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Eating for Cold Weather Exercise - How to Eat for Cold Weather Exercise

Winter Sports Nutrition - What are the best foods for winter athletes?

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Updated December 09, 2010

Exercising in the cold weather brings some unique challenges for athletes who participate in winter sports. Anyone who exercises in cold weather needs to take a few precautions in order to stay comfortable, safe, and still perform at an optimal level when temperatures drop.

The major concerns of cold weather athletes and exercisers include:

But what you eat and drink before and during cold-weather exercise can also help you perform your best and stay comfortable and safe. Proper nutrition helps regulate your core temperature, keeps your body warm and provides enough fuel for your working muscles. In warm weather it's easy to sweat to regulate your temperature and remove excess heat, but in cold weather you need to generate more heat to stay warm.

In the cold weather your body temperature normally drops. Your metabolism increases to warm and humidify the air you breathe and you tend to burn slightly more calories to stay warm. Breathing in cold, dry air forces your body to warm and humidify that air and with each exhalation, you lose significant amounts of water. Winter athletes need to consciously drink more fluids to replace the water that gets lost via respiration. Add this to a decreased desire to drink (the thirst mechanism is reduced in cold weather) and you can see why one of the biggest nutritional needs during winter exercise is replacing lost fluids and getting proper hydration. Dehydration is one of the main reasons for reduced performance in the cold.

When it comes to eating during cold weather exercise, warm foods are ideal, but not very practical. The problem with cold foods and fluids is that they can chill the body. In summer, this cooling effect is helpful during exercise, but in winter hot foods are the better choice.

Ideal foods are complex carbohydrates consumed 2 hours prior to exercise. Soups, chili, bread, bagels, pasta with tomato sauce, baked potatoes, cereals, peanut butter, lean meat, and low-fat cheese are good choices.

It's also important to eat continually to replace carbohydrate stores that are being used for exercise and warming. If you don't replace this energy you will likely feel more fatigued and chilled. Children get hungrier more often and fatigue quicker. This is especially important for children. Plan ahead and bring energy bars, chocolate bars, trail mix, bananas, sandwiches or something that you like and will eat.

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Recommendations for Cold Weather Nutrition

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat a variety of high carbohydrates foods
  • Plan to eat a small snack every 30-45 minutes (100-200 calories)
  • Eat warm or hot food when possible
  • Decrease caffeine consumption
  • Don't drink alcohol. Alcohol dilates the blood vessels and increases heat loss.

And finally, it's important for winter athletes to have an emergency food source with them. This is beyond what you plan to eat. Hide an extra energy bar somewhere just in case.

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