What should I drink during winter workouts?

By Col. Joanna Reagan, Registered Dietitian, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJanuary 5, 2015

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Soon the snowflakes will be flying, but don't use this as reason to slow down on your winter health plan. Winter is a great time to join a gym, try a new class or get into a new winter sport. Winter is also a time to prevent dehydration. It is important for warrior athletes to remember their sweat rate does not change just because the temperature drops. This is because sweat rate is determined by numerous factors, including fitness level, pace and acclimatization--not just ambient temperature. Warrior athletes are just as likely to become dehydrated during winter workouts as summer workouts.

The message to drink water is easy in the summer, but not so much in the winter. Dehydration can come because warrior athletes feel less thirsty during winter workouts. Second, some may overdress for cold-weather exercise sessions by wearing too many layers of clothes. Third, athletes may convert to indoor workouts during the winter, and sweat more while inside.

Warrior athletes can check for dehydration by checking the color of their urine. If the urine looks like lemonade, this indicates proper hydration. If it is darker and looks like apple juice or pale ale, then more fluids are needed. In contrast, if the urine looks clear, this can indicate over hydration and drinking too much. Other symptoms of dehydration may include: drowsiness, headaches, dry skin, dizziness or nausea. Remember, don't rely on thirst as an indicator of hydration status. Usually an individual is already three percent dehydrated when they become thirsty.

So what are the recommendations for healthy drinks? Water is the best choice: It's calorie-free, inexpensive and it's easy to find. It is the perfect choice to re-hydrate athletes and restore fluids lost during a workout. As a basic guide, an adequate intake of total water from fluids and foods is 12 cups a day for men ages 19-30 years old and nine cups a day for women pf the same age based on the Dietary Reference Intake. For most people, about 80 percent of this water volume comes from beverages; the rest comes from food.

Sports beverages are designed to give athletes carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluid during high-intensity workouts greater than one hour. For other folks, they're just another source of sugar and calories. If your workout consists of moderate to heavy intensity for 45-60 minutes, then a sports drink would be recommended. Examples would be activities where you have minimal conversation, an increased sweat rate, heavy breathing and a high heart rate.

Try to avoid drinks that have added sugars for flavor such as sugar-sweetened soda, sweet tea or energy drinks. One bottle of regular 16-ounce soda has about 185 calories; one 16-ounce bottle of sweet tea has 200 calories and one 16-ounce energy drink has about 250 calories. Energy drinks have as much sugar as soft drinks. They contain caffeine to raise your blood pressure, and additives whose long-term health effects are unknown. For these reasons, it's best to skip energy drinks. Over time, the extra calories add to weight gain and increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and gout.

For some people who are accustomed to drinking flavored beverages, water can initially taste bland. One recommendation is to increase water consumption without losing flavor or increase daily water intake by trying infused water. Instead of purchasing expensive flavored waters in the grocery store, infused water can be made at home by adding sliced citrus fruits or zest (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit), or crushed fresh mint. One could also add sliced fresh ginger, sliced cucumber or maybe crushed berries for some other ideas. Sparkling water with a splash of juice is another idea to increase fluids.

Other drinks to try in the winter are sugar-free apple cider or sugar-free hot chocolate. Coffee and tea, without added sweeteners, are healthy choices, too. Try carrying a water bottle throughout the day, to sip at work or at home. Also try eating foods high in water content such as oranges and grapefruit.

Winter is a great time to focus on your health. Remember, it is also a time to drink more fluids to stay hydrated and achieve your performance goals.

Related Links:

USAPHC Health Information E-Catalog