Months of training can quickly be erased if an athlete is not properly prepared for the expected weather conditions on race day. Since few of us have the luxury of putting our jobs and lives on hold and traveling to our key event four weeks early to acclimate, here are 10 key things that will help you endure the heat and realize your full potential on race day.
1. Boost Your Fitness
The best performances in the heat tend to come from the athletes with the best fitness. The effects of the heat are exponentially multiplied when an athlete's physiology is already struggling with the workload. Even under the best conditions, heat production in the muscles increases with the intensity of activity.
Arriving at the starting line in a state of peak fitness will not only set you up for maximum performance, but it will also enable you to manage heat stress better through greater efficiency (hence less heat produced at any given pace) and high blood plasma volume (hence a greater ability to transport heat away from the muscles). These factors lead to a lower core temperature, thus minimizing heat stress and discomfort.
One of the best ways to acclimatize is to travel to your race location well in advance of your event. But this involves added expense and time away. Fortunately, you can acclimatize to almost any environment from your home.
Start at least three weeks before your race by doing regular 60- to 90-minute indoor sessions of cycling, running, elliptical or Concept 2 rower at a low to moderate effort. Turn up the heat, limit the airflow and, if possible, add a humidifier. This will elevate your core temperature, resulting in an increased sweat and heart rate. Do this for five consecutive days, then, over the course of the next two weeks, be sure to repeat the session for at least 30 minutes, twice per week.
The results of heat acclimation seem to be cumulative, so if you have the opportunity to train in the heat earlier in the year at home, at another hot venue or at your race site, it should help you in the long term.
3. Determine Your Sweat Rate
Calculating your sweat rate is the most effective method of determining how much fluid you are losing and need to replenish. You may find that your sweat rate is different depending upon the discipline, effort level and environmental conditions. You should try to simulate the environmental conditions of your key race and your race effort.
In order to determine your sweat rate, weigh yourself without clothes before and immediately after exercise and account for any fluid consumed. An accurate scale will be required, and you will need to avoid going to the toilet until the measuring is completed.
Body fluids such as blood are made up of mostly water and electrolytes. Muscle is comprised of 75 percent water; therefore, it should come as no surprise that a loss of two to three percent of bodyweight due to sweating can significantly reduce athletic performance.
It has been well demonstrated that athletes, when training or racing, only replace about 50 percent of fluid losses; thus, despite our best efforts, slight dehydration is unavoidable in some circumstances.
To ensure you are well hydrated before an event, drink 10 to 25 ounces (250 to 750ml) of Nutritionally Green’s Energy Fuel (which I helped develop) and/or water two to three hours before the event. One hour before exercise, drink 10 to 18 ounces (250 to 500ml) of water, then do not drink again until after you visit the toilet 10 to 15 minutes before start time. Finally, consume another 8 to 10 ounces (250ml) of water, which will be absorbed as you start your effort and will never reach the bladder.
During the race, aim to consume eight to 10 ounces (200 to 250ml) of Energy Fuel (which contains electrolytes) every 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Always Include Electrolytes
Salt is comprised of sodium and chloride, also known as electrolytes. Electrolytes help in the absorption and retention of water. As the duration of exercise extends beyond one hour, electrolyte replacement becomes increasingly important. If you notice salt on your clothing after workouts you are probably a "salty sweater" and should pay careful attention to electrolyte intake.
If you are heading into a hot race, eat saltier foods the week before the race and add additional salt to your meals (after receiving prior approval from your doctor). Salt pills can also be used during the race.
6. Up Your Carbs
Hot conditions tend to increase the body's need for fuel. The amount needed will vary with size of the athlete, but generally speaking you should aim for a minimum of 300 calories and 70 grams of carbs per hour.
7. Make a Plan
The best way to incorporate your hydration, nutrition and electrolyte consumption into a sensible routine is to make a plan. You may want to have a plan for different scenarios based on different environmental conditions. Practice these plans in training. Below is a sample plan.
8. Wear Cool Clothing
Light colors will enable an athlete to remain cooler than if he or she chose dark clothing. In addition, a looser fit and lighter fabric increases air circulation and helps to wick sweat away from the body. Wet clothing actually speeds up evaporation, cooling the athlete more quickly than if he or she were to change into dry clothes.
9. Develop Cooling Strategies
Remember that it is better for cooling to put a fluid in you than on you, but ideally you can do both. External cooling can be achieved by using cold water, ice or sponges in critical areas such as the back of the head, neck and chest.
In very humid conditions you may want to wipe the sweat off because the air is too saturated to do the job for you. Sunglasses can ease stress on the eyes.
10. Rehydrate and Recover
Effective recovery will help you become faster and stronger as your body adapts and super-compensates. Within the first 20 minutes after exercise, rehydrate with at least two to three cups of Energy Fuel for every pound of body weight lost.
Lower your body temperature as soon as possible by moving to a cooler area out of the sun with access to water and ice. It is also important to replace your glucose stores with easily digestible foods, such as fruit. Try to get a full meal including complex carbohydrates and proteins within two to three hours following the activity.
Following these guidelines will maximize your performance in the heat. Remember to keep cool, get the calories you need and keep hydrating. It will take some effort, but the results are well worth it.
If you have any questions or need anything clarified, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email (Robb@CoachRobb.com).
Yours in sport and health,