Preparing for Performance in the Heat
by Kelly Ryan
Coach Kelly Ryan is a USAT Level I and IRONMAN Certified Coach at Team MPI (www.teamMPI.com) as well as a two-time Kona qualifier. She can be reached at kelly@teamMPI.com.
The summer months are upon us, and it’s certainly shaped up to be a hot one! With temperatures soaring into the triple digits, heat related illness can get very dangerous very quickly so it’s imperative that you take measures to prevent your core temperature from climbing to uncontrollable levels. Below are some ideas for performing your best if you’re racing in the heat. While it might go without saying, triathletes are naturally overachievers, so I’ll say it: Don’t overdo any of the heat related strategies below. Performing in the heat takes a lot out of the body and, if overdone, can lead to a perpetual state of dehydration and overtraining or even serious heat related illness. It’s best to keep heat training to your lower intensity workouts and not compromise your key workouts with the added stress of trying to acclimate to a hot climate.
If you’ll be racing in a hot climate, start your acclimating protocol about 2-3 weeks before your race.
Seek out a Sauna
Over the course of those 2-3 weeks, consider sitting in a sauna several days per week. Sessions should start at 10-15min, building to no more than 30min and a max of 2-3 days per week.
Your pre-race protocol could also include going without air conditioning in your house and car for several weeks. Keep in mind, though, that “sleep trumps heat”. Don’t cause yourself to suffer so much at night that it effects your sleep.
Overdressing on workouts can also help you acclimate if you don’t have the “luxury” of training in the tropics. Try wearing an extra layer during your Zone 2-3 bike and run workouts for the week, but make sure you have a way to ditch the extra layers if you start to overheat.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
Some studies have indicated that as many as 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. The general rule is to drink ½ to 1oz of water for each pound of bodyweight per day, but athletes, especially those training or racing in high temperatures, should shoot for ¾ of their bodyweight in ounces of water per day.
Electrolytes are Critical
Chug too much plain water and you may end up with a dangerous condition called hyponatremia where the delicate balance of nutrients in your blood essentially ends up diluted. Most sources recommend a hydration supplement that balances 500-700mg of sodium per 32oz of hydration during training, but some athletes who are heavy or salty sweaters perform better taking as much as 1200mg per hour.
The OTHER Liquid Lunch
While a margarita might be one way to increase your sodium intake, it might not help you perform at your best. The other kind of liquid lunch, eating water-based foods, is another great way to improve your hydration. Watermelon, citrus, mangoes and other fresh fruits are great, but don’t forget things like soups, oatmeal and cold cereals.
Keep it Simple
Make your race day fueling plan “bonk-brain” proof by making it easy to remember. For most of us, this means less math. Make your plan something like “one bottle per hour” as opposed to “I’ll mix this bottle with that bottle and take 2 of these pills the first hour and 25 of them in the third hour”. Setting an alarm to remind you to eat and drink is another great way to “bonk proof” your plan.
Fuel Properly on the Bike
When you transition from bike to run, your heart rate goes up and you have less cooling benefits from the wind. Thus, even less of your blood is going to your gut to help with absorbing your hydration and nutrition because it’s heading to your skin to try to cool you down. It’s therefore imperative that you have fueled well on the bike because you won’t be able to take in as much hydration and nutrition once you hit the run.
Fuel the Next Workout, and the One After That
In training remember that you’re not just fueling this workout - you’re fueling for the next one, the next one, and the one after that. The rule of “if it’s less than 60min, don’t take anything but water” does not apply when you’re training heavily, especially for long course and/or in the heat.
Dress for Success
While spandex is usually sweat wicking and tight fitting, many companies now make clothing with added features in places like your back and the palms of your hands, that you can fill with ice at aid stations to help you regulate your body temperature.
Keep it PG 13
On race day, cold stuff in all the right places can really help keep your core temperature down. That includes down your pants (cooling the area near your femoral artery), your head and the palms of your hands. Also, one of the perks of woman-hood is your cleavage where you can keep a lovely little pocket of ice all the way to the next aid station.
Ditch that Sponge!
Once the ice cold water is squeezed out of those little sponges they give out at aid stations, they just trap heat making holding on to them counterproductive once you’ve passed the legal litter zone on the course.
Always “Shake it Out”
It’s common sense not to do anything new on race day, but you’d be shocked at how many athletes make last minute decisions about how they’re going to carry their hydration and nutrition the week before their “A” race. Not only is this long past the time where they’d be able to test the mechanical feasibility of their equipment, but it also robs them of the ability to test out their ability to stomach their chosen nutrition on a long day, when their gut may be less amenable to their nutrition plan.
In short, with some planning and strategizing, you can both train for a hot race when you live in a not-so-hot climate and make sure you stay cool, and preform your best on race day.