It’s this time of year that I start to get really, really antsy waiting for spring to arrive. I’m not one to head out in frigid temperatures to work out, and that’s partly because it’s hard to go on walks or jogs with two kids when there are piles of snow everywhere we look. But it’s mostly because I am not a fan of the cold. The only time cold is acceptable to me is if I’m skiing, which doesn’t happen terribly often and certainly not in my day-to-day life. So, pretty much, I’m not okay with cold most of the time.
But just because it’s my least favorite season, it doesn’t mean I should give up on outdoor workouts. And considering that there are numerous chilly days still to come as we warm up to spring and summer, I thought I’d share these tips from Heidi Skolnik on working out in the cold weather. Heidi’s resume is crazy-long and includes being the owner and president of Nutrition Conditioning, a nutrition consulting practice, in which she oversees programs for hospitals, sports teams, corporations, professional organizations and educational institutions. She’s provided nutrition services to professional athletes and has worked with the New York Giants and Mets for years. Plus, she’s based in New Jersey, so I know she knows the kinds of weather we’ve been dealing with in these parts!
We asked Heidi our burning questions about cold-weather workouts. Read on for her tips on making your workouts comfortable even in cool conditions.
Cold-Weather Workout Tips
What should you do to prepare to work out in cold weather? In cold weather you can do what you usually do before a workout:
- If you’re planning a serious workout, start off with 15 to 25 grams of carbohydrates, something as simple as a 4 to 8 ounces of 100 percent orange juice or a handful of pretzels, or a small bowl of cereal and milk.
- Dress warmly, but don’t overdo it. You should feel a little bit chilly when you start, but you’ll warm up once you start moving. Wear layers; you can always take one off if you get too warm!
- Avoid cotton, which holds moisture, and start with a thin layer of synthetic material to wick sweat from your body. Your core body temperature will begin to drop as soon as you finish moving, so plan to change quickly post-exercise to avoid nasty chills.
- Remember to stay hydrated. Cold air has a drying effect and you may not realize how much you are sweating and losing through breathing. Replace fluids on schedule as you do in warmer weather.
What items are must-haves for a cold run? Your run won’t be different just because of the cold. Even if you don’t feel it, you are still sweating and burning calories.
- Sweat-wicking layers and gloves are a must, and some runners love hand warmers to keep their fingers toasty on an especially cold day.
- Of course, wear a hat or headband that covers your ears keeps warmth in.
- If it is really cold, try a facemask to prevent frostbite of nose and mouth!
As in any weather and for any activity, it is important to find what works for you.
Can someone who hates cold weather actually learn to enjoy exercising in the cold? Try to translate what you love about outdoor warm weather activities into their winter equivalents.
- Like hiking in the summer? Try snowshoeing for a cold weather adventurous trek.
- Make plans with a friend to brave the outdoors, even if you’re planning on just going for a walk. Good company can make even the cold seem more agreeable and will serve as added motivation to layer up and get out the door.
- For many, being outdoors and getting some winter sun is a mood-lifter.
- Try something new! As long as you bundle up with sweat-wicking layers so that you’re not uncomfortable, you can find things that you love. Think: invigorating!
Anything else someone should know for outdoor winter workouts? Don’t fear the cold. A dose of fresh, cold air can be refreshing after winter months spent bundled up indoors. Remember the SPF as the sun’s rays, not the temperature, are what matters when it comes to skin protection.
You do burn more calories when working out in colder temperatures because your body spends more energy trying to keep you warm. Unfortunately, the bonus burn isn’t much. It’s not the slight increase in calories from the weather but the intensity of your workout — and the satisfaction you’ll feel from braving the cold — that make a winter workout worthwhile.
How cold is too cold to head outdoors? (Polar vortex anyone!?) Heading out in the cold is all about protection. As long as you’re not leaving yourself vulnerable to hypothermia, freezing temperatures won’t hurt you. Just think of Eskimos who live beautifully in the snow! In terms of risk, exercising in the cold can be less dangerous than exercising in high temperatures when you can be susceptible to overheating or heat stroke. Be careful of ice and uneven terrain. Remember to wear reflective outer layers if getting up early before sunrise or staying out after sunset.
Thanks to Heidi for the tips! Do you guys brave the cold to work out in the great outdoors? Or do you do like me and hit the gym until you can head out in shorts? —Erin