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How To Avoid a Heat Beat Down

Continuing on the subject of hydration and how to beat the summer heat, I wanted to write a little more about how to better deal with training and racing in extreme temps. I have had my own struggles over the years with the heat (Check out this 3 year old post). After my visit to the ER, I started doing a lot of research within the medical and sport performance fields to try to help myself and my athletes deal with, or better yet, excel in the heat since it can be the great equalizer.

Hydration is only one part of the equation. You also have to factor in electrolyte replacement (not just sodium) and cooling (the real culprit).  Here are a few tips for training and racing in the high mercury, as well as some info on what to do if the heat gets the best of you.

1. Know your sweat rate! Check out this blog to find out how. Knowing how much you are losing is invaluable in knowing what you need to put back in.

2. Stick to mostly sports drink and don’t skimp on the sodium. This normally only applies to training or racing in the high heat. If you are known to expel sodium like its your job, then you can stand to add a little more salt on your food before workouts. We’ve tested athletes who lose over 2000 mg of sodium in every liter of sweat. With sodium being a main player in initiating muscle contractions, you can’t afford for your sodium concentration to get depleted. Too little sodium and/or too much water can lead to really bad problems such as hyponatremia. I am not saying don’t bring water. You just need to experiment with different levels of sodium intake if you have issues. With my sweat rate, I drink 2 bottles of fluid an hour in the high heat, which can give me over 2200 mg of sodium and a solid dose of other needed electrolytes. Thus far, any cramping I have experienced has been seemingly more fatigue related, and only during long hard races.

3. Drink fluids by thirst. That’s pretty much it. Your body is pretty good at letting you know what you need. But if you are one of those people who can neglect hydration during your busy day, don’t wait to hydrate right before or during exercise. You are constantly losing fluids whether you are sitting, sleeping, or working out. Don’t start a workout dehydrated.

4. Cooling is Priority #1. In the blistering heat, it doesn’t matter how hydrated you are if you can’t keep your core temperature in check. Knowing the temp and the heat index is imperative. Once the outside air is hotter than the surface temperature of your skin, your body will actually absorb heat from the sun. The more surface area you have, the more heat you will absorb. This is the start of a bad situation.

Once your core temperature rises too far, your body combats the rise in temperature by taking blood from the organs and larger muscles to the skin to get “cooled”, while at the same time trying to pump more blood into the muscles (increasing HR) and sweating more (more fluid/electrolyte expulsion).  This multiplies the problem, because not only will you dehydrate quicker, but you also blow through your glycogen and glucose stores at a much faster rate. This can quickly bring about the dreaded BONK! If the internal core temperature continues to rise (your movements alone create more heat within the muscles and joints) then the body systems will start shutting down. This leads to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, neither of which are good.

5. Don’t forget the other electrolytes. When fluid expulsion is high, it’s not only sodium that gets expelled. Other important electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium will be lost. Don’t forget to use a complete source of electrolytes, as well as adding in some real food on longer bouts of exercise. The easiest way to make sure you have everything you need is to eat a balanced meal before exercise.

6. Ice Ice Baby! To keep your fluids colder longer, freeze half the bottle overnight, and then fill the other half before your race or workout. Colder fluid not only helps keep the core temperature down, but it also absorbs faster into your cells. Another icy trick is to fill stockings full of ice and stick them in your jersey or top. This tends to offer 20-30 minutes worth of cooling. Prior to exercise, you can also invest in a cooling vest to make sure your core temperature stays in check and doesn’t start higher than normal.

7. Breath through your nose. When possible of course. This was a little trick from an athlete I coach who is also an ENT physician. Breathing through your mouth accelerates fluid loss. Boom.

8. Acclimate. You have to give yourself 2 weeks of easy to moderate effort in the heat. Over these 2 weeks, your body will get more efficient at sweating and dealing with the heat. But, at the same time, you will be sweating more, so you will need to be more diligent with hydration and electrolyte replacement.

9. Listen to your body. Granted some people are much more in tune with their bodies than others, but you have to listen to your body in the heat. Things like cramping, dizziness, chills, prickly feeling in your face, and lack of sweating are all huge signs you need to shut it down immediately. There are some cramps you can work through, but if you are experiencing severe cramps that contract for a long time, your day is done.

10. If it’s too late. If you get dehydrated, hyponatremic, or suffer from heat exhaustion, the first thing to do is find medical personnel immediately because a lot of the time these conditions come on hard and fast. There is also a good chance you are best suited for an IV. Trust me. In the event this is not an option, get to a cool location as quickly as possible, preferably seated. You don’t want to lay down and have the blood rush you your head. Also, there is a good chance you will be sensitive to light, so staring into the sky or an overhead light can make things worse. Do not continue to drink water. Try to get your hands on a super saturated electrolyte mix, preferably cold. Take that down as quickly as you can without making yourself sick. Once you get it down, get another. Matter of fact, why not double fist it. Another ideal scenario is getting cold towels or cooling packs on your inner thighs and neck. These spots house your femoral and carotid arteries and will help cool you down much quicker. Don’t use anything freezing cold, because it can actually make your body work to increase core temperature. You want to gradually bring your core temp back down. Again, as my disclaimer, the first and best option is medical attention.

If you have any specific questions about dialing in your hydration strategy, or would like to get started working with the BPC coaches, feel free to contact us at any time.

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