We are very focused upon avoiding dehydration during the hot weather months; however, less attention is paid to the possibility of dehydrating during our cold weather activities.
As we approach the colder weather, particularly at high altitude, it is prudent to avoid dehydration by following a few guidelines featured this week. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
Guideline 1: Ensure that you, and your family, are well hydrated before you begin your cold weather outdoor activities. This can be achieved by checking the color of your urine (i.e. it should be clear), and, when voiding in the morning, if the urine volume is small you may need to add more fluid immediately and check to make certain that you have a stable body weight (i.e. weighing once a week to establish a baseline body weight and then check prior to and following exertion). Teach your children to follow this practice on their own so that as they age, and begin to go out solo to perform cold weather activities, they will possess an understanding of this process and avoid dehydration.
Guideline 2: In addition to hydrating with temperate water, inputting a warm drink (with no alcohol as alcohol is a diuretic and may contribute to dehydration), perhaps even a sports drink which may have a bit of salt to help retain fluids, may be helpful when you are exercising in cold weather. The duration of the cold weather activity may also determine the volume of fluid lost and therefore, may impact the amount of necessary fluid input prior to, throughout and following the activity. In a general sense, if you are exerting heavily in excess of 90 minutes, you may require some electrolyte replacements in addition to general fluid replacement. It should also be noted that some of us sweat more than others, and some of us are more “salty” sweaters than others, so take into consideration your specific body’s needs when determining fluid and electrolyte replacement.
Guideline 3: Because you may be less aware of the possibility of dehydration when exerting in cold weather, particularly when Nordic skiing, you may be sweating more than you realize. Sweat is the body’s mechanism for dissipating heat and consequently, a loss of fluids and electrolytes occurs. Even though the outside temperature is colder, your fluid input approach during the activity should mirror that of exercising in warmer weather.
Guideline 4: Following your cold weather activities, replace your fluids and electrolytes as you do during warmer weather activities.
Guideline 5: Pay close attention, particularly in children as they dehydrate quickly, to the signs of dehydration and over-hydration (i.e. hyponatremia*). To reiterate — check urine color, signs of excessive fatigue between one exercise session to another, poor performance during the activity or if your athlete experiences heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke which is a medical emergency. Dehydration is cumulative. So, if your child is participating in colder weather activities as an athlete, be aware of the coaching practices regarding hydration to be sure the criteria for preventing dehydration follows the above guidelines.
*If the body is overhydrated (i.e. hyponatremia), this may lead to issues with the blood pressure and to heart arrhythmia — more is not necessarily better.