Dehydration during the winter

If you’re not careful, it’s very easy to become dehydrated in the winter particularly if you’re engaged in outdoor sports.

It has been proven that people do not drink as much in the colder months because the hormone that triggers our sense of thirst reacts differently when we are exposed to cold weather.

The body’s normal mechanism in hot weather is a chain reaction of events triggered by sweating: The body sweats, causing the blood volume to decrease; this triggers the hypothalamus (the brain’s thirst center), which then triggers the brain to send out a demand for an increase in fluids, which we normally feel as thirst or a dry mouth.

However, in cold weather our bodies react in a completely different way. People just don’t feel as thirsty when the weather is cold.  When they don’t feel thirsty, they don’t drink as much, and this can cause dehydration. Dehydration is accelerated in cold weather or at higher altitudes because the air we breathe is drier. Normally, people lose between one to two quarts of water a day via evaporation from the lungs. When we breathe, our bodies humidify dry air and heat it up to our body’s temperature, which is why your exhalations look like fog in cold weather.

In cold weather, your body has to work harder to humidify the air you breathe and to warm it up, meaning that you need to drink more water or other liquids and eat more if you are outdoors. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least four quarts of fluids a day, but many people will drink twice that under high exertion levels or over 10,000 feet of altitude

Winter hydration tips:

  • Start right. Slowly drink about 17 oz. of water more than one hour before you exercise.
  • Drink early. Studies show that people are already about 2 percent dehydrated by the time they feel thirsty.
  • Drink often. Drink 6 to 10 oz. every 15 minutes. A general rule of thumb: Your urine should be no darker than lemonade, and ample.
  • Gatorade or Water? Sports drinks may help the gut absorb fluid a modest amount faster than water alone, but water is a perfectly fine hydrator, says Dr. John Castellani, research physiologist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine’s Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division.  “For the treatment of cramps as a result of dehydration, taking water with Endurolytes, a product by Hammer Nutrition is great”, says Dr. George Cerezo, a consultant in health science, sports medicine and nutrition.

Dehydration leaves your body susceptible to common colds and flu. So what’s one to do for cold weather dehydration?  Basically, the same as in hot weather.  Pay attention to the warning signs of dehydration and make sure to drink plenty of water or other fluids.   A good way to monitor proper hydration is to examine urine output – the color should be nearly clear.  So, stay hydrated and stay well this season!

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