By Spartan SGX Coach Mike Ryan, Spartan Race Sports Medicine Expert
The human body struggles in heat for many reasons, but a well-conditioned athlete with a recent history of exposures to a hot environment is typically safer and will perform better in the heat.
Be prepared for the arrival of the humidity, sun, high temperatures and resulting dehydration. All of us, from the Spartan Pro Team to the last finisher in the Open Category, will battle what I call the “Stealth Obstacle.” You might know it as The Heat. Here’s how to avoid dehydration at your next Spartan Race.
Understanding Your Body in the Heat
When it comes to endurance events like Spartan Races, it’s important for athletes to understand how their bodies respond in a hot environments. You can’t train the body to consume high volumes of fluids, dissipate internal heat and cool itself while sweating profusely in an air-conditioned gym. If you plan on racing in the hot sun, training in heat is a must.
Preparing for the Dog Days of Summer is another example where a certified Spartan SGX coach is invaluable. Race day should not be the first time an athlete is exposed to hot temperatures paired with lengthy, high-intensity exercise.
The longer an athlete is exposed to a hot environment, the greater the potential for symptoms of dehydration, even at moderate temperatures. When a dehydrated athlete loses as little at 2% of their body weight, they demonstrate diminished cognitive performance. This hampers reaction time, concentration and critical thinking. Every Spartan knows how necessary these skills are on the course, for safety and success.
Top 5 Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Heat Illness
Salty Snacks – Pretzels and chips are power-packed salty snacks to consume before, during and after sweaty workouts and races.
BYOB – “Bring Your Own Bottle” – Don’t rely on a friend or a volunteer to provide you water. Bring your own fluids for workouts and races. What’s the best brew? Use my 50/50 Rule: 50% water and 50% sports drink before, during and after all your workouts and races.
Body Core Cooling – When someone dies in the heat it’s usually related to organ failure. Keeping your body core – head, chest and abdomen – cool needs to be one of your top priorities.
Breathable, Light Colored Gear – Sure, black clothing is stylish and slimming. It also absorbs more heat in the sun. Hot sunny conditions require lighter-colored and more breathable clothing.
Train in the Heat – Gradually increase your exposure to hot weather. This will give it ample time to adapt to the demands of hot environments.
Classic Endurance Athletes Mistakes in the Heat
- Energy Drinks — High octane, sugary, stimulant-heavy drinks are dangerous in the hot sun while exercising.
- Lack of Electrolytes – I made this mistake in Ashville Super in 2016. My body struggled in vain during the last 4 miles, and I threw-up five times after I finished. During intense exercise longer than 60 minutes, your body needs vital electrolytes such as sodium, chloride, potassium and magnesium. These are found in most sports drinks.
- Relying on Thirst – The body’s dehydration alert mechanism is not always accurate. Smart endurance athletes rely on their watches to ensure they are hydrating consistently.
Factors that Increase the Risk of Heat Illness
- Menstruation – During this part of the month, female endurance athletes should be more diligent with their hydration, nutrition and workout routines.
- Recent Weight Loss – Creates a body fluid imbalance and it makes it much more difficulty for the body to cool itself.
- Energy Drinks, Supplements & Medicine — These all typically slow the stomach’s ability to absorb fluids while accelerating the body’s metabolism. Both of these factors will increase the risk of heat illness.
- Vomiting/Diarrhea Both of these forms of bodily “mass exodus” create an almost instantaneous state of dehydration.
Elite Sports Medicine Tips by Mike Ryan
Consistency – Training, drinking and eating in the heat under the watchful eyes of a skilled Spartan SGX coach is smart, period.
Know and Share Signs and Symptoms of Heat Illness – Recognizing that dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid fatigue, confusion, mood change and shortness of breath are common signs of heat illness will help you and your training partners to stay safe in the heat.
Grade Your Urine – Lighter colored urine is the sign of a well-hydrated athlete. Darker urine = a higher risk athlete.
Learn more about Mike Ryan, PT, ATC, SGX.