Cold Weather Exercise: How to Keep Going

Oct 10, 2023

The cold weather can present a challenge for people who exercise outdoors. Here are some tips – and some important health info – about cold weather exercise.

The benefits of Cold Weather Exercise

Throughout the winter, there are many cold weather exercise activities to choose from: whether it’s outdoor walks, runs, or engaging in winter sports like skiing and sledding.

What’s more, these activities offer more than just seasonal fun. Research published in the “Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism” has shown that cold weather workouts can lead to increased calorie burn compared to warm weather exercises. Not only that, but engaging in regular exercise boosts your immune system. It helps you combat any potential symptoms of a cold or flu, but also decreases the chances of being affected. Exercise boosts your immune system’s resilience, making it more capable of defending against invading pathogens and their effects.

Safety is important

Exercising outdoors during winter is generally safe, but it necessitates additional precautions. The physiological and metabolic demands of cold weather exercise can be substantial. To function optimally in colder conditions and maintain warmth, your body must exert more effort.

When exposed to significant temperature changes, elevation shifts, or increased intensity, the body’s initial energy requirements spike. This leads to the breakdown of glycogen, a muscle carbohydrate crucial for immediate energy. This is why it’s important to increase your fuel intake to sustain yourself in colder conditions.


Fueling your Cold Weather Workouts

Glycogen, the body’s primary source of readily available energy, becomes paramount for cold weather exercise. Consequently, it’s crucial to optimize nutrient intake before, during, and after these workouts to replenish energy stores and enhance muscle function.

The number of calories burned during exercise depends on various factors. Skiing, for example, can expend up to 2,000 calories in a day. Consuming a substantial meal rich in carbohydrates and protein 2-4 hours before exercise provides an ideal fuel source.

During physical activity, it’s advisable to consume a carbohydrate-rich snack every 30-60 minutes after the first hour. Recommended snacks include:

  • A peanut butter sandwich
  • Orange slices
  • A banana
  • An energy bar
  • Trail mix with dried fruit

Cold weather training intensifies the body’s energy demands. Increasing carbohydrate intake, especially during planned breaks and downtime, can be beneficial. Regular nutrient replenishment during physical activity in the cold is essential for sustaining energy levels.

Post-Workout Recovery for Cold Weather Exercise

For those planning to continue exercising on the same day or the following day, it’s essential to consume a carb-and-protein-rich snack within 30-60 minutes post-workout. This aids in glycogen replenishment and muscle repair. Suggested recovery foods include:

  • Low-fat chocolate milk
  • A fruit and yogurt smoothie
  • Ryvita or other crackers, with peanut butter
  • An apple or banana with peanut butter


Flex - Winter 2-01


Staying Hydrated in the Cold

Exercising in cold weather presents a risk of dehydration similar to exercising in the heat, even though thirst may not be as apparent. The cold reduces thirst by up to 40%.

Cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, redirecting blood flow to the core of the body. This constriction reduces the secretion of arginine vasopressin (AVP), a hormone responsible for regulating fluid balance, leading to reduced thirst.

Fluid loss also occurs through respiratory fluid loss and sweat, which may be less noticeable in winter attire.

Preventing Dehydration During Cold Weather Exercise

To prevent dehydration during cold weather workouts, consider wearing a scarf or face mask to keep airways moist. Bringing warm liquids like tea can also help maintain hydration.

As a general guideline, the body requires 500ml of water for every hour of physical activity, whether in the cold or heat.


How to stay motivated

Staying motivated to exercise during the cold winter months can be a challenge, but with the right strategies, you can maintain your fitness routine.

One effective approach is to set clear, achievable goals for your cold weather workouts. Whether it’s aiming to improve your stamina, master a new winter sport, or simply stay active throughout the season, having specific objectives can keep you focused and motivated. Additionally, finding a workout buddy or joining a cold-weather exercise group can add an element of social accountability, making it more likely that you’ll stick to your routine. Embracing the beauty of winter by choosing outdoor activities that you genuinely enjoy, such as ice skating, can make exercising in the cold more appealing. Lastly, don’t forget to reward yourself for your commitment. Treat yourself to a warm cup of herbal tea or a cozy evening by the fireplace after a successful cold weather workout to maintain your motivation and make it an enjoyable winter fitness experience.