It is 90 degrees and damp outside. The last thing you want to do is exercise in the heat – but did you know that exercise in the heat can actually work to your advantage?
I had the opportunity to visit the Mission Heat Lab on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs, CT. There is a heat chamber in the laboratory, which can be set up to 110 degrees and the air humidity is between 10 and 90 percent. In the chamber you can jump on one of the bikes or treadmills that measure your heart rate, core temperature, body mass, power, pace / speed and sweat rate.
All of these factors are then used in welding electrolyte and sodium balance tests, which can tell a person the amount of electrolytes they are losing at a certain temperature and power for a set period of time.
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"For athletes, they can adjust the temperature and humidity to suit specific racing conditions," said Robert Huggins, PhD, ATC, vice president of research and athletic performance and safety at the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. This would allow a triathlete, for example, to set Kona, Hawaii-like conditions to test in the same environment in which they will be racing.
“With the electrolyte test, which includes sweat weight before and after, and washing with distilled water to remove electrolytes to calculate the concentrations, we can give recommendations that the athlete needs for this race based on the amount [weight and weight] would have lost electrolytes] during the test. “This number can then be used to determine the correct fluid intake and refueling for a longer race if necessary.
Since I'm obviously not a professional athlete, I was just curious to find out my sweat rate in the heat for half an hour. By taking an ingestible body temperature sensor pill that wirelessly transmitted readings to a recorder outside of my body, measured my weight before and after the test, and exactly how much water I drank during the heated run, I found that I was losing 0.74 Liters per hour. This means that at the same temperature, if I ran for an hour, the perfect amount of liquid I should take in would be 0.74 liters because I was sweating so much.
Running in the heat for so long didn't seem too daunting at first, but in the end I was so sweaty that I counted down the minutes until it was over. But I've learned that exercising in the heat is very beneficial if you do it safely.
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"With just five to seven days of training in the heat and a core temperature of 101.5 to 103.0 with enough hydration for 60 minutes, you can achieve many benefits," said Huggins. Achieving this core temperature stabilization and proper hydration is often referred to as heat acclimatization.
"From a physiological point of view [with heat acclimatization] your heart rate is lower at a certain intensity and the blood volume increases so that you can deliver more blood to the exercising muscles and skin to cool off with sweat," said Huggins. "Most importantly, your core temperature is lower both at rest and during exercise, and your body becomes a more efficient sweater."
And if you can push the heat training up to 10 to 14 days in a row, you can also hold electrolytes and liquids better. Overall, you can become a more efficient athlete by sweating more efficiently, adapting to the heat, and maximizing electrolyte consumption.
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For most athletes or people who train three to five times a week, it can take about two to three workouts in the heat for someone to feel more comfortable moving the body in hot conditions. But every person is different – some can last an entire week depending on their fitness.
“The more aerobic you are in general, the faster you get used to it,” explains Huggins. "Once you've reached warm acclimatization, or shortly" warm acclimatization, "you need to continue training in the heat every five days to take advantage of the adjustments made by your body." Even after reaching Heat Acc: "If you stay in the heat for 10 to 14 days without training, most of these adjustments will be lost," added Huggins.
Of course, it's easy to track your core temperature in a laboratory like the one I've been to. For everyday athletes who don't have access to a laboratory, the only way to accurately measure your core temperature – to make sure it's correct is an area with no peaks at an unsafe level – is to measure your temperature rectally. That would mean pausing your run, bike, or workout to determine your temperature – not ideal or likely.
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The good news is that you can track your sweat rate to find out how much fluid you lose when you exercise in a certain environment for a certain amount of time. Just step on a scale with a full water bottle before exercising, exercise and drink the water. When you're done, step back on the scale. The difference in your weight is your sweat rate or how much fluid you have lost.
For athletes who want to improve their performance, or for those who are just trying to stay hydrated on the next summer trail run, this could mean a change. "If you're having trouble refueling, whether it's above or below hydration, this is a great way to improve it and find out exactly how much fluid your body needs for a certain amount of time under certain conditions," concludes Huggins.
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