Fueling and Hydrating for Cooler-Weather Runs

It’s pretty simple to remember what our bodies need after a run when it’s hot outside. Sweat drips, salt cakes the skin, and it’s obvious how to replenish what’s been depleted: cold beverages, electrolytes, food. In the fall and winter, our bodies have just as many needs for refueling and recovery, but those needs can feel less pressing.

When the weather gets cooler, “you don’t actually feel thirsty as often,” says registered dietitian Amy Yeomans, who focuses on nutrition, personal training, and general wellness consulting through her business, Fuel to Thrive.  “A glass of cold water just doesn’t sound as refreshing” in colder weather as it does in summer. “People often don’t recognize that they’re still sweating when it’s cold,” Yeomans explains, adding that bodies expend more energy when they’re shivering, and that it takes more energy to heat up the air you’re breathing in and out in cooler temperatures. Taking steps to fuel and hydrate before, during, and after your run will leave you feeling better and stronger year-round.

When temperatures drop, you won’t feel as thirsty. It’s still essential to hydrate. // Photo from Shutterstock

Before you go: Stay hydrated, whatever the temperature. Yeomans recommends jump-starting hydration with a glass of water first thing in the morning, regardless of time of year. Keep water at hand during the day so it’s easy to reach for. When it comes to pre-run food, needs vary from person to person but “I would say just focus on getting a carbo-rich snack that sits well on your stomach probably 60 minutes before,” says Yeomans.

During the run: To stay energized and feel strong, plan to pack along liquids on any run an hour or longer—even when it’s cold outside—as well as a quick-digesting, carbohydrate-based snack. 

Post-run recovery: Runners should aim to start refueling within half an hour of finishing a workout, says Yeomans. Particularly if you’re a couple of hours out from your next balanced meal, make sure your snack offers both carbohydrates and protein. You should also start drinking as soon after a run as you can. If cold liquids don’t appeal, try hot chocolate made with milk, bone broth, or hot tea. Some people even like hot Gatorade. Broth-based soups are a great way of getting in protein, carbs, and liquids all in one shot, and smoothies offer similar benefits—though “they might not sound as appealing” in winter, notes Yeomans. A couple of warming options she likes are oatmeal bakes and “a poor man’s mocha”—chocolate milk poured into coffee. Chili can also be a comforting and nutritious post-run meal when paired with a beverage.            

More important than exactly what you’re taking in is that you’re consistent about listening to your body and fueling and hydrating before, during, and after every run, regardless of the season. “No matter what, make sure you’re eating before, and make sure you’re eating after,” says Yeomans. And when the run is over, “start drinking as soon as you can, and continue through the rest of the day.”

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