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We all love the sunshine and being out on your bike with the wind against your skin is amazing, however, there are some challenges that come with hot weather riding. Dehydration is a big one and it always feels harder when training in the heat but you shouldn’t be deterred, we can still train well throughout the summer and it can have some very positive effects.
A recent study in Experimental Physiology found that haemoglobin levels in male elite cyclists increased by 4-5% when the tests subjects spent 5 weeks training at 37°C, boosting the amount of oxygen they were able to absorb.
Training in hotter environments can also increase the volume of plasma in your vascular compartment by almost 20%. Increasing the plasma volume will enable your body will allow you to better regulate body temperature (this is known as thermoregulation).
Increased plasma volume doesn’t just help your body stay cool, more plasma means increased blood volume, allowing more blood to be sent to the surface of your skin for cooling leaving more than enough blood to supply oxygen to your muscles, giving you the ability to last longer.
1. Stay Hydrated!
We may as well start with the obvious. Staying hydrated is important all year round but even more so in the summer heat. The most simple way to check you are well hydrated is to check the colour of your urine, if it’s clear or very light yellow, you know you are well hydrated, if not, drink more!
If you feel like you have not had a sip of fluid, and you’re not thirsty or sweating, then your body is going into survival mode. You need to get out of the heat because you’re at the beginning phase of a heat-related illness.
Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine before a ride as they make you need to urinate more and dehydrate you (riding on a hangover isn’t a great feeling either).
I’m a big fan of electrolyte tablets, they help to increase your water absorption rate to keep you hydrated and maintain your electrolyte levels as you sweat.
2. Stay cool
If you feel too hot, run your wrists under cold water, this will help you to cool your whole body down, you can also pour cold water over your thighs, neck and head to bring your temperature down.
3. Try to avoid riding in mid-day heat!
The hottest part of the day is between 11 am and 3 pm so it’s probably not the best idea to plan to ride then. I love a summer evening ride, it’s cooler but still light and a great excuse to meet up with friends before, during, or after.
4. Don’t go all out straight away!
When it’s hot your body needs time to acclimate so going all out right off the bat will burn you out and have detrimental effects on your training and can make you dizzy and/or sick. When hot your body pushes more blood to the surface of your skin to cool you down through sweating, this means there is less blood available to transport oxygen towards your muscles, gut, kidneys and brain, which limits how much effort you can tolerate. Ease your way into your ride, remember it’s beautiful out there, enjoy it and gradually work up.
5. Wear good kit.
Having gear that’s light (in terms of both weight and colour), has plenty of air vents, and has good sweat-wicking properties can make a world of difference. Suntan lotion and sunglasses are also a must-have and should be part of your summer gear (protecting your eyes from UV is very important but they also keep the bugs out of your eyes and during the summer there are increased bugs around so it’s a real bonus).
6. Eat before you ride
Something that took me a long time to realize was that eating before a hot ride can make the world of difference. When you are hot you burn carbohydrates faster so being well fuelled is very important. I’ve made the mistake of thinking “it’s too early, I’ll be fine” many times only to regret it. Even if you just grab an energy bar before you head out, eat something, trust me, it will make a world of difference!
7. Don’t be concerned with pace
When it’s cooler, keeping a high pace and cadence can be simpler as your muscles won’t overheat as easily. This is very normal so when you’re training in the heat, don’t focus on pace but rather your effort. It’s also worth noting that your heart rate will be naturally elevated in hotter conditions.
8. Don’t be afraid to stop!
If you feel sick, dizzy or unwell, stop! Heat-related illnesses can be very serious so don’t be afraid to stop, re-hydrate and cool down.
9. Find training alternatives
If it is really too hot then why not jump on the trainer? You can stay out of the sun, put a fan or air-conditioning on, stay cool and get your training in. Swimming and water aerobics are also good ways to cool off and still get the training effect your muscles need.
10. Cool Down
Cooldowns are very important. Walk around (don’t sit) to make sure you are recirculating your blood throughout your body. There’s a lot of blood in your legs from the ride you just did (blood pooling), so if you don’t cool down properly and get the blood to all the necessary parts of your body, you will get dizzy, nauseous, and possibly pass out and injure yourself in the process. Spend at least 15 to 20 minutes drinking fluids, eating small snacks, and cooling down before you sit.