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Chilly vs. Chili: Eating for Cold Weather Exercise

Posted 1/27/2017 by UHBlog

Good nutrition and hydration is every bit as important during cold months as they are in the summer. We can help you develop a sports nutritional plan for every season.

Chilly vs. Chili: Eating for Cold Weather Exercise

Outdoor exercisers have different nutritional needs in the winter. Do you know them?

According to registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Jamieson-Petonic, many people tend to choose heavier foods in the winter, which could make outdoor exercise mighty uncomfortable.

“You still want to avoid eating very high fiber and high fat foods, especially closer to the time you’re planning to exercise,” she says. “These foods tend to increase gastrointestinal distress and make exercise more difficult. Also, your body is shunting – or moving – blood to the digestive tract instead of your muscles, which means you'll work harder and have a harder time staying warm.”

Although the need for good nutrition is just as important in cold weather, you might not need to eat as much as other times of the year. But proper nutrition is still important and should include carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and fluids.

“Staying warm and hydrated is the key,” Jamieson-Petonic says. “You have to continue to maintain your core body temperature.”

If you love ice cream, beware. The colder the temperature of the food eaten, the more it can chill you. In one study of ice cream eaters, researchers found that within five minutes of eating the treat, there was a two degree reduction in participants' body temperatures. After 15 minutes, their body temperatures were reduced by five degrees.

Cold weather also suppresses your thirst mechanism, Jamieson-Petonic says.

“You want to continue to sip on water or sports drinks throughout the day,” she says. “It's better to stay hydrated than to try to play catch-up later.”

To stay warm and last longer in the cold, Jamieson-Petonic recommends:

  • Using an insulated water bottle that withstands freezing temperatures so your liquids don't freeze. Another option is to mix a sports drink powder or an electrolyte tablet with water because these can withstand temperatures below freezing.
  • Eating easily digestible foods, such as pretzels, dried cereal, low-fat fruit and protein bars, canned fruit, trail mix, bananas and/or mini bagels.
  • Bringing a portable snack, such as bagel chips, pretzels, graham crackers, rice cakes or canned fruit.
  • Consuming warm beverages to help keep your body temperature up. During a skiing break, choose a hot cider or hot chocolate - the non-dairy version is best. It's better to avoid coffee, which can make you dehydrated.
  • Skipping beer or alcohol. “My concern is that by drinking an alcoholic beverage and then going up to the top of a mountain to ski, the alcohol can impair thought, coordination and/or performance,” she says. “I'd recommend waiting until you're done exercising to partake in a beverage.”

Besides eating warm foods and drinking fluids, be sure to follow other common-sense practices, such as:

  • Dressing for the cold by wearing layers that can be easily peeled off as needed.
  • Exercising in a group and/or a familiar place

For individualized advice on what to eat and how much, contact a registered dietitian. To make an appointment with UH Medical Nutrition Service, call 216-844-1499.

Amy Jamieson-Petonic, M.Ed., RDN, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Jamieson-Petonic or any other health care professional online.

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