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Running in cold weather: your essential guide

November 24, 2023
5 minutes
Fitness & Exercise
Workouts

If you’ve worked to get into a good routine with your workouts and runs, running every day to keep up your stamina and strength, then winter can feel frustrating. You may feel like your only option is to run indoors on a treadmill or focus on other exercise during this season. Yet the cold season doesn’t mean you need to hang up your running gear. Running in winter or cold weather has many perks that are worth exploring. From burning more calories to keeping fit all year long, you can benefit from running when the temperatures drop. The key to learning how to run in the cold is to be prepared with the right gear, and this guide will help.

Note the benefits of cold weather running

Running in cold weather carries both psychological and physical benefits. In regard to mental health, winter can bring the winter blues due to shorter days and less time in the sun. Going for a run can trigger the “feel good” endorphins that can boost your mental health. If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, you may notice that it improves with running. Getting exercise outside also improves clarity by stimulating blood flow to the entire body, including the brain.

Physically, there are multiple benefits found in running in the cold. First, when you exercise in the cold, you may burn more energy. Not only is your body burning energy through the exercise, but you may enter a state called thermogenesis, which is an increase in metabolism designed to help you stay warm. This process activates brown fat, which is the type of body fat that burns calories. Burning the brown fat can actually change your body composition as well.

In addition, running in the cold creates less heat stress on the body. While this might not show in your results because your muscles will contract more in the cold, it will give you a bit more endurance for your run. This is one of the reasons that many of the world’s top marathons take place in the fall.

Finally, winter running can keep your metabolism and motivation to work out going strong. Both of these will help you avoid the weight gain and fitness losses that are often common at this time of year.

Grab the right gear

Before you head out on a winter run, make sure you’re prepared with the right clothing and gear. Some factors to consider include these:

Cover exposed skin

Use as much covering as you can to keep exposed skin protected. Exercise leggings or joggers for your legs, jackets, and coats for your torso, and ski masks and neck gaiters for your head and face will all help. If it’s extremely cold, consider goggles.

Protect yourself from moisture

Moisture will make you feel colder, and this includes moisture from your body in the form of sweat. Use moisture-wicking fabric, especially in the layer closest to your skin, to protect yourself.

Pay attention to the temperature

Knowing how many layers to use can be challenging. Cleveland Clinic recommends dressing for conditions that are about 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. This will account for your increased body temperature due to your workout.

Choose the right footwear

When running, regardless of the weather, you’ll want running shoes that are ideal for your gait. However, you may want shoes with additional tread or grip in the winter due to the risk of falling. Another option is to keep your existing running shoes and add cleats or grips on top for winter runs.

Get prepared

Before you hit the ground running in the colder months of the year, make sure you’re properly prepared. In addition to the gear already mentioned, you’ll want to focus on your nutrition and proper warm-up and cool-down exercises.

Nutrition guidance for cold weather running

Your body may have different nutritional needs when you run in cold weather. Fitness First recommends stocking your glycogen stores before running in the cold because you may burn more carbohydrates to create heat for your body. Adding an extra serving of fruits and vegetables to the meals you eat prior to running is a good option. After running, consider consuming warm carbohydrates, like pasta or rice, to increase your body temperature and restore your energy. Protein may also help with rebuilding muscle after a winter run.

Warming up and cooling down

Getting blood flowing to your muscles is important when running in the cold. Start stretching inside before you hit the pavement. This will limber up your joints and muscles so they don’t tense up when they hit the cold air. Dynamic stretches, such as squats and walking lunges, are great warm-ups for cold-weather exercise. This will get your heart rate up and increase your range of motion before you start running.

After your run, your body temperature will drop quickly, and in cold temperatures, this can cause chills. If you’re sweating, the sweat can contribute to this sudden drop in temperature. Use a hot shower as a cool down after your run, or at least change your clothes. Drink a warm beverage to keep your body temperature up. Cool-down stretching is also important, but getting and staying warm is the biggest factor after a cold-weather run.

Stay safe

Running always carries a little risk, but winter weather brings a few additional considerations.

Don’t slip

One of the biggest is the risk of slipping on icy sidewalks or roads. Trails also have risks of ice and snow, especially since water tends to pool on these uneven grounds. If you don’t have a safe, clear path, then wait for the ice and snow to melt.

Hydration

Staying hydrated is essential when running in the cold weather, and it is sometimes overlooked due to the lack of heat. You may not feel as thirsty as you do in hot weather. You’ll want to drink room-temperature water rather than ice water, so you don’t lower your body temperature too much.

Visibility

Because it gets dark earlier in the winter and the sun rises later, you may need to wear reflective gear to stay visible. Even if you don't think it will be dark, consider lighter-colored clothing in case you’re out when the sun starts to go down.

Track your winter runs, and earn rewards with Evidation

As you decide to tackle winter running, make sure you’re getting all of the rewards possible for your work. Evidation allows you to track your exercise and healthy eating choices and earn rewards for them. If you’re ready to embrace winter running, track your choices with Evidation to stay on the right course.

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