Nutrition, Hydration, and Cold Injuries in Winter

Letting your guard down during winter time seems like a natural inclination. There seems to be less concern about nutrition, hydration, and an extreme focus on avoiding hypothermia. This line of thinking doesn’t makes sense, however. The importance of these factors doesn’t go away when the temperature drops. While hypothermia, a dropping of your core temperature, can be life-threatening, being a well-rounded, knowledgeable athlete can optimize your performance and put you at the head of the pack.

Nutrition

Regardless of the season, it is important that you fuel your body for the exertion you will expend completing different activities. According to research conducted by the United States Army, the demands resulting from activities such as traversing ice and snow terrain while carrying gear and/or equipment, can increase energy expenditure up to 20%. It has also been documented that there are slight increases in metabolic rates during periods of being exposed to the cold. Increasing your daily caloric intake when training can offset the stressors experienced by the body when exposed to winter’s extreme weather.

Hydration

Water and other fluids are used by your body for temperature control, to maintain healthy blood pressure, to break down nutrients for cells, and to keep joints functioning smoothly. The United States Army has a helpful recommendation for water consumption: 50% (sedentary activity level) to 75% (active activity level) of your body weight in ounces of water.

Now that you have the right amount of fluids coming in, controlling perspiration is the other factor. Here are some ways that you can control losing too much water through exertion:

  • Wear easily breathable, moisture-wicking gear
  • Carry electrolyte tablets and water filters
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol prior to physical activity
  • Carry a water bladder
  • Find shady areas to take breaks and keep cool

Ultimately, if preventative measures are not taken, dehydration will occur. Dehydration is when the amount of fluid leaving the body is significantly greater than the amount entering the body. In addition to perspiring, this condition can result from fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Less frequent urination and/or dark-colored urine, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and confusion are common symptoms. If treating dehydration in the field, begin to drink with water and slowly sip replacement fluids (electrolyte containing drinks). Next, decrease body temperature by resting in shaded areas. If you do not have access to a water source and symptoms persist, it is important that emergency assistance is called.

Cold Weather Injuries

Hypothermia is another example of a condition where preparation is your best defense. This occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees (average core temperature is typically 98.6 degrees). Some symptoms include confusion, slurred speech, shivering, and memory loss. Treatment for hypothermia is similar to treatment for frostbite (see below). Once again, the most important thing you can do is plan ahead. Do you travel long distances in rural areas? Pack your truck with the items necessary to sustain you for the night. Same goes for if you are spending time in unfamiliar terrain- bring the gear you will need should you become disoriented and/or have to spend the night outside.

Frostbite is an injury that results when your skin is exposed to cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time. Your skin consists of multiple layers of tissues, and as frostbite progresses, deeper layers of the skin are damaged by the cold. There are simple things you can do to plan ahead to protect yourself, including thinking ahead about how long you will be in cold conditions and dressing accordingly. This includes wearing multiple layers and warm accessories. Accessories are crucial because the most vulnerable parts of your body are your appendages, ears, and nose. Wool socks, boots, and headgear will keep the most at-risk parts of your body protected. Lastly, stay dry! This is incredibly important as water moves heat out of the body 25x faster than under dry conditions.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Caitlin Fitzgerald

Caitlin Fitzgerald

While Caitlin is currently a full-time writer, she spent the last few years on call as a Firefighter/EMT and enjoyed every minute of it. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is currently working toward an associate degree in the health sciences to enhance her EMS skills.
Caitlin Fitzgerald
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