As fall marches on toward winter, it's important to dress properly for your workouts in order to ensure that you may continue training without injury or excessive discomfort. Unless you live in a climate which is mild year-round, the chill of the latter half of the year can present a challenge -- sometimes even a roadblock -- to the maintenance of your usual fitness regimen. Today we'll go over some tips on what to wear, how to layer and how to train as the seasons become cooler.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
The main thing to remember about training in the cold is that the key is layering clothing made of technical materials.
There are two main methods of dressing for colder temperatures, but what I will describe today is the "Wicking Method" as I find it to be the most common, most popular tactic. For more information on the "Sauna Method," check out this TrainingPeaks article.
DON'T WEAR COTTON.
Cotton is great for towels, but terrible for training gear because it absorbs water and sweat and retains it. There's nothing worse than having cold sweat rubbing up against your skin when you're exercising outdoors in the winter (or any time of the year, let's be real).
Tech materials such as nylon, polyester, spandex, polypropylene and any number of blends wick moisture away which keeps you drier and warmer. They also tend to dry much faster than cotton. If you'd still prefer a natural material, wool is a good choice.
Everyone's cold tolerance is different, as is each person's workout. Someone from Minnesota can handle the cold much better than someone from South Florida. And if you're doing a long run for several hours outside, your needs will be different from someone who is attending an hour-long bootcamp session. A good rule of thumb is to add 20 degrees to the outside temperature to calculate your "training temperature," which is how warm you feel once moving. This doesn't take into consideration the humidity (rain) or windchill, and it's dependent on body size, training intensity and duration of exercise. Smaller people or those working out for a short or easy session should only add 10 to 15 degrees to estimate training temperature.
It's best to try out the information listed below and adjust as necessary for your training needs. Rather than a single thick layer, it is always better to wear several thinner layers so that you may adjust as needed during your session.
Your base layer can be any sleeve length which works for you, but should be made of breathable tech material. It is best if this layer is form-fitted. Your outermost layer should be condition-appropriate: if it's windy, wear a windbreaker or wind vest. If it's sunny, opt for fleece, wool or another cold weather shirt over your bottom layer. Consider arm and leg warmers, particularly if you are a cyclist. Swimmers should consider a long sleeve rash guard to provide an extra later of insulation if they have trouble keeping warm. When it's raining, be sure to always wear a waterproof outer layer.
A great deal of heat escapes from the head, so the colder it gets the more you will want to consider protecting your head and neck. Hats and beanies/skullcaps are warmer than headbands. Turtlenecks help keep your neck warm and protected, but neck gaiters/buffs can be used to protect your face and may also be removed once you warm up. Balaclavas, in addition to making you look like a ninja, provide extra protection for your entire neck and head including your face.
Your hands and feet are most likely to get cold quickly as when the temperature drops your body relocates much of the blood to the core to preserve your internal temperature. This can help protect against hypothermia, but leaves your extremities prone to frostnip (skin numbness or tingling due to cold) or all-out frostbite (damage due to freezing skin). Depending on the temperature, consider gloves or mittens that provide appropriate insulation. If it's particularly cold you will need a glove liner as well. For the feet, be sure to use socks made of tech material or smart wool. Cyclists may consider neoprene booties, toe covers or shoe covers.
If you're training in the snow and ice be sure that your shoes have a good grip. If running in snow, try vapor barrier or waterproof socks (SealSkinz is a good brand); another option is to wear a plastic bag between your socks and shoes.
As it gets dark earlier, be sure to wear reflective clothing or add lights and reflective straps or a vest to your outermost layer. You will also want to keep dry, warm clothes on hand in your car or at your starting point so that you may immediately remove your wet training gear.
Athletes who routinely consume water or sports drinks in the summer heat are much less likely to do so in the colder months. Cold weather is often drier, especially at higher altitudes. More fluid is lost as vapor through breathing. Cold also suppresses thirst so athletes don't think they need as much water. Failure to drink carries the same risks in the cold as in the heat: dehydration, bonking and even fatigue-related injury, so it is critical to establish and execute a hydration schedule during the winter months.
Drink water or a sports drink during all workouts lasting longer than an hour on a schedule of 4-6oz every 10 to 15 minutes. Consider heating your drink of choice before heading outdoors to make it more palatable, as many do not drink because they don't wish to feel cold.
DON'T WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE THIRSTY TO DRINK!
When your body temperature drops, your appetite is stimulated as your body attempts to entice you to consume extra food to keep it fueled and warm. If you become chilled during your winter workout, you will likely find yourself craving more fuel than usual. Due to thermogenesis, 30-60 minutes after you eat your body generates about 10% more heat than when you have an empty stomach.
Cold weather itself does not increase calorie needs and you don't burn extra calories unless your body temperature drops to the point that you begin to shiver. However, your body expends a lot of energy warming and humidifying the air you breathe when you exercise in the cold. If you are wearing a lot of extra gear -- skis or boots, a heavy parka, snow shoes etc -- then you will expend some extra calories from carrying the additional weight but the extra clothing of your average winter runner will not affect nutrition requirements.
Although more calories are burned when the air is especially cold and dry and snow, ice and slush makes your muscles work harder, in milder winter weather your nutrition needs are predominantly affected by your ability to dress properly for the weather. If you're consuming considerably more calories thank usual in temperatures above freezing, you probably need to adjust your training gear.
TIPS & TRICKS
Jala Prendes, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist