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Yes, You Can Get Dehydrated in Winter
You might not feel thirsty, but you still need to drink water during the winter months. Learn how to tell what your body needs now.
Winter workouts can be a refreshing break from the heat and humidity of warmer months, but even though the cooler air may give you a performance edge, there’s a hidden danger in cold weather that could ultimately sap your energy: Dehydration.
That might sound farfetched, since you’re not dripping buckets of sweat and you barely feel thirsty when the thermometer hovers just below freezing. But winter dehydration is as legitimate a threat as losing fluids in the summertime, says Amanda Capritto, a New Orleans-based personal trainer and health coach who observes this phenomenon firsthand each year.
As the temperature drops, Capritto sees many of her clients grappling with increased fatigue and lightheadedness during their winter workouts—things you’d expect to experience more during heat of the summer. “Most people who feel this way blame it on the time change or lack of sunlight,” Capritto says. “But these same people usually perk right back up after rehydrating.”
Counterintuitive as it seems, dehydration can sneak up on you in the winter. Here’s what you need to know to prevent it from slowing you down the next time you head out for a run.
Why Dehydration Rises in Winter
The risk of dehydration during cold weather may even surpass that of summer for two reasons, says Capritto. First, when you’re bundled up in layers it’s harder to tell when you lose water. This is especially true for runners, walkers, cyclists, snow-sport enthusiasts and anyone else who exercises outdoors. Because winter air is generally drier than summer air, your sweat evaporates quickly and doesn’t bead up. “You don’t get the same wet, sticky feeling when exercising, so you don’t feel like you’re losing water,” Capritto says.
Second, you’re just not as thirsty. Your urge to drink drops when you’re not baking under the summer sun during your workouts. “In colder weather, you don’t naturally crave water like you do during the summer,” Capritto says. And since your body doesn’t need as much help keeping your core temperature down, thanks to the icebox you’re exercising in, cold fluid is probably the last thing on your mind.
Should You Drink More?
The same signs of dehydration in summer apply to dehydration in winter, Capritto says. An easy (though not foolproof) way to monitor your hydration is to keep tabs on the color of your urine. Light yellow usually signals the right amount of fluids, while dark yellow to orange is a sign to ease up on exercise and down some H2O instead. “And extremely dark or reddish urine can indicate severe dehydration—or even a medical condition—so call your doctor right away if you notice either,” says Capritto.
In addition to color, how often you go can help you tell if you’re dehydrated when it’s cold out. While the frequency of bathroom trips is highly individual (and depends on things like bladder size and caffeine consumption), in general, “most people should pee every two to three hours,” Capritto says. “Only going two or three times per day means you’re definitely dehydrated.” Other signs of winter or summer dehydration include:
• Lightheadedness and/or dizziness (especially during workouts)
• Fatigue with no other explanation
• Dry, flaky skin and chapped lips
• Dry or sticky mouth; less saliva production
• Muscle cramps and weakness
Severe dehydration can lead to confusion, fainting and the need for intravenous fluids, so it’s crucial to notice the signs and rehydrate ASAP. On the flip side, if you find yourself heading to the toilet every 30 minutes, you may actually be drinking too much water—which could lead to another set of issues know as hyponatremia. Play around with how much you drink on your workout days until you find an amount that’s right for you.
Keeping the Fluids Flowing
If you struggle to stay hydrated because you don’t crave water when it’s cold, try these strategies that Capritto shares with her coaching clients:
• Add flavor to your water by chopping up fresh fruit.
• Drink flavored sports drinks.
• Opt for warm beverages during non-exercise hours, such as hot tea and coffee (no, your coffee won’t dehydrate you enough to matter).
• Drink room-temperature water during workouts.
• Set a hydration goal and write it down (seeing it makes you more likely to work toward it).
If you’re confused about exactly how much to drink when the seasons change, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Your activity level, sweat gland function (naturally heavy sweaters versus those who barely break a sheen), body size and weather all play a role in that equation. But in general, consider these wintertime hydration guidelines:
• Drink 6-12 ounces of fluid 15 to 30 minutes before exercise
• Drink 12-16 ounces of fluid every 30 to 60 minutes during exercise
• Drink 16-24 ounces of fluid for every pound of bodyweight lost after exercise
Unless you’re a professional athlete, you likely won’t follow these guidelines to a T—and that’s okay, says Capritto. Just keep be mindful of your fluid intake and keep a water bottle in your bag for all-day sipping. Unless you’re feeling lightheaded in your workouts or low on energy for unexplained reasons, you’re probably doing just fine.