Winter is a time where a lot of animals are hibernating. When it comes to runners, however, the winter months are still fair game for getting outside and hitting the roads or trails.
The winter months often bring faster race times and easier training sessions without the sweat. The reduction in sweat can be a bit deceiving, and it’s why there is usually little talk of the importance of hydration when temperatures fall. During the summer, runners are inundated with reminders to carry water and keep an eye out for salt rings on clothes that mean high sweat rates and dehydration. But just because you aren’t a sweaty mess doesn’t mean you aren’t dehydrated.
DEHYDRATION ISN’T ALWAYS LINKED TO SWEAT
When it comes to winter running, cold air keeps runners from noticing they are, in fact, still sweating. So even though you don’t feel — or see — sweat, that doesn’t mean you aren’t losing water your body desperately needs.
“You become dehydrated when you lose more fluid than you drink,” explains triathlon and running coach Heather Blackmon, founder of FITaspire. “In most cases, this is caused in situations of excessive sweating; however, you can also become dehydrated due to not drinking enough water, regardless of exercise or time of year.”
For runners who opt to head indoors, it’s important to remember most gyms blast the heat during the winter. This will definitely have an effect on your body and mess with your sweat rate, as well. “If you are working out inside, remember that heat will likely be running, sucking the moisture from the air and also keeping the temperature a particular temperature much higher than that outside,” notes Susie Lemmer, a running coach and trainer at Coach Suz Training. “Your skin is going to take a real beating — as are you — from being inside in heated air, which is nearly always super dry. Proper hydration protects your muscles and digestive processes from breaking down.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF HYDRATION DURING WINTER MONTHS
It may seem odd that you would need more water in the winter months to stay hydrated than in the summer, however, the air and temperatures affect your body in different ways.
“During colder months, the air is drier and your body has to work a bit harder to warm the air and add humidity,” shares Blackmon. “That means you actually need more water than in warmer, humid months. You may not feel as thirsty when you’re colder, but don’t skip the water.”
Even if you aren’t feeling thirsty, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Researchers discovered that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. That will absolutely affect your workout. If you start a workout in a dehydrated state, it will make it even harder to achieve a proper level of hydration, even while constantly sipping water throughout a run.
“A very simple place to start is to drink half your bodyweight in ounces each day as a baseline,” adds Blackmon. “For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, then you should aim for 70 ounces of water per day. If you exercise, you will want to drink additional water.”
Blackmon says if you are doing a run or workout less than an hour in length, water should be enough to keep you hydrated. For anything longer than that, however, you will want to add electrolytes, regardless of how much you are sweating.
AN EASY WAY TO TRACK HYDRATION
In the summer months runners are often told to keep an eye on our clothes for a ring of salt that indicates just how much you sweat and how much fluid you lose. In the winter months, however, this isn’t usually as visible as your body is exposed to the cold air and covered by multiple layers. In this case, “the pee test” is the easiest way to keep an eye on your hydration.
“This test is really just examining the color of your urine,” explains Lemmer. “Aim for a watered-down lemonade color, not tea (in any way, shape or form). Also, are you even urinating at all? Think of a normal day of hydration; if you are urinating less than that, you need to reach for some water.”
It really is as simple as it sounds. You should be aware of the color of your urine throughout the day, as suggested, and not just before or after a run. The winter months often lead to drinking less water in general, so consider this your gentle reminder to get your water in. In the morning your urine will be a bit more yellow than it is throughout the day due to the effects of dehydration during the night, so starting off your day with a big glass of water is a great habit.
“Sweating or not, you can absolutely become dehydrated,” reminds Lemmer. “You are still raising your body temperature during a run, and even though you might be out in the cold, often the dry air will keep you from feeling like you are sweating.”