Don’t Sweat It, You Can Train To Perform In The Heat

Summer is here, and it’s a hot one across the country.  Don’t let the heat beat you up, keep you from having fun or having success.  When we first experience summer’s furry, our bodies are not prepared to run the internal swamp cooler.  As we overheat in those first hot days, our heart rate spikes, efforts are difficult to maintain, we feel wiped out after a minimal workout, and our muscles are more tender than expected afterwards.  However, with a thoughtful training block targeted to stimulate adaptation to heat, we can perform in the summer with minimal ill effects.

Why We Suffer in the Heat; a Little Physiology Lesson

sweat physiology

  • To sweat and cool, blood, which carries heat generated by working muscles, needs to flow to the skin. Blood caries heat generated by working muscles. With blood being diverted from our muscles and heart, power and endurance are diminished.
  • Sweat is comprised of plasma and electrolytes. Increased sweating depletes these resources from the blood, making it thick.  Thick blood (low blood volume) is taxing for the heart to pump, so heart rate increases to sustain the workload.  An endurance pace may feel like a sprint.
  • With less oxygen-carrying blood making it to our muscles, aerobic capacity, the oxygen fueled energy system relied upon for long duration efforts, is decreased and we must rely on carbohydrate-greedy anaerobic metabolism, which is sustainable for only a short duration and is the primary culprit for delayed-onset muscle soreness.
  • With reduced blood volume, VO2 Max is reduced, meaning our bodies are not able to take in as much oxygen. This means that we are less efficient and are putting more stress on our bodies for any exertion.

Fortunately, we are incredible at adapting to heat.  Once adapted, if we continue to train in these conditions a few times a week, we will return to our previous fitness profile.  If we actively work on acclimating to hot conditions, it can be accomplished in 10 – 14 days.

 Hiding in the Cool Will Not Help You Acclimate

 

tubbing
Keep Cool While Adjusting to Hot Environments

 

  • Stay out of air conditioned spaces to adjust to the heat, but do not get hot. Keep cool with a fan, cold showers, dips in a lake, etc.
  • If you can, sleep with the windows open. However, if it is too hot to sleep, use the AC sparingly (set it to the warmest temperature you are comfortable in).
  • Drink as much water as you can, alternating pure water with electrolytes. Avoid/ reduce caffeine and alcohol intake while acclimating as they dehydrate you.
  • Stay out of the sun when not training, and do not get sunburnt! A burn will reduce your ability to sweat.
  • If you are traveling to an environment that is more warm or humid than your home turf, arrive as many days before the event as possible.

Guidelines for Heat Adaptation Training Block

 

holly running (2)
Once Heat Adapted, You Can Be Successful Racing and Training in the Sun

After training for an hour a day for two weeks in peak heat with two rest days in the mix, the body should be adapted.  If we train to exhaustion, overheat, neglect our nutrition, or don’t recover from training sessions, the process will take longer- often much longer and to the detriment of our fitness.

 

  • Pre-cool your body with a cool shower or spending time in an air-conditioned area before you work out.
  • Wear clothes that wick moisture away from your skin. Avoid cotton, tight filling garments, and dark colors.
  • Train through the peak of the heat each day for a short period of time. Heat stress sessions for one hour a day will trigger a physiological response. Increase the time or intensity each day, but do not stay out if you start to feel excessively hot or fatigued.  You want to stimulate your body to adapt to the heat, but if you stress your body too much you will spend your rest time recovering instead of adapting.
  • Ease up. Slow your pace, reduce the time, and decrease the weight/reps if power training.

Maintain Heat Adaptation

  • After this adaptation period, slowly increase duration or intensity of your workouts in the heat.
  • Train for at least one hour, twice a week in the heat to maintain physiological adaptation.
  • Unfortunately, it only takes 5-7 days to lose heat adaptation.

Train to Refuel and Rehydrate in the Heat

electrolytes
Some of the Electrolyte Products in my Pantry

When it’s hot, our appetites are suppressed, and drinking feels like a chore.  However, we will not be able to do endurance or intense workouts in the heat if we don’t refuel and rehydrate while exercising.  Fortunately, we can train our bodies to digest food and absorb liquids.  When our digestive tracks are not heat adapted, a sour stomach, bloating or the feeling of liquid sloshing around in our bellies is common.  These usually lead to stomach cramps and we stop refueling and rehydrating.  This leads to disaster! Eat a good meal three hours or more before a heat stress workout.  It will take three hours to digest this meal.

  • Eat a good meal three hours or more before a heat stress workout. It will take three hours to digest this meal.
  • Drink while exercising, and make sure you are hydrated before you start.
  • We need to drink more water than usual when training in the heat. In arid climates, it is easy to think we don’t need to replace lost fluid because our sweat is evaporating so rapidly our skin and clothes are dry.  Aim to drink .5 – 1L of fluids per hour. Drink even more when in conditions like Death Valley or the Amazon.
  • Freeze half of liquids in a bottle/ hydration bladder, or fill bottles 2/3 with ice cubes. Hot liquids are unpleasant to drink and are generally still untouched when we finish training, leaving us completely wiped out.  Cool liquids will help cool your core temperature too.
  • Replace lost electrolytes. Alternate pure water and electrolyte mix during training sessions or follow hourly training dose guidelines for specific electrolyte tablets like MetaSalt or Endurolytes.
  • It is hard to digesting food in the heat. Err on the side of moist carbohydrates such as sports drinks, gels, blocks, rice balls, etc. instead of dry bars, sandwiches, trail mix, and the like.  Fats and proteins are especially hard to digest in hot conditions.  Avoid them during workouts or add them in carefully.
  • You will burn calories keeping cool. Consume more calories than you usually do.

What Physiologically Changed During the Heat Acclimatization Training Block?

  • Our blood volume increases. Blood no longer becomes thick and taxing for the hearts to pump.  Heart rate and V02 max return to normal zones.  Efforts feel as they should: endurance pace no longer feels like a fast pace, and sprints are fast again.
  • Our cardiac output increases. We can now get oxygen-carrying blood to our organs, working muscles and skin at the same time.  This returns our endurance, recovery between intervals and power to normal, and it diminishes Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
  • We sweat more profusely at lower temperatures but with less electrolytes lost. This lets us dump heat efficiently and reduces cramps.
  • We also improve fluid and nutrient absorption. We can now fuel our long sessions and intense efforts.

Traveling to a Hot Location to Race or Adventure In?

fun in the heat
Heat Adapted Athletes Having Fun
  • Arrive in the climate as many days prior to the event as possible.
  • Spend the two weeks before departing adapting to heat by training in the warmest location available. Be creative!  Crank the heat in a small room for a trainer session, go to Bikram yoga, train in excessive layers, etc.
  • If the destination will be humid and you live in arid conditions, you will want to adapt to this as well. In humidity, sweat does not evaporate well off our bodies.  Find a steam room to use daily and increase the time in it each day in addition to heat stress training.  Our bodies will adapt to this too if asked nicely.
  • Continue the adaptation routine on arrival, but do not get exhausted before the big day! Training days should be short, at an easy effort, and ended before the heat is impacting performance.  Cool down as soon as the training session is complete.

Summer heat?  Bring it on!

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New Year’s Resolution: To LOVE My Body More

image-1As the new year approaches, I like to sit with the athletes I coach to discuss the highlights of the previous year and what changes we should make for the coming year. I coach men and women ranging in age from juniors to senior games participants specializing in anything from ultra-running to alpine ski racing.  They come from many walks, yet what do they all have in common? In every one of the “new year” conversations, each and every athlete mentioned dissatisfaction with their weight, their body composition and appearance.  Funny thing is that they all fall within the normal, healthy athlete body composition spectrum and yet they all feel they need to lose a few pounds!

It would be deceitful if I did not say I too find my inner monologue periodically chastising myself:

  • “If you were two pounds lighter your watt to mass ratio would be higher.”
  • “Your jeans are tight on your muscle bound thighs, and that looks bad.”
  • “You would be faster if you skipped that slice of birthday cake yesterday.”
  • “That competitor is thinner than you – she must be more dedicated than you are.”

When you hear someone else say this you think they are crazy, being unrealistic and self-deprecating.  They have body dysphoria.  But when you say these things to yourself you believe them to be true.  How did we get ourselves into such a pickle?  These untrue labels we give ourselves are catastrophic on our psyche and are defeating.  This has got to stop, and each of us hold the power to end this tyranny of lies for ourselves.  Take it as another task on your training schedule.

My New Year’s resolution is to start a revolution among athletes to celebrate their athletic physiques.  Here is how to start; list ten things you love about your body.  Be honest.  Do not give back-handed compliments.  Put this list somewhere that you will see it daily.  Read it out loud.  This is your mantra.  Add to the ten.  You are amazing, strong, beautiful, and can do things that your friends envy – celebrate it.

Here is my list of ten. 

  1. My quadriceps power me up technical climbs that most cyclists walk.
  2. My feet are pretty, especially with bold polish on them.
  3. The scar on my ankle (my wishbone – thanks sis!) is a testament to my body’s amazing ability to heal.
  4. My spine is capable of serpentine motion that lets me swim butterfly, and a lot of good swimmers can’t do that.
  5. Thick, dark, perfectly arched eyebrows are mine, all mine.
  6. I have a super strong core that lets me demo super advanced Pilates exercises safely.
  7. My lady parts tolerate all fashion of saddles without demise.
  8. My arms react to a front tire going astray before my brain even knows there is a problem.
  9. Yeah, I look good naked.
  10. I have flexible hamstrings that let me balance one-legged on icy slopes while I pull skins off my skis and make it look effortless.

 Send me your list.  I’ll anonymously post them.  We are not alone.  What could you possibly have to lose by loving yourself more?

Meet Training Weight

training weightToday was my first road ride of 2016.  A week of warmer than usual temperatures in Central Oregon melted the ice off the roads and the sun beckoned me to lube the chair and re-inflate the tires on Training Weight so he was road ready.  Training Weight; yup, that’s the name of my road bike and it is a name of endearment.  Even though this bike has a drive train squeak that no amount of grease can quiet and tips the scales at about the same spot as my 5” travel mountain bike, the second I hit the pavement aboard this machine I feel like I am flying.

Training Weight is the first road bike I owned.  I got this bike to rehab a torn meniscus in my knee from a skiing incident more than ten years ago.  Pedaling sped up my recovery and let me explore the gritty and far reaching corners of the city I was living in while not dwelling on missing ski season in the Rockies.  Aboard Training Weight my injury depression was manageable and ultimately liberating.  Riding to rehab was enjoyable but I wanted to ride for a purpose, so I signed up for a century ride.  This was the first time in my athletic life that I trained for an endurance sport.  No, I did not become an ultra-athlete, but a season of endurance base building paid off the next year.  Training Weight helped me turn a bummer of a situation into an opportunity. No matter how many fancy bikes fill my bike stable, Training Weight always inspires a nod of gratitude.

There are a lot of advantages to Training Weight.  When a mid-ride espresso is in order, I am not concerned about someone stealing him. And if they do; I know the thief was desperate for transportation and I hope the burglar logs many miles. When I show up for the local club ride (“suffer-fest”), no one expects me to hang onto the peloton let alone take a turn at the front.  It is nice to earn a little respect when I do. But the biggest advantage to Training Weight is exactly this bikes namesake; riding a somewhat outdated bike puts cycling in perspective for me: shaving a gram or two mostly affects your bank account, good bike handling skills are just that – good bike handling skills (assuming it is maintained and safe), and my ability to get the training benefit from a training ride is pined to my attitude and approach – not a flashy paint job.  (Don’t get me wrong, my race bike is crazy light and quite the head turner.) And I have to laugh because just twenty years ago Training Weight would have been a marvel of a machine! 

A ride on Training Weight tunes me into the road beneath my wheels like none of my other bikes do; every pebble, seam and pot hole jar through my body asking me to be dynamic in the saddle.  Gear selection must be anticipated as a shift under torque usually pops the chain off the ring.  I have to support my upper body with my core or my hands will go numb at the two hour mark.  The extra friction in the drive train helps me up my power at a higher cadence. Miles on Training Weight make me stronger.  Hours on Training Weight make me an alert and engaged cyclist.  Training Weight reminds me that I bike because I love to bike, and that is the motive for the adventure.  So shed excuses; your equipment is fine.  Dust off that old gear in your garage and give it a spin.