Saturday, June 4, 2016

Effective Strategies to Beat Summer Heat

The summer heat plays a critical role in the training and preparation for an athlete. The summer heat causes an increase in heart rate, decrease in power, and increase in effort per pace. I don't want to spend a lot of time on what the heat does to impair our performances, but rather how we can be best prepared in hot conditions. Being dehydrated and not acclimated can ruin your performance.  The summer heat can make you feel as if your riding into a hair dryer, running in a sauna, or swimming in a hot tub. The triathlon races can go on for several hours into the hottest part of the day. Some running and cycling races start when the sun is just warming up and last well into the afternoon. 

To have your best summer races follow these tips:

Fluid Intake

The most basic way to beat the heat is with regular fluid intake on a daily basis. This helps preserve blood volume and prevents your heart rate from rising as much in the heat. As the temperature rises, your heart rate increases dramatically. Heart rate increases more in the heat because it's moving blood to cool the skin.  This makes it rather critical to stay on top of your hydration. (1)  From a performance perspective, it's important that athletes intake about 17 oz of cold liquid 1-2 hours before a race and then continue to consume a 4-8% carbohydrate solution drink during training and racing at regular intervals. I recommend sipping in 10-15 minute increments. For races that last longer than an hour, athletes may need to consume anywhere from 20-40 oz per hour of an electrolyte drink to maintain performance and reduce heat impairment. (2)  It's best to make daily hydration a habit. Allowing yourself to be dehydrated even just one day can you set you back all week.

Sweat Test

This basic field test can be performed on a hard training day and will help you dial in your fluid intake. This test should be done individually for the swim, bike, and run.  Simply weigh yourself before and after you have trained. It's advisable to do this every season change throughout the year. The end number will help determine how many ounces of fluid per hour to consume for individual needs. (3)

The math equation is:   (pre-training weight) - (post training weight) x 16 = weight change in ounces

(weight change in ounces + fluid consumed during training) = sweat loss in ounces

(sweat loss in oz) x ( hours trained) = sweat rate oz/hour

Importance of Salt

Salt gets a bad rap for increasing blood pressure, but it's extremely critical for the athlete as it helps regulate the bodies' fluid levels. Each athlete secretes a different amount of salt. One person may lose salt rapidly at around 1300mg in a 5K run while another person may lose less than 200mg.  A simple salty snack post-run can help re-hydrate. (7)   During long course racing, such as a marathon (4+ hours), ultra run, or long-course triathlon, athletes will need to start taking in salt in the middle of competition. Some athletes may need a high-concentration of sports drink and gels but others may get by on a few salt pills. Salt tablets, tend to work best by taking 2 per hour. Taking more can result in nausea. (8)  It's best to practice with a variety of different products while training at race intensity efforts to discover what works best for you.

One of the many the brands for salt tablets. 

Ice Vest

I learned this little trick from Canadian Pro-triathlete Brent Poulsen a few years ago. On the morning of your hot weather race, you can wear an ice vest to lower your core and skin temperature. Through research you'll discover there is actually a strong debate if this is even worthwhile to try.  One study out of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning (March 2014, Volume 28, Issue 3) noted there was no benefit in core temperature but lowered skin temperature. It even said this can be dangerous,  because it makes you will perceive to be cooler than you think you which could result in a high and dangerous core temperature. (4)

On the other hand, in another study from 2004,  American and Australian marathoners were provided each a cooling vest to lower body temperature. The vest appeared to keep core temperature down and improved performance in these marathoners. Some marathoners wore the ice vest for 10 minutes and removed it 1 minute before the start. This study concluded that the marathoners wearing the ice vest before the marathon kept their core temperature lower for longer than those who did not. (5)

Training to Adapt

The most effective way to train for hot weather racing is by training in it! That's nothing new, but what about the regular guys who only have availability to train in the morning or evening? A study by physiology students at the University of Oregon determined the athletes that are heat acclimated can perform anywhere from 4-8% better than those who are not. For those who hold day jobs and have families, training in the heat may not be an option. These athletes will need to adjust their A/C accommodations for training indoors or wear  multiple layers of clothing. Be sure to adjust the thermostat or add layers gradually each week. (6)

Dallas, Texas triathlete, Tommy Johnson simulating Hawaii conditions indoors by setting thermostat on 80 and a fan to create a light breeze. 

Ice, Cold Water, & Sponges

It's definitely a good idea to use what is available on the course. For example, before running hot weather races I would dump some very cold water on my head just before the start. Be sure to take small sips of water and dump as much cold water on your head throughout the race as possible. Slow down through the aid stations on the bike enough to grab some additional water to cool your skin temperature down. During the run, if available, stuff the ice and sponges down your shirt, pants, and under your visor. Doing this will help keep your core temperature lower.

World renown triathlete Macca shown here dumping ice water with a sponge tucked in his jersey.