When you train during the cold winter months—especially outdoors—staying hydrated becomes a bit of a challenge. During warm-weather exercise, it’s easy to know when you need fluid—you see beads of perspiration on your skin and you feel parched. But in the winter, when you’re dressed in layers (especially if you wear fabrics that essentially absorb your sweat), the usual signs of thirst seem diluted.
Staying hydrated is essential all year-round, but especially when you’re alternately exposed to cold air and indoor heat. About 55 to 75 percent of the body is made of water, a nutrient with many vital functions. It helps:
- deliver oxygen and nutrients, such as glucose and fat, to muscles
- eliminate wastes such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid from the body
- regulate body temperature and prevent dehydration
- keep your skin, ears, nose and throat moist
- facilitate digestion, especially since it helps soften fiber to allow for easier passage through the body
The good news is that while most of the fluid we need comes from water and other beverages we drink, about 20 percent comes from fruits and vegetables, broth-based soups, and cooked grains such as oatmeal.
Although icy-cold water is my favorite drink of choice, not everyone loves the taste of plain water. You can always spritz up plain water, club soda or seltzer with lemon, lime or cucumber slices or a splash of 100 percent fruit juice like cranberry or orange juice. But for those who train and want other options, I turned to sports nutritionist Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDN, co-author (with Andrea Chernus, MS, RD) of Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance to get the skinny on some of your favorite sips.
EZ: What are the best hydrators for a person who exercises regularly?
HS: Water is the best hydrator when you do low-intensity exercise (walking, biking) for less than 60-90 minutes. If you do intense activity for 60 minutes or moderately intense activity for 90 or more minutes, it’s a good idea to consume a sports drink or water combined with an adequate source of electrolytes and energy (crushed pretzels, gels, etc). Sipping often instead of drinking a lot at once is the best way to hydrate during exercise.
EZ: Several studies have shown drinking chocolate milk after exercise can aid recovery. Thoughts?
HS: Chocolate milk is a great recovery beverage for moderate to intense strength training as well as cardiovascular exercise. But it’s too dense and wouldn’t be absorbed well during a workout. Besides being a source of fluid, milk packs protein that helps stimulate muscle/tissue repair and carbohydrate to help restore fuel. Of course you also get all the other benefits milk provides, namely calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, potassium and many other essential nutrients. Depending on your sweat rate and length and intensity of exercise, you may need more fluid.
EZ: Many active people love sports drinks. Are they always a best bet when it comes to hydration?
HS: For many of us, drinking water can get “boring” and when our bodies heat up, our tendency, ironically, is to lose our desire to drink. Flavored beverages can help you drink more and stay hydrated. Sports drinks provide fluid to maintain blood volume, electrolytes to maintain fluid balance, and substrate (or carbohydrate calories) to prevent muscle fatigue, which can help you train longer and harder.
Sports drinks are designed to have just the right amount of carbohydrate to be absorbed as rapidly as water—too much delays gastric empting. When you buy a sports drink, look for one that contains 13-15 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces.
EZ: Are you a fan of “energy drinks” or “vitamin waters”?
HS: Energy drinks are designed to be stimulants—not to keep you adequately hydrated. Vitamin waters don’t contain sodium, an important electrolyte that helps with hydration. The added vitamins and minerals they contain serve no hydrating or performance-enhancing purpose during exercise.