Expert tips for exercising in the heat
July 27, 2015
Summer is my favorite time of year to bike, hike and run. I participate on Vail Valley Medical Center's running team and enjoy competing in races around the county. While it's sometimes hard to balance my desire to train hard with the need to take care of my body, it's vital to my short — and long-term — fitness goals. The same is true for most athletes.
While the heat may not be as stifling as in many other parts of the country, the combination of warm temperatures, low humidity and high altitude places a unique strain on your body's ability to maintain homeostasis and cool itself, especially for those who are not acclimated. To feel great, perform at your best and avoid heat-related illness (heat exhaustion, heat stroke), follow these simple tips for optimal summertime competition.
1. Drink water or sports drink, on a schedule: Hydrate during heavy exercise in the heat, especially if the event lasts more than an hour. You can only absorb and utilize 6 to 7 ounces of water at a time, about every 15 minutes. Exceeding this threshold can result not only in an uncomfortably full stomach, but also potentially serious electrolyte problems. Often, if a race lasts less than an hour, then it's not necessary to hydrate during the event except in extreme circumstances. Hydrate one to two hours before the race and don't drink anything the last 45-60 minutes before the race. Find a sports drink that works for you and use it to hydrate, especially in long endurance events.
2. Acclimate to conditions: If you are acclimated to exercising in the heat at altitude, which takes several weeks, then you will be better at conserving water during exercise. If you have trained in a humid environment at sea level, then your body will not conserve water well. In the heat and altitude, you could lose 50 percent more water than you expect, and your typical hydration strategy will need adjusting, especially in events lasting multiple hours.
3. Wear loose-fitting, moisture-wicking clothing: Quick-dry tech shirts and shorts are made exclusively for this purpose. Importantly, cotton is not moisture-wicking and will not optimize cooling efficiency.
4. Cool off during exercise: Spraying or sponging yourself with water during the race can augment your body's ability to dissipate heat, and help keep you cool.
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5. Take a break: Use the aid stations. Hydrate. Splash water on yourself. Rest from maximal exertion for just a minute. It may seem like a lifetime, but it can be so rejuvenating that you more than make up for this lost time, especially in a long race, unless you are a truly elite competitive athlete.
6. Avoid heat-related illness: This is most common in healthy athletes, who are pushing their limits in extreme circumstances (in other words, heat and altitude). Dizziness, abdominal pain, muscular cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and weakness are all signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion that could be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.
Dr. Dennis Lipton is a board-certified internist at Vail Valley Medical Center. While he practices all aspects of traditional internal medicine, his personal interests in fitness and nutrition provide additional guidance for patients wishing to achieve and maintain optimal health and longevity. To learn more, schedule an appointment with Dr. Lipton by calling 970-477-3090. Find out more about VVMC at http://www.vvmc.com.