New Year, New Fuel: Staying Hydrated Through Winter

Sports dietitian Meghann Featherstun breaks down what you need to know about training and hydrating this winter.

Getting your training miles in with freezing wind, icy sidewalks and more running layers than was ever thought possible isn’t easy.

Winter, in general, isn’t easy.

And as spring Abbott World Marathon Majors races — Tokyo, Boston and London — fast approach, waiting out the cold isn’t an option.

Not to pile on, but you may need to rethink your hydration, too.

We chatted with Meghann Featherstun, a sports dietitian and 15-time marathoner, about all things winter hydration, and left with one major finding: a new season means a new approach to fueling.

The cold temperatures, the gear you’re wearing and the dryness of the environment are just a few factors that make winter hydration different than what you may be used to (or have perfected) for warmer months.

Featherstun, who is currently training in sub-zero temperatures herself, has three tips for improving your winter hydration to optimize your winter training.

Throw Out Your Summer Hydration Routine, For Now

Think of summer training. Chances are, sweating under a beating sun comes to mind. Maybe your mind jumps back to an especially humid long run where you ran straight into a lake, without a single thought, off pure, sweaty instinct. We’re not speaking from personal experience, we swear.

With higher temperatures and potentially increased humidity, summer runs, for many, get sweaty. And when you have that physical reminder of the fluid you’re losing, you’re more likely to hydrate.

Winter is different.

“When it’s dry, we don’t have that same feedback that our body gives us in the summer. Our thirst mechanism is actually decreased in the cold,” Featherstun said. “We need that reminder.”

Featherstun recommends carrying your favorite sports drink, like Pedialyte Sport, and setting alarms throughout your run to remind you to hydrate. This will ensure that your approach to replenishing the fluids you’ve lost isn’t “out of sight, out of mind.”

As Featherstun mentioned, you may not have the physical reminder that you're losing fluid while training in the cold, but that doesn’t mean you’re not losing just as many electrolytes.

Electrolytes — essential minerals that are vital to key functions in the body — are linked to improved athletic performance. When you drink electrolytes in the summer, you’re more likely to feel that immediate relief from the heat, but winter may not give you the same.

“If you want to be comfortable in the cold, chances are, you’re layering,” Featherstun said. “With the layers, cold air and wind, you may not be able to feel the sweat on your skin or feel that sweat loss, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not sweating.”

And sweat isn’t the only factor in how winter training can impact you differently.

“In the winter, we have higher respiratory losses,” Featherstun said. “When you see your breath in the air, you may be losing more fluid than you realize.”

That’s to say, no matter what you can see or feel, you’re likely losing more electrolytes than you think.

Get Creative to Get Your Hydration In

We know that switching up your approach to fueling while training can be tricky.

What worked six months ago, or even six weeks ago, may not be what you need now. And that could change again in another six weeks.

Featherstun has a few recommendations to get creative, so your hydration routine works for you.

  1. Work your favorite winter cravings into your hydration routine: soup, bone broth and even winter vegetables like cabbage and carrots.  
  2. To prevent your water from freezing over, you can heat it up before heading for your outdoor run.
  3. Have something warm to look forward to when you get home. Have your favorite coffee, cocoa or tea waiting for you to keep up the hydration, warm you up, and motivate you to finish.

We know, winter can be hard — but hydration doesn’t have to be.