In many parts of the country and world, it’s really hot outside. At least here in the South, many of us are facing heat indexes exceeding 100 degrees. We are battling what many elite athletes do routinely this time of year. How can you safely compete and train in the heat?
Some of the world’s most popular sporting events take place in the heat. Major League Baseball, the Summer Olympics and even this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup can require their athletes to compete in hot and humid conditions.
These conditions can place tremendous stress on the bodies of elite athletes, weekend warriors and young recreational players alike. The heat and humidity also pose a risk for serious medical illness related to physical activity in this environment.
Tips to safely compete or train in the heat
One option for dealing with the heat would be to avoid it altogether. However, many sporting events take place outside during the day, so we must often find a way to safely train and compete.
This post in no way serves as medical advice. You should check with your doctor for individual recommendations, especially if you have medical conditions or take medications that increase your risk for heat illness.
Here are some ideas, though, that might help you prepare for sports and exercise in the heat.
It can take elite athletes anywhere from a few days to two weeks for their cardiovascular systems to adjust to the hot temperatures. Those of us in less-than-optimal shape might take even longer.
Rather than training at full speed right away, it is probably safer and better for your athletic performance to gradually increase your exposure. Slowly increase the volume, duration, and intensity of your training. Add protective equipment and uniforms throughout the adjustment period.
Ideally you want to stay euhydrated while training. Essentially you must take in roughly the same amount of fluid you lose in sweat. To do so, you must drink fluids throughout the day, including before, during and after sports and exercise.
Water is a good start. For intense heat or longer training sessions, drinks with sodium and electrolytes can help restore fluids.
For athletes training or competing over many days, weighing yourself daily can help you determine if you are adequately replacing lost fluids.
Many options to cool your body before and during activity exist. Precooling your body with ice towels before you compete, like what many of the soccer teams in the FIFA Women’s World Cup are doing this week in Canada, is one option. Fans, ice vests and even cold-water baths can help athletes in extreme conditions.
Breaks during training
While you might not be able to take breaks during a competition, you can add them to your training sessions. Experiment with breaking up physical exertion into shorter blocks of time with frequent breaks. If possible, try to go in the shade or indoors for a few minutes.
Rest and recovery periods between competitions
If you must play several games or matches in a single day, as many teams must do in weekend tournaments, work with event organizers to schedule at least two hours of rest and recovery between contests.
Finally, it is critical that you stop and seek medical attention if you develop any signs or symptoms of heat illness, such as dizziness, weakness, or nausea. Pay attention to your teammates and watch for signs that they might be struggling.
Exertional heat stroke is rare, but it can occur even in highly trained athletes. Fortunately we can prevent most of these events by preparing ahead of time and taking some simple steps while we train and compete in the heat.
Note: This post appears in a modified form as my sports medicine column in the June 24, 2015 issue of The Post and Courier.
Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness and Council on School Health. American Academy of Pediatrics. Policy Statement—Climatic Heat Stress and Exercising Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. Vol. 128 No. 3 September 1, 2011. pp. e741-e747.
Racinais S, Alonso JM, Coutts AJ, et al. Consensus recommendations on training and competing in the heat. Br J Sports Med. Published online June 11, 2015.