Dehydration During the Winter

December 7, 2011

Q: Can you become dehydrated during the winter?

Today’s expert is Kim Kandler, athletic trainer, New London Family Medical Center.

A: Of course the answer to this question is yes! Dehydration, the loss of too much fluid from your body, does not occur just during the hot days of summer. During the winter months it is very easy to become dehydrated. Besides loss of fluid from daily activities, outdoor winter sports can cause just as much dehydration as summer sports. Factors such as cold dry air, wind chill, inadequate fluid intake, sweating, and even shivering all contribute to dehydration during outdoor winter sports. 

The human body needs water to maintain normal functions. Your body loses fluids with urination, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, sweat, overexertion, and breathing. Dehydration interferes with the core (inner) temperature of the body. Body temperature needs to be at a regulated level and if it is not, then not only will your physical performance be affected, but your mental performance will also be impacted.

Before beginning any outdoor sports, make sure you have easy access to fluid to keep well hydrated. You will have a tendency to not drink as much as you should because cold weather suppresses thirst.  Some people use an insulated hydration system carried as a pack on the back with a “positioning” tube that allows hands-free hydration and helps to prevent fluids from freezing. Drink before you begin your workout or event, even a week or day before. Just as in warm weather, your body loses electrolytes (filled with salt and potassium), so you will perform best by utilizing sports drinks in addition to water. In the winter, be careful not to gulp large quantities of fluid at once, as this could chill you. It is best to take small sips frequently. 

Remember that too much tea, coffee or soda containing caffeine may act as a diuretic by flushing water out of your system and contribute to dehydration. Avoid alcoholic beverages.  Not only does alcohol increase the chance of hypothermia, it can cloud your judgment, impair your sense of direction and weaken your decision making ability in a cold weather emergency.

Monitor the quantity and color of your urine. If you don’t need to empty your bladder for several hours it’s a sure sign you are running low on liquid. When you do “go” make sure that it’s light yellow to clear; a strong yellow color is one of the best indicators of a need for better hydration. At the onset of thirst, an individual will already be 3% dehydrated so don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Keep yourself well hydrated during all year long!