By Max Polin, M.S.
For the training exerciser, it may not be possible to choose goal events that are in pleasant climates and out of the direct sunlight. That’s when heat acclimatizing can come to the rescue. If you have to compete in the heat, you’d better think about strategies for training and competing in the heat. Here are some helpful tips and methods to get you through the more unpleasant moments.
Thankfully, you don’t have to spend every day in the oven to get results! Physiological adaptations to heat stress occur rapidly. All it takes is exercising in the heat (ideally one that resembles your goal competition environment) for ~60 minutes per day, for four to six days. Reaching peak acclimation and peak benefits occurs for those that continue on for two weeks. In most cases, researchers have discovered that different training methods can still result in similar adaptations. Exercising at a low-intensity effort for 60 minutes seems to yield similar benefits as exercising moderately for 30 minutes.
Hydrating and sodium: It seems to be a traditional rule of thumb when exercising in the heat, that if you wait to drink until you are thirsty, you may already be sabotaging your performance. So drink before you feel you need to! It is recommended to follow a 6mL of fluid per kg of body weight every two to three hours per day when you are acclimatizing to heat, and again using this formula in the preceding hours before an event or heat training session. Understanding how much fluid to consume during training depends heavily on your individual sweat rate, however, it has been found that the average sweat loss is 1-1.5L/hour when exercising vigorously in the heat. Furthermore, adding sodium in the amount of 0.5-0.7g/L to your drinks is recommended during competition and up to 1.5g/L if you commonly experience muscle cramps.
When it comes to cooling strategies, keeping the core and the skin cool, while maintaining warm muscles is the ideal method. Some athletes may choose to purchase specialized cooling vests for the core and trunk, while for others it may be more realistic to utilize a slushy of blended ice at about 35-40 F. When keeping the skin cool during exercise, get creative. Misting your hands and ears with cool water, ice-packs under your shirt, or even ice-cubes held in pantyhose around your neck for a constant flow of cold water.
The bottom line is to get yourself as frequently exposed to the heat as you can during training, and keep yourself as cool as you can be during your event.
(1) Racinais, S. et al., (2015). Consensus recommendations on training and competing in the heat. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 0, 1–10
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