Heat Training 201

By Tia Norris, September 2018 Issue for Echo Magazine in Phoenix, AZ.

With more than half of the year boasting triple-digit temperatures in the Valley of the Sun, it’s impossible to not address best practices for navigating the heat as it pertains to your fitness program.

We’re surrounded by the beauty of the desert – from stunning trails to swimmable bodies of water – but it’s critical that even the most fit and biggest nature lovers among us know how to safely make use of our natural playground.

If you’ve been keeping up on this column, you know from last year’s installment “Heat Training 101” (check it out at echomag.com/talking-bodies-july-2017) that heat will accelerate dehydration, elevate your heart rate and often decrease your appetite. And of course, these are applicable to all fitness levels, but will be more evident among deconditioned or new athletes.

But wait, there’s still a myriad of additional heat training effects we still need to discuss. The 201 class is intended to elevate your heat training knowledge because we all know the cooler temps aren’t headed our way for a while yet.

Sweat = Salt (which needs to be replaced). 

In my Ironman adventures, particularly through very hot races, I’ve learned what long-distance endurance events feel like when you’re low on sodium the hard way. Take it from me, your body will short circuit and you’ll have a potential medical emergency on your hands.

Think about it this way: sweat is salt. Now, don’t give me some BS about how “I don’t sweat in the dry heat,” because YOU DO. The moisture simply evaporates, almost instantly, so you don’t feel like you’re sweating. But, you are, and in that sweat is precious salt.

In shorter distances (a couple hours or fewer), you might be able to suffer through the sodium depletion without any major immediate consequences. But in medium-to-long distance events (a few hours or more), you could experience total system failure. This could manifest as muscle cramps, not urinating or dark urine, painful kidneys or bladder, extreme fatigue, extreme cognitive deficits, or worse.

The bottom line is that you should be supplementing outdoor activity with salt. Everyone has different sweating habits (made up of fluid loss plus salt loss). At a minimum, everyone should be ingesting a few hundred milligrams of salt per hour of outdoor activity (even landscaping, for example).

You need more calories, more water, more recovery, more everything. 

The heat accelerates and magnifies any inefficiencies you may have in your program. Your heart rate is elevated in the heat, which burns more calories, which increases demand for during- and post-workout nutrition. You sweat more in the heat, which increases the fluid demand during workouts.

Basically, your entire system has to work harder in the heat due to increased heart rate, thermoregulatory processes, and so on. So, you’ll need more sleep and expect more downtime after a hot workout. Quick rule: multiply your food, water, and recovery around a hot workout by 125 percent or more. When it’s extra hot, you need extra nutrition, hydration, and recovery!

Stay wet. 

You read that right. When it’s this damn hot, you need every trick in the book to keep your body cool (especially for longer distances and durations). If you have extra water, pour it on yourself – all over yourself, wherever you like it: your face, your chest, your back. OK, I’m having a lot of fun with this point! But, surely, you get the gist. The wetter you are, the cooler you’ll be and that means your body won’t have to work quite as hard to thermoregulate itself.

Skip the plain water.

The more you’re in the heat, the more you need electrolytes. Plain water just doesn’t cut it when you’re talking about long training bouts in this weather. I recommend a basic electrolyte powder that has some calories to it (primarily from sugar), with extra salt mixed in to suit your needs. If you’re in the heat for more than an hour, your body needs this. So don’t cry about the taste, just suck it up and give your body what it needs!

Training in the heat is brutal, even if you’re very prepared. So, follow these suggestions (don’t forget get to check out “Heat Training 101”) and, remember, the more precise and prepared you can be, the more you can enjoy the scenery while you grind toward your goals.

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