By Jen Mathe, One10 Performance & Nutrition
A heat wave has hit the states this week; the weather map is bleeding red and orange. For a lot of the country, these temperatures are not unusual, however we have seen some strange weather patterns this season and that is what makes training/racing in this heat so difficult. It seems that we change season every couple of days. From perfect 70 degree mostly-sunny days to freezing wind and rain storms to 100+ degree frying pan days. It can take a few weeks for the body to adjust to a different climate and we have not had time to adapt. Usually there is a gradual increase in temperature as we move from spring into summer and we can acclimate as the weather changes leaving just a few days of difficulty before we feel back to normal. With the huge jumps (30-40 degrees in two days!) in temperature, our bodies have not had the time to adjust gradually. What does that mean for endurance athletes? The high temperatures result in slower, more uncomfortable, and if you aren’t careful, dangerous workouts. Here are a few tips on making the most of your next training session or race in the heat.
• Protection: Choose lighter colored clothing that will reflect, rather than absorb the heat of the sun. Many companies now use material that blocks the rays of the sun acting as sunscreen. This would be the best choice on extremely hot and sunny days. Arm coolers are a great way to stay cooler during a hot outdoor training session. They not only contain UPF protection, but have properties that respond to sweating and actually decrease the temperature of your skin. Wear a light colored hat. Not only can a hat offer shade from the sun, but soaking it with water can add a cooling benefit. Use sunscreen liberally (sunscreen will not only prevent burning, but also keeps your skin cooler).
• Hydration: Fluid loss is probably your biggest concern when exercising in the heat. Your body cools itself through sweating. The hotter you are, the more you sweat. The more you sweat the more fluid (and electrolytes) you lose. Your urine will tell you if you are well-hydrated. It should be a light yellow color (lemonade). If your urine is dark, or absent, you are dehydrated. This will take some planning and experimentation over a few workouts, but find a hydration plan that fits your personal needs for the environment before you get to race day.
• Expectation: Slow down. When exercising in heat, expect your heart rate to be elevated above normal for any given pace. When your core temperature rises, your body sends blood to the skin in attempt to cool itself, leaving less blood available for working muscles. This causes an increase in heart rate as the body tries to get blood everywhere that it needs to go. Furthermore, dehydration can cause increased heart rate due to the decreased blood volume. When temperatures are higher than normal, and especially when un-acclimated, you need to just accept that you will be slower, especially if it is hot and humid. Your body simply cannot cool itself adequately while exercising at a high intensity.
• Modification: Perform your training sessions at the cooler times of the day (very late or very early). In extreme conditions, consider taking your workout indoors. If you know you will need to perform in extreme heat soon, try shortening your workout and/or decreasing the intensity. At this point, your concern should be adaptation rather than improved fitness. Another great modification might be to do some pool running when the temperatures are extreme. Just don’t forget your hat and sunscreen.
• Self Evaluation: Monitor you exertion level, breathing, heart rate, sweat rate, and body temperature. Heat related illness is a serious issue which can be prevented if you recognize early warning signs of heat exhaustion and take action to cool the body before it progresses to heat stroke. Signs to watch for are excessive sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, light headedness, and muscle cramps. If you recognize these in yourself or a training partner, stop activity and find a cooler place to rest while you rehydrate and allow your body temperature to return to normal. Heat exhaustion that progresses to heat stroke is a medical emergency and can be life threatening. Signs of heat stroke include absence of sweating, rapid heart rate, disorientation, difficulty breathing, hallucination, seizure, and/or coma. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 and take immediate action to cool the body.
• Acclimation: If you know that you will be racing in a much hotter environment than you live, try to acclimate before the race. Perform your training sessions at the hottest time of the day to more closely match the race day climate. Avoid air conditioning and expose yourself to the heat as much as possible. Try to arrive at the race location as far ahead of time as you can to allow for adaptation.
Jen has a Masters degree in Sport Performance and is a Certified Athletic Trainer (NATA-BOC) as well as Level 1 USAT Certified Coach.