Elisa Shackelton: Nutrition for cold-weather exercisers

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— If you are among the active Northwest crowd who exercise outdoors despite chilly winter weather, you may wonder whether the cold initiates special nutritional needs.

The following information provided by Nancy Clark, MS, RD, a nationally renowned nutrition counselor and author of the best-seller "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook," addresses some common questions about winter nutrition.

Why do I feel hungrier in the winter than in the summer?

A drop in body temperature stimulates the appetite. So, if you become chilled during winter exercise (or when swimming, too), you'll likely find yourself searching for food.

The reason for this is that the body's "appestat" is in the brain near the "thermostat." If your body temperature drops, your appetite increases, and you experience hunger. Eating "stokes the furnace," generates heat and helps warm your body. Hence, winter exercisers always should carry carbs with them for fuel (crackers, whole grain bread, dry cereal, granola bars, nuts, fruit, etc.). Winter campers, for example, commonly keep a supply of dried fruit, chocolate or cookies nearby, so they can "stoke their furnace" if they wake up cold in the middle of the night.

Do I burn off more calories exercising in the cold?

Cold weather itself does not increase calorie needs. Your body uses a considerable amount of energy to warm and humidify the air you breathe when you exercise in the cold. (For example, if you were to burn 600 calories while cross-country skiing for an hour in 0 degree weather, you may use an estimated 23 percent of those calories to warm the inspired air.)

But you use the heat you generate with exercise to warm the air you breathe and prevent your lungs from getting chilled.Hence, you might not sweat as much. You may, however, burn off a few more calories to carry extra clothing.

Athletes who lug around heavy clothing and sports equipment - skis and ski boots, heavy parkas, snow shoes - do burn more calories. And the Army allows 10 percent more calories for the heavily clad troops who exercise in the cold.

But if you are too scantily clad (or have little body fat) and your body becomes chilled, you will need more calories to stay warm. For example, scantily clad research subjects who exercised in the cold (14 degrees Fahrenheit) burned 13 percent more calories than when they performed the same exercise at room temperature - about 450 vs. 400 calories per hour.

What's the best thing to eat to warm myself up?

If you become chilled by the winter weather, the best "warm-up foods" include warm carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, chili and lasagna, as well as warm fluids - hot cocoa, mulled cider and steaming soup. The warm food, added to the thermogenic effect of eating, can contribute to a speedy recovery.

Cold foods and fluids, such as ice water or frozen yogurt, chill not only your stomach but also your whole body. And obviously, on a winter bike ride, a big gulp of icy water from the water bottle on your bicycle will have a greater cooling effect than will a small sip.

When you eat cold foods, your body attempts to conserve heat by reducing the blood flow to your skin surface - specifically, to your hands and feet. As a result, your fingertips and toes might get cold.

The fingertip temperature of research subjects who ate a big bowl of ice cream in five minutes dropped 2 degrees F in the first five minutes and 5 degrees in 15 minutes. In summer, this cooling effect is desirable; that's why ice cream is a popular summer snack. But in the winter, stick with hot foods to warm yourself from the inside out.

For more information, contact Elisa at the CSU Moffat County Extension Office, 539 Barclay Street, 824-9180.

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