Do you enjoy taking your workout outdoors even when the temperatures drop? There’s something exhilarating about exercising outdoors in the crisp, cool air, and it’s a welcome break from the stuffy environment of the gym. If you exercise outdoors, you may wonder whether you’re burning more calories. After all, shivering to produce heat consumes energy. Therefore you might think that burning more calories when you exercise in the cold? Is this a fact?
Does Exercising in the Cold Burn More Calories?
It’s true that shivering to stay warm burns additional calories, but as soon as you start to work out, your core body temperature rises and shivering stops. On the other hand, if you were to lower the temperature in your house to the point that you shiver without actively exercising, you would burn more calories as your body produces additional heat
You actually burn more calories exercising in a hot environment rather than a cold one. When the temperature is high, your heart has to pump harder to cool your overheated body. This takes additional energy. On the other hand, you may not be motivated to exercise as hard in hot weather, whereas a cooler environment may inspire you to work harder since it feels more comfortable. So, exercising in a hot environment isn’t always ideal either. Don’t be fooled by the weight loss you experience after working out in the heat, it’s fluid loss, not fat.
Exercising in the Cold Burns More Carbs Relative to Fat
In a study published in Medicine and Science and Exercise, researchers measured the ratio of carbs versus fat used by cyclists when they exercised at different temperatures. They discovered that the cyclists burned more carbohydrates as fuel when they exercised at colder temperatures. When they cycled in warmer temperatures, they burned a higher ratio of fat. So, the temperature can affect the ratio of fuel your body burns.
There’s another factor that comes into play. Research suggests that athletes who work out in cold temperatures consume more calories afterward. Exercising in cold weather seems to stimulate hunger, whereas working out in the heat suppresses appetite. Since you burn away your glycogen stores more quickly when you work out in the cold, this may be your body’s way of replacing the glycogen you’ve lost.
The Bottom Line?
You don’t burn more calories when you exercise in cold weather, and cold weather workouts may stimulate your appetite. Still, if you enjoy working out in the cold, do it. But don’t count on it to burn additional calories unless it motivates you to work even harder. Whatever you do, dress warmly.
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 34(5), 774-9.
ACE Fitness. “Do I Burn More Calories When It is Hot or Cold Outside?”