With the weather growing colder, our special guest bloggers, Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC, authors of 100 Questions and Answers about Sports Nutrition & Exercise, offer nutrition an exercise tips for cold weather training.
Some years ago during late spring, I was hiking in Banff National Park. I planned on climbing the 8,000-foot mountain trail to a glacier that fed the beautiful Lake Louise. I started my journey about midday, with beautiful clear skies and a temperature of 62 degrees. The ascent was steep and taxing along the switches; I was wearing a long sleeved cotton T-shirt, a cotton sweatshirt and a lightweight nylon rainproof jacket. The hike took approximately two hours, which included occasional rest breaks to catch my breath and to take pictures. I vividly remember my final stop before the summit; the temperature had dropped significantly and a light wind was blowing which caused the heavy sweat on my body to chill quickly. I began to shiver uncontrollably, but pushed on to the top. When I arrived at the base of the glacier, I noticed that I was having difficulty concentrating and I was a little unsteady on my feet. A couple of times I lost my balance, which forced me to sit down. I stopped shivering and no longer felt cold. I had no idea how long I had been sitting, when someone approached me and asked if I was feeling okay. I had difficulty answering due to my confusion and slurred speech. Two hikers escorted me to the log cabin that sold hot beverages and food where I was placed in front of a heater and given something hot to drink. This was my first and hopefully last experience with hypothermia. In hindsight, I was lucky that this incident did not turn into something more serious. I learned more than I bargained for that day; my experience helped me personally during my career training Navy and Marine Corps aviators and aircrew in cold weather survival techniques.
The following are important tips to help protect you when working or exercising in the cold:
1. Cold weather doesn’t mean you have to stop outdoor activities. Don’t put your exercise on hold. With the right clothing and proper planning you can continue getting the most from outdoor exercise during the colder months.
2. Before going outside get an updated weather report. Know the air temperature and wind-chill factor. Low temperatures combined with wind can decrease temperatures considerably, resulting in an increased potential for hypothermia or frostbite.
3. Let someone know where you are going and what time to expect you back. Individuals who exercise in the cold should carry a cell phone and some type of signaling device such as a whistle or flashlight. Try to avoid changing your route when you are outside, as this makes it more difficult to locate you if something should happen.
4. Dress in layers. Do not dress too warmly in the cold. Exercise generates significant amounts of body heat. It is important to dress in layers that can be removed when sweating. The rule of thumb is to wear a lightweight synthetic or polyester layer against the skin as it wicks moisture away from the skin’s surface and dries quickly. The second layer should be either wool or polyester fleece and the outermost layer should be a lightweight water repellant material with vents both under the armpits and back to allow trapped heat and moisture to escape.
5. Avoid heavy cotton materials that absorb large amounts of moisture. Wet clothes that contact the skin can remove heat from the body very quickly in cold temperatures and wind. It is well documented that water contacting the skin removes heat 26 times faster than skin exposed to air. If the skin becomes wet, find shelter and dry off as quickly as possible. Follow the layered protocol above to avoid potential cold threats.
6. Protect your hands, feet, and head. It is important to remember that the body conserves its core temperature in the cold by shunting warm blood away from the extremities such as hands and feet. This makes the exposed extremities susceptible to potential frostbite. Wear double gloves; the outer glove should be thick covering a thinner glove underneath. Allow extra room in your footwear to accommodate thermal socks. The head loses approximately 50%of the body’s heat, so cover your head with a woolen hat. A scarf can also help protect the neck and be used to cover the mouth to help alleviate cold air from going directly into the lungs causing discomfort.
7. Heed the wind direction. It is recommended that you head into the wind at the beginning of the workout and have the wind at your back on your return. The wind blowing at your back will help lessen the chilling effect when you are most sweaty.
8. Hydrate. You must consume fluids before and during exercising outside. Many exercisers do not realize that in cold weather you are losing water vapor with every breath (during respiration). You can easily succumb to insensible dehydration if you avoid consuming fluids.
9. Wear reflective clothing if it is dark. If you are going to exercise or work during low light levels, choose clothing or footwear that offers bright and or reflective surfaces. Additionally, small lights can be purchased and displayed strategically on clothing or the body.
10. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol increases heat loss from the body by vasodilating (opening) the blood vessels making hypothermia more likely. Additionally, alcohol impairs judgment, which could lead to poor decision-making during a cold weather emergency
Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia. Hypothermia can be deceptive; being unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms can result in needing help before you realize it. Common symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Slurred speech
- Extreme shivering or lack of shivering
- Poor motor control over body movements
- Behavioral changes
- Erratic breathing
If I had only done some basic homework, I would have been able to avoid my hypothermic episode. Following the above advice can help you stay safe and allow you to enjoy winter training!
More information can be found in 100 Questions and Answers About Sports Nutrition and Exercise by Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC.
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