Can You Burn More Calories Working Out in the Cold?

Macaela Mackenzie
by Macaela Mackenzie
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Can You Burn More Calories Working Out in the Cold?

Like it or not, winter is coming. It’s getting cold outside — and for your workouts, that’s a good thing.

Cold-weather workouts are nothing new. Sports like skiing, snowboarding and ice hockey don’t even hit their stride until temperatures start dipping below the freezing mark, and many of the world’s major marathons and other races are scheduled for colder months. So winter is certainly not a reason to start skipping workouts.

Running in sub-freezing temps may be less pleasant than running in breezier fall weather, but you actually stand to reap a major benefit by working out in the cold or switching up your routine to include some winter sports. While research on the subject is varied, experts say you actually burn more calories when you work out in the cold.


The reason why is pretty simple, says New York City-based personal trainer Reggie Chambers. “Your body has to work harder to increase body temperature, thus you burn more calories,” he explains. “The increased body temperature then ups the rate of your metabolism because the body is working harder.”

But whether the increased calorie burn is really enough to make a difference in your waistline is still up for debate. “It largely depends the intensity,” says Chambers. “If you’re sweating while working out in the cold, it will definitely make a difference.”


There is clinical evidence that freezing temps can help you burn more fat. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, contending with the cold can help encourage your body to turn white fat — the kind lurking in trouble spots like your belly and thighs — into brown fat, which helps your body burn calories. When you have more brown fat, you’re more likely to burn extra calories rather than storing them as fat.

If icy winter runs aren’t appealing to you, you can still harness the effects of the calorie-burning cold boost. Chambers suggests cranking up the AC on your indoor workouts. Bonus effect: You have an excuse to wear your light summer workout clothes well into the winter. If you’re working out in a gym or studio where you can’t control the temperature, you can also take advantage of ice baths or icy temps outside — step outside between sets, or use an ice bath to make your body bring your muscles back up to room temperature.

Of course, you can always just embrace the cold weather in your workout routine. Chambers certainly does: “My favorite cold-weather workouts are playing any sport outside or doing sprints with pushups and calisthenics in the park.”


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About the Author

Macaela Mackenzie
Macaela Mackenzie

Macaela is a writer based in New York City with a passion for all things active. When she’s not writing about the weirdest fitness trends or nutrition news, you can find her conquering her fear of heights at the rock climbing gym, hitting the pavement in Central Park or trying to become a yogi. To see Macaela’s latest work, visit


3 responses to “Can You Burn More Calories Working Out in the Cold?”

  1. Ugh the AC in the gym I go to is broken right now, so I am working out in a sauna every day until it gets fixed and it’s the absolute WORST thing ever.

  2. Melvin Dribble says:

    Regrettably but inavoidably, the fitness industry is utterly awash in nonsense. This is not only a good example, but also epitomizes the persistency of such malarkey. First if not foremost, conversion — even if true — from “white” to “brown” fat is not the same as “burning more calories.” The former may or may not actually occur based on external or environmental factors, but if so those factors will almost surely be well-controlled, very long-term, and marginally effective. Put bluntly, dumping ice buckets on your head is not going to do it. Second, just as with your house, it is MUCH more energy efficient to heat than to cool. Thus, as much as is wrong with the whole hot yoga scam, if all you want to do is burn energy based on temperature, you are much better off making your body work to cool itself than to heat itself. But in either case, the number of calories expended, over and beyond one’s base usage, is miniscule, especially if considering that it will apply only, what?, an hour a day, several times a week. This calculation has been done by physiologists and physicists hundreds of times, but it has never convinced anyone, so doing it again is assuredly a waste of time. However, as another shot, if you think about your base usage as 3-million calories a day (yes, AGAIN, what we call “calories” are actually “Calories”, that is, KILOcalories), and if you figure that even if you needed to pull the energy equivalent of a gas stove burner, which, if burning inside you, would heat the hell-frozen-over out of you, you are talking about something like 2,500 CALORIES per hour, or a fraction of 1% of what you naturally use. I would note that the window air conditioner that may the broken one referenced above is maybe five times less efficient, but the difference is just immaterial, overall. Put graphically, is you chew a piece of gum meanwhile, you have more than reversed the effects of either heat or cold. On the other hand, if you strip naked and lie out in the snow for a week, the medical examiner is likely to compliment your body composition when you are found. But I guess there is no money for Under Armor in THAT.


    • originalintent says:

      ” First if not foremost, conversion — even if true — from “white” to “brown” fat is not the same as “burning more calories.””
      Brown fat actually facilitates the metabolism of white fat resulting in an increase in metabolic rate and base metabolism.

      “Put bluntly, dumping ice buckets on your head is not going to do it.”
      No, but hiking or cross-country skiing for several hours in lower temperatures will.

      “On the other hand, if you strip naked and lie out in the snow for a
      week, the medical examiner is likely to compliment your body composition
      when you are found.”
      Somewhere between the strawman and staying outside until one dies, a human will increase its metabolism in order to attempt a steady core temperature. One of the best ways to recover from mild hypothermia is to consume high fat or sugar food (calories).

      Gear manufacturers need not be involved for human physiology to exert the same characteristics present when we wore hides.

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