20 minutes
- For workouts lasting longer than 1 hour, drink a sports drink to replenish lost electrolytes
- After exercising, drink 16-24 oz per pound lost (weigh yourself before and after you workout to determine pounds of water lost)

Be aware of the signs of dehydration:
- Early fatigue
- Faster breathing and heart rate
- Dizziness
- Headache
- Dark yellow urine (you want it to be almost clear)

So remember, bundle up and drink up!

Laura is currently a graduate student in the University of Pittsburgh’s Coordinated Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics program, one semester away from being eligible to become a registered dietitian.  Connect with Laura on twitter (@lmaydak) for motivation and tips to live your healthiest, happiest life – all given with a healthy dose of humor.

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