Nutrition – Staying Fit in Winter

Why Am I Hungrier in the Winter?

A drop in body temperature stimulates the appetite and you experience hunger. Thus, if you become chilled during winter exercise (or when swimming at any time of year, for that matter), you’ll likely find yourself searching for food. Eating “stokes the furnace,” generates heat, and helps warm your body. Food’s overall warming effect is known as thermogenesis. Thirty to 60 minutes after you eat, your body generates about 10 percent more heat than when you have an empty stomach. This increased metabolism stems primarily from energy released during digestion, so, eating not only provides fuel but also increases heat production.

Do I Burn More Calories When I’m Cold?

Cold weather itself does not increase calorie needs. You don’t burn extra calories unless your body temperature drops and you start to shiver.  Your body does use a considerable amount of energy to warm and humidify the air you breathe when you exercise in the cold.  In summer, you would have dissipated this heat via sweat. In winter, you sweat less.  If you are wearing a lot of winter gear, you will burn a few more calories to carry the extra weight of layers of clothes, or skis, boots, heavy parka, snow shoes, etc. But the weight of extra clothing on, let’s say, winter runners, is generally minimal.

What’s Biggest Nutritional Mistake Athletes Make in the Winter?

Failing to drink enough water is a major problem among winter athletes…players, skiers, runners and winter hikers alike. Cold makes  you feel less thirsty. And winter athletes need to consciously consume fluids to replace the water that gets lost via breathing. When you breathe in cold, dry air, your body warms and humidifies that air. As you exhale, you lose significant amounts of water. Some winter athletes purposefully skimp on fluids because urinating can be problematic—too much hassle to shed layers of clothing (ski suit, hockey gear, snow pants, etc.) Yet, dehydration hurts performance and is one cause of failed mountaineering adventures.

What’s Best Way to Eat to Warm Myself Up?

If you become chilled by the winter weather, as can easily happen if you:

  • Wear sweaty, wet clothing that drains body heat
  • Fail to wear a hat (30 to 40 percent of body heat can get lost through the head)
  • Drink icy water (from a water bottle kept on your bike or outside pocket of your backpack when winter hiking)

… the best way to warm yourself up is to consume warm carbohydrates—hot cocoa, mulled cider, steaming soup, as well as oatmeal, chili, or pasta. The warm food, added to the thermogenic effect of eating, contributes to rapid recovery.  Cold foods and fluids chill your body.  In summer, this cooling effect is desirable, but in winter, hot foods are the better way to warm yourself.

Why Do I Gain Weight in the Winter?

Some people eat more because they are bored and less active. Instead of playing tennis, they are eating mindlessly in front of the TV.  For others, the change of seasons has a marked affect upon their mood (known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD). Changes in brain chemicals increase carbohydrate cravings and the desire to eat more.  Holiday temptations also contribute to weight gain. A study of 195 people indicates they gained on average 0.8 pounds in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  Overweight and obese people gained even more, with about 14 percent of the group gaining more than five pounds. The problem is, very few of the subjects lost those holiday pounds. And yearly holiday weight gain—that’s 8 pounds in 10 years—becomes a major contributor to obesity.

One weight-management solution is to stay active in the winter. By investing in proper clothing, you’ll be able to stay warm from head to toe. You’ll benefit from not only being able to enjoy exercise but also from sunlight—a good way to battle winter depression (and attempts to cheer yourself up with food).

Winter exercise is an asset for managing health, weight and the winter blues. The tricks are to dress right, fuel well, prevent dehydration—and you’ll stay warm