Nutrition Considerations for Running in the Cold

by Dr. Theresa DeLorenzo, RD

        Jim Sweeney, Pete Rowell, and Dennis VanVlack running in HMRRC Winter Series Run

I was recently asked by a neighbor, who sees me running every day on his way to work, stopping to ask what the heck I am doing running in the pouring rain, “So what do you when Winter comes?”  “Run!” I replied.  For many of us, winter running is our base training.  It’s when we build our foundation for the next training season.  Some people may turn to the treadmill in the winter for various reasons and when the conditions aren’t safe.  But, for me, running in sub zero temperatures is much more desirable than running in the heat.  There are certain nutritional precautions that can make your winter runs more tolerable and keep you safer.  Let’s review those, so you too can have your neighbors look at you like you’re nuts! 

Even though you may not feel like drinking as much during cold weather runs, you still lose fluid and electrolytes during winter weather runs.  Having something warm to drink with electrolytes before a long run, such as broth, will warm your core up as well as provide electrolytes that you will use during your run.   Sip on room temperature liquid throughout your run to replace what you are losing.

                    Michelle Merlis hydrating with warm cup of broth

We generally can get through a one hour run without needing a source of carbohydrates. Our liver and muscles have enough glycogen stored to get us through about 90 minutes of an easy run. However, having a small snack every 30- 45 minutes can actually help to keep you warm! When we eat, our body temperature rises as we digest the food. This is called the thermic effect of food. A 100- 200 calorie snack will do the trick, so anything from a gel, to a few pretzels or crackers, will work.

Maureen Cox and Wade Stockman giving runners nutritious refreshments during
HMRRC Winter Series

Alcohol and caffeine consumption should be considered as well. These substances both dilate blood vessels. This can help to increase blood blow to our muscles and enhance performance, but it can also increase our body’s loss of heat and fluid. Not what we are going for when it’s below zero. Save the celebratory glass of wine for later in the day. Don’t worry, I practice what I preach so if I tell you to cut it out, I would have to do the same and I’m not eliminating my wine.

Another important factor to consider is Vitamin D synthesis. A study done at Tufts University revealed that despite people being outside for several hours a day with minimal clothing on (the torture they put med students through), there was almost no synthesis of vitamin D between October and March.  Why is Vitamin D so important? Vitamin D helps keep our body’s inflammation under control, which helps prevent injury. It assists with calcium absorption to keep our bones strong and protect us from stress fractures. Vitamin D deficiency is linked with every disease we know of. Seventy percent of Americans have suboptimal Vitamin D levels. Unfortunately, it is only found in a few foods such as milk, fortified yogurt, cheese, shiitake mushrooms, with a small amount in eggs.  As a dietitian, I recommend food first. but this is one nutrient which supplementation can be extremely beneficial. Although it is a fat soluble vitamin, it is very hard to achieve toxic levels of vitamin D.

Running in the winter is possible and can even be fun. Stay hydrated, have a few snacks, take a vitamin D supplement and enjoy your run!

            Bill Bean, George Baranauskus, and Melissa Grandjean at Winter Series #3 2019

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