Recently we had a reader ask if running in the cold burned more calories. They asked the question because they felt hungrier after training in cold weather. While this may seem like a relatively simple question it is actually a little more complicated and depends on the temperature, clothing worn and in some cases the running surface.
Exercise in cold weather can result in more calories being burned if the heat created by the exercise is not enough to overcome the cold and body temperature stars to drop. This will induce shivering, which will burn more calories to increase body temperature. Even if it is not cold enough to cause shivering, exercise in the cold can decrease the efficiency of movement. Muscles move better when they are warm. Cold weather can cause greater stiffness in muscles and decrease their range of motion, resulting in more energy wasted as heat rather than being transferred into running speed. If you ran at the same speed you would have to burn more calories to make up for the added inefficiency.
In addition, exercise in the cold can cause a constriction of the blood vessels that feed the working muscles. This results in decreased oxygen delivery and an increased reliance on the anaerobic energy system, which is less efficient and causes more calories to be burned for the same amount of running speed. Greater reliance on the anaerobic energy systems also results in more carbohydrate being burned during the training session, which can increase hunger.
Now I know some of you are thinking that if running in the cold can increase the number of calories burned this may be a great way to lose weight. Unfortunately the total number of extra calories burned during exercise in the cold is probably quite small and may be more than offset by the need to do shorter sessions due to the discomfort of exercising in the cold. Additionally, an increase in the number of calories burned during running in the cold is actually more a sign of wearing improper clothing (i.e not enough layers and not enough clothing over the working muscles) and not warming up properly prior to starting the training session.
While running in the cold can result in a few more calories being burned it is not a physiologically significant amount and probably suggests you need to take a look at your pre run routine.
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