Embracing Cold Weather Training
Published at 27 Mar 2018 | Posted by Allsports Nutrition
Out of season training is the key factor for success in competing months - for the majority of athletes the down-season is Winter.

Studies indicate that the increase in energy expended on simply staying warm in cold conditions can rise by up to 5-fold compared to temperate conditions. If you prefer to train outdoors regularly, being prepared for the cold is essential. Whilst the UK has a temperate climate and only occasionally do we experience brutal cold, thanks to the combined effects of wind and rain the body can be chilled to dangerous levels - even if the temperature hasn't yet sunk below zero.

How does the cold make you cold?

Heat is removed from the body via three mechanisms:

1. Contact cooling - this occurs when your skin is in contact with a cold surface, such as immersing parts/all of your body in cold water.

2. Low air temperature cooling - when cold air is breathed in this cools not only the airway but the whole body.

3. Wind cooling - this will exacerbate low air temperature cooling by increasing the rate of heat removal. Damp or wet conditions will create evaporation from the skin which will increase contact cooling - if the skin becomes wet in the rain, wind will enhance evaporation of water from the skin. Each gram of water that evaporates removes heat energy which can add a huge extra cold stress on the body.

So what are the nutritional implications for those training in cold weather or participating in cold weather events?


The increase in energy needed just to stay warm means an increase in carbohydrate intake is essential. Carbohydrate needs can be increased further when shivering occurs, particularly when intense. Because fat supplies more than twice the number of calories per gram than carbohydrate, many people have wrongly assumed that high-fat foods are preferable when exercising for long periods in the cold. However in cold conditions carbohydrate oxidation typically rises by 6-fold, whereas fat oxidation rises by only around 2-fold.


Carbohydrate is crucial for cold weather performance, but there are also benefits of consuming a high protein breakfast before your training session or event. This is because the thermic effect of consuming protein is higher than that for both carbohydrates and fat. This can result in increased body warmth for up to six hours following ingestion of a high protein meal. It is still important though, to start any cold-weather event with your muscles well carbohydrate-loaded from the previous days.


You are more likely to become dehydrated in very cold conditions as opposed to mild or cool conditions because during increased exposure to cold your urine losses increase, very cold air that is breathed in doesn't hold as much water vapour and you will still sweat (generally because you are wearing more layers of clothing). So, contrary to what you might expect, in cold conditions you might actually need more fluid than in mild conditions. Athletes who neglect to ensure ample fluid intake can expect to pay a performance penalty.

Hot Drinks

Given the need for a plentiful supply of fluid and the need to stay warm, the use of hot drinks can be particularly useful when training/competing in cold conditions. It takes a lot of energy to warm up water - which means that water will give up alot of energy when it cools down. By consuming a drink that is warmer than your core body temperature, each litre will release heat energy into the body. This is in addition to the energy released when carbohydrate in the drink is broken down to release energy. Hot drinks are therefore highly recommended if you're struggling to maintain heat balance.

Applying the science

Take advantage of your ability to cold acclimatise - you don't need to wait for the weather, just wear less warm garments. (Though it is not recommended to do your first few acclimatising sessions in remote areas, you may need a quick escape to warmth!).

Factor in the effects of wind chill - don't just consider temperature but how hard the wind is blowing.

Consider a high protein breakfast on cold weather training days, but be sure to include some good quality carbohydrate too.

During the training/event carbohydrate is king. Consume plenty in a little and often system - try to use warm drinks so as not to add to the loss of heat through core-cooling cold drinks.

Hot drinks are a useful additional source of heat if you are struggling to stay warm.


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