a woman drinking from a bottle

The ColdTruth: Hydration for Athletes in Winter

February 19, 2024

When winter rolls around, it's easy to sideline our water bottles, mistaking the chill in the air as a sign that we're less thirsty, less sweaty, and therefore, less in need of hydration. But here's the cold truth, especially for high school athletes: Your hydration needs don't hibernate during the winter.

Why Hydration Can't Take a Winter Break

  1. Sweat Evaporates More Quickly in Cold Air
    • You're still sweating under all those layers, even if you don't feel it as much. Cold air can be deceiving, making you think you're losing less fluid than during a summer scorcher. But in reality, sweat evaporates faster in the cold, and with heavy gear on, it's harder to notice the moisture loss.
  2. Increased Respiratory Fluid Loss
    • Ever notice that you can see your breath when you exhale in cold weather? That's actually moisture leaving your body. High-intensity sports increase the rate of breathing, which in turn increases fluid loss. Over time, this can contribute significantly to dehydration.
  3. Cold Weather = Reduced Thirst Response
    • This one's a doozy. When it's cold, our bodies are tricked into thinking we need less water. The blood vessels constrict to preserve heat, and as a result, our bodies don't signal thirst as effectively. So, you might not even realize you're getting dehydrated until you're significantly so.
  4. Hydration Affects Performance and Recovery
    • Proper hydration is crucial for peak athletic performance. It impacts everything from muscle function to coordination and even cognitive ability (think strategy and decision-making on the field). Plus, adequate hydration speeds up recovery, meaning athletes can bounce back quicker for the next game or training session.

Staying Hydrated in the Cold: Tips for Athletes

  • Keep Your Water Bottle Handy: Just like in the summer, keep sipping throughout the day. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink up - set regular reminders if you have to.
  • Warm Beverages Count: Who says hydration has to be cold? Herbal teas or warm water with lemon can be more appealing when it's chilly and contribute to your daily fluid intake.
  • Monitor Your Pee: Yep, we're going there. The color of your urine is a good indicator of hydration levels. Pale and clear means you're doing well; dark yellow means you need to drink more water.
  • Eat Water-Rich Foods: Hydration doesn't just come from what you drink. Consuming fruits and vegetables with high water content, like cucumbers, oranges, and apples, can also help maintain fluid balance.

Wrapping Up

Ignoring hydration in the winter is like ignoring your coach's game plan - it just doesn't make sense. For high school athletes aiming to stay at the top of their game, recognizing and addressing the unique challenges of staying hydrated during the colder months is crucial. Remember, when it comes to hydration, the season doesn't dictate the strategy; your body's needs do.

Stay fluid, stay frosty, and let's make sure we're all playing at our best - no matter the weather.

About the Author:

Lucius Willson, MS, ATC; Corbin High School Athletic Trainer