When it comes to staying hydrated through the coldest days of winter, don’t let the snowy weather fool you—your body loses water the same way it does during the dog days of summer.
It is vital to replenish that loss.
“Staying hydrated year-round is important regardless of the outside temperature,” said Kim DeLaFuente, MA, Spectrum Health community health exercise educator. “Often dehydration is associated with warm weather, but it is possible to become dehydrated in the winter, too.”
The average healthy adult’s body is 45 to 65% water, and that adult will need to replenish 8-10 cups of water lost each day through the normal processes of breathing, sweating and urinating. Strenuous exercise requires even more replenishment.
One common misconception among casual winter athletes is that the body doesn’t perspire in the winter. Sweat may evaporate more quickly from the skin’s surface in cold, dry climates, but experts say the way you exercise, including the way you dress for that workout, can sometimes lead to even more perspiration.
“Many athletes who train in the winter tend to also increase the layers of warm clothing they are wearing,” said Megan Snow, Spectrum Health Medical Group lead athletic trainer. “This will cause an increase in the skin’s temperature, which leads to an increase in the amount of sweat produced.”
Furthermore, those layers of clothing may absorb most of the perspiration leading to a misconception about the actual amount of fluid loss during activity.
Without proper hydration, the body’s organs are forced to work harder than necessary to digest nutrients and deliver them where they need to go. Chronic dehydration can lead to unnecessary wear and tear on a number of important bodily systems.
The signs of dehydration include headaches, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, chills, flushed skin and muscle cramping. Urine is also a darker color than normal due to higher concentrations of uric acid.
Experts remind athletes and the rest of us of the importance of proper hydration and common sense regardless of the season.
“You don’t have to use a measuring cup in order to maintain healthy hydration levels,” Snow said. “Listen to your body.”
That’s advice echoed by former Spectrum Health community nutrition educator Jessica Corwin, MPH, RDN.
“Feel thirsty? Drink. Notice dry skin? Drink,” Corwin said. “Have a dry mouth? Drink. Feel lightheaded or have a headache? Drink.”
Corwin counsels clients to steer clear of highly processed snacks and fast food items, choices typically laced with sodium, a detriment to hydration. She also suggests keeping a bottle of water close throughout the day to serve as a helpful reminder to drink.
But if sipping ice cold water while the thermometer plunges below zero doesn’t sound appealing, decaffeinated tea or hot water with lemon, lime or fresh mint leaves make a nice alternative, she said.
Corwin also suggests including fruits and vegetables in each meal and snack.
“Produce is not only low in sodium, it is also high in fluid content and replaces the need for less healthy, and perhaps salty, options, helping you to reach your fluid goals without yet another glass of water,” Corwin said.
The most important thing to remember?
“Drink!” Corwin said.