Tips for Dialing in Your Cold Weather Fueling for Optimal Performance

Updated For 2016

We’re reposting this valuable information because we’ve been getting a bunch of inquiries about fueling in winter conditions.

 

Cold Weather Training

expired frozen humidity

Ultra runner Ty Draney shows off some frozen humidity

Training and racing in cold weather is a lot different than training and racing in warm weather  so your nutrition program needs to be adjusted to reflect these temperature differences.

Veterans of cold weather activity will advise you to dress to minimize sweat.  Doing this helps you remain dry, and staying dry in cold climates means staying warm and comfortable.   Of course regardless of how cold it is, we all sweat to some degree.   Breathing also dissipates a fair amount of humidity (water) which should also be taken into consideration.   Ultimately, if you  dress appropriately (light enough not to sweat much) you shouldn’t require high levels of hydration (or electrolytes) but you will still expend a lot of energy and will, therefore, still need calories.

The Physiology

Athletes are notorious for training in cold weather with little or no water or calories.   As athletes, we feel like we can get away with this because we don’t feel thirsty and drinking is usually not very appealing when it’s only 20 degrees.    For hour-long workouts, we can get away with it.  As training times increase though, it becomes more and more important to incorporate  nutrition and hydration.  Remember, you’re burning a lot of calories and if you deplete these calories you can ‘bonk’ and also negatively affect recovery and cortisol (stress).  Depleting glycogen drives cortisol up and suppresses testosterone,  which results in sore muscles and poor recovery.

Even if you do make an effort to drink, you may discover that your electrolyte energy drink doesn’t seem to be effective in the cold.  This is because your body has a finite tank to store fluids. If  these fluids aren’t being dissipated at a high rate, then consuming more will only cause you to urinate more often with no performance benefit.  It’s also important to understand that consuming a lot of electrolytes without an adequate amount of fluid is also detrimental as it creates a hypertonic solution that pulls water into the stomach.  This also causes frequent urination and can even increase dehydration.

What are the Key Variables to Consider when Training & Racing in Cold Weather?

cold weather cycling

cold weather cycling

Because cold weather training demands a lot of calories but not necessarily a lot of fluids, you should focus on calories. Consuming calories that are easy to absorb, with fewer fluids and electrolytes, will help you stay strong while training in the cold.   Determining how many calories and how much fluid are necessary is an endlessly variable combination that depends on temperature, intensity and duration.  As the temperatures goes up,  so does the need for additional fluids and electrolytes, yet calorie demands don’t vary.

It’s not possible to offer exact caloric or hydration recommendations because of the multitude of variables that affect fueling needs.   Some of these key variables are fitness level, fitness experience, fueling goals, environmental factors and biological differences.   There are athletes who can easily absorb high-density calories in most settings while others have a very sensitive digestive system that often results in compromised performance.   Understanding some key nutrition principles, along with the knowledge of how to adjust nutrition for these changing variables, goes a long way to assuring great workouts and races for anybody in any conditions.

In order to properly manage your nutrition, it’s important ask yourself these questions:

how long? 1) How much will I sweat?  IE: How cold will it be? 

The colder it is, the less you sweat so you don’t require much water or electrolytes.  EFS Liquid Shots are the perfect cold-weather training partner.  It’s designed so it can be used full-strength or diluted with water.    For example, try using one ounce of EFS Liquid Shot (100 calories) topped off with water for a 75-minute run in cold weather.  Just remember: it depends how much hydration you need when determining how much water to use with the EFS Liquid Shot.   As your sweat rate increases, so does your need for hydration and added electrolytes, so consider adding in some EFS drink to your plan.

2) How long and fast do I plan to go?

Your body has about  2-2.5 hours of stored glycogen available to sustain a threshold pace (a pace you can sustain for a 30 minute hard effort).  At a slower pace, your body will rely more on fats and less on glycogen so  you can go longer before running out of glycogen.   At a faster pace,  your body will burn glycogen faster than 2-2.5 hours.   To complicate things further, it’s much harder for your body to absorb a high amount of calories when you’re training/racing at or above threshold.  Because of this, it’s critical that you adjust your caloric intake to account for the distance and intensity of your workouts/races.

Below are a number tips for dialing in your cold weather fueling with EFS:  

Products:

EFS Drink: Developed to be used at an 8% solution (100 calories per 12oz).   Appropriate osmolality and concentration to be used daily in most situations.   Delivers high levels of 5 electrolytes. This product can work in cooler climates where you do expect to sweat and you do expect to have moderate hydration needs.

 

EFS Liquid Shot:  Engineered to be used for cold weather training and racing or as supplemental fuel for situations where a lot of calories are needed.   Can be diluted with water directly in a water bottle or flask.  Delivers high calories and low electrolytes.  This is the perfect product for cold weather fueling.  Dilute as needed.

 

pro-familyEFS-PRO Drink:  Designed to be used at varying concentrations (80/100/120 calories per 12oz).  Additional nutrient technology helps shuttle electrolytes into working muscles and increases absorption rates in the most extreme conditions.  Very high electrolyte content.  This product is NOT recommended during cool or cold training.

 

 

Recommendations:

< 2 hours COOL/COLD conditions:  Because high levels of electrolytes are not critical EFS Liquid Shot works well in this situation.  Consume 100 calories EFS Liquid Shot per hour at a solution between 10%-16%.     This means 100 calories for every 6-10 ounces fluid.    One ounce of EFS LS is 100 calories.  For short workouts consider one ounce EFS Liquid shot in the flask topped off with water.

2-5 hours COOL/COLD conditions:  Consume 200 calories per hour at a solution between 10% and 16%.   This means 100 calories for every 6-10 ounces fluid.  Electrolytes are still not critical, however decide if the sweat rate is at a high enough level that might require additional electrolytes and therefore consider using some EFS drink.   A mix of EFS drink and EFS Liquid Shot works great in this situation especially if you push into the 4-5 hour mark.    If the temperatures are cold enough, or if the sweat rate is low enough EFS Liquid shot can be used exclusively.   For longer workouts consider pouring up to 4 ounces of EFS Liquid Shot in a water bottle and top off with water.

>5 hours COOL/COLD conditions:  Consume 250-300 calories EFS per hour at a solution between 10% and 16%.  This means 100 calories for every 6-10 ounces fluid.   For very long distances  your body will balance the use of stored fat, stored glycogen and orally administered calories to fuel the workout.   Consuming only fast absorbing fuels assures that you deliver glucose consistently to the blood, which can help spare glycogen so you don’t bonk.   Athletes can use EFS Liquid Shot exclusively or mix with some EFS drink.   Your PACE will determine how many calories you need.  If the pace is slow, less calories are needed.  If the pace is at threshold you will need more calories.

*note that in a single long workout where temperature or pace changes significantly your fuel should also change.  In other words, if it starts out cold and heats up as the day progresses make sure to adjust your fuel based on the above recommendations.

**Following every workout you should self-determine 1) Have I used up my glycogen?  If so, have a serving of Ultragen   2) How dehydrated am I/do I feel like I need electrolytes?   If depleted, consuming a scoop of EFS-PRO mixed in 12-20oz water works great.

 

4 replies
  1. Gaby Fishpaw
    Gaby Fishpaw says:

    This is really great to read right now and helpful. It is so cold outside, I am not drinking hardly at all! …even when I am not exercising. I am sure this will not help me in the long term and as my mileage and runs get longer. It really is so much easier to gauge hydration in the summer when there is more sweating happening and feeling thirsty. My runs are less than 2 hours currently, so it was good to learn how to use EFS liquid shot diluted with water. With it’s small size, it’ll be easy to hold and sort of keep warmish in my gloved hand.
    Thank you for the lessons and advice, First Endurance!

    Reply
    • Robert Kunz
      Robert Kunz says:

      Gaby,
      You are absolutely right. Keep that flask in hand for all of your runs and you will get stronger as the winter progresses. Keep up the great running!

      Reply
  2. Christopher Edwards
    Christopher Edwards says:

    Hey Robert, how about the following situation? Below 20 degrees F, slow pace because of breaking trail in the snow, working between just below threshold and just above threshold, two hours. This was a run from last week where it took me almost 2 hours to go 7 miles. I was wearing snowshoes and I am generally slow. Also this is all at 9,000 feet. I was fairly exhausted after and had some Ultragen which was awesome, but what should I have done during? Also pretty sweaty despite the cold.

    Reply
    • Robert Kunz
      Robert Kunz says:

      Christopher,
      Great question. We do these kind of activities quite a bit here in Utah. Remember that in a two hour effort your body really does not need any fuel, though you’ll fare a bit better if you do. We suggest a flask with about 200 calories of liquid shot (topped off with water). Keep this in a spot that is easy to grab and think of taking small sips every 20-30 minutes. If given the opportunity and if logistically its possible an additional 6-12oz of water would do well.

      Reply

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