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It's HOT!

What do you really know about hot conditions? Heat symtoms and preventing them. Below we will cover many aspects and ways to prevent heat related issues. PLEASE READ IT! Understanding it will only help you achieve your athletic goals, avoid it, and say good bye to months of training and preperation.

Heat and Heat Exhaustion and Heat Cramps

Each injury is most commonly precipitated by the combined effects of heat and dehydration. Heat exhaustion is physical fatigue that is made more pronounced by the effect of heat on the body. Younger athletes, or athletes less experienced with the effects of heat on their systems, are prone to heat exhaustion. The common symptoms of the heat-related injury are similar to those that accompany muscle cramps: dizziness and a somewhat disoriented affect, nausea and vomiting, and a tendency to faint. Heat exhaustion also tends to elevate the core body temperature to the range of 101F to 102F (39C to 40C). Heat exhaustion can bring down any athlete, irrespective of the level of fitness, experience with hot weather competition, or personal training regimen. Heat-related injuries of all types tend to occur more frequently with athletes that are in lesser degrees of fitness. The key aspect to the prevention of heat exhaustion is proper hydration. Hydration has a number of components. It is such an important aspect of athletic performance that hydration must be approached through strategy, as opposed to that of an afterthought. Pre-hydration is the period leading up to an event; an athlete can tailor the daily consumption of fluids with the upcoming event in mind. A healthy person will consume approximately 64 oz of fluids daily. An athlete may adjust this consumption as the event approaches. Pre-hydration will also include the fluid consumed on the day of the event prior to competition. Hydration is the process of consuming fluid during the competition, usually either water or sport drinks with specialized electrolyte or carbohydrate elements. Rehydration is the equally important process of returning fluids of the body to their optimal levels.

Hydration goes to the root of the mechanism of how the body keeps itself cool. Heat is generated by the body in every instance of energy production; warm weather and humid conditions make the elimination of heat from the body even more important. The body produces perspiration through the combined functions of the cardiovascular system bringing warm blood from the core of the body to the extremities and the release of fluids. Consequently, the amount of water in the body decreases, along with lesser amounts of electrolytes, which are minerals such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. The combined effect of electrolytic and fluid loss is the cause of muscle cramps. Heat exhaustion is primarily related to fluid loss. The onset of dehydration is a problem for the body that is progressive: as more water is lost, the less efficient is the cardiovascular system, as the fluid loss directly affects the blood volume available to the system. As fluid levels decline, the body cannot produce as much cooling perspiration. Humid weather compounds this problem as the perspiration, once produced, cannot evaporate as readily into the air, leaving the body temperature elevated. While the most effective preventative of heat exhaustion is water, the intensity and the duration of the exercise will also be a significant factor. Athletes that exceed their own training limits in a competition are vulnerable to heat-related injury. Athletes from temperate climates who compete in warm weather sporting events are particularly vulnerable to heat exhaustion.

Plan and prepare for each long workout.

In order to stay on top of you training and recovery you must always plan ahead. Let me give you an example: Today I had scheduled a 86 mile zone 2 endurance ride.

We planned to leave early at 5a.m. to beat the heat. Yesterday I drank close to 150 oz to prepare for the huge fluid loss on todays ride. I drank another 7 bottles during the ride which took approx. 4 hours. Thats another 168 oz I drank today. I weighed myself before and after and I only lost 1 lb or 16oz. I also made a huge pot of pasta last night to tap off my carbs before I burned the 5000+ calories expected on today's ride. I took 2 bottles which totaled 1000 calories with Ultrafuel and 1 banana and 3 gels and a bag of hot tamales. On average my goal is to consume 400 calories per hour which means I needed to take 1200 total. I actually consumed closer to 1700 calories. I planned to drink one bottle of Ultrafuel each lap (2 loops around S Mnt). I also planned for the heat knowing that as it warmed my appetite would also diminish, so I consumed more calories earlier.

As the heat increases, remember that the body starts to cool itself and protect itself from heat stroke. The blood thus moves from the intestines and stomach and muscles to the major organs and cooling mechanism. If many of you feel nausea during the heat, now you understand why, no blood in the stomach means less digestion to breakdown the sugars.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are the most common type of heat-related injuries that are sustained by athletes. The impact of heat upon the function of the human body is a progressive form of injury, with heat cramp being the mildest and most readily treatable form, heat exhaustion the next most significant heat-related occurrence, and the culminating stage of heat injury, known as heat stroke, the final and the most dangerous development.

The cardiovascular system is the first line of defense within the body to combat the effects of heat. Any form of exercise will generate heat through the processes of energy production to power physical movement, no matter what the external environmental conditions may be. In activities taking place in a warm environment, where temperatures affecting an athlete are increased due to air temperature, the athlete's clothing or equipment, or the intensity of the effort, the body temperature will tend to rise beyond the standard of 98.6F (37C). The cooling mechanism of the body in response to increased heat is a subtle and sophisticated one; the first response is to attempt to reduce body heat to a point where it is relatively close to that of the surrounding environment. The cardiovascular system is constructed to permit the surface of the skin to be cooled through capillary (small blood vessels) action, in which warm blood, heated through the production of energy, is delivered to the skin surface where the capillaries are located. Warm water, in the form of perspiration, is released through the skin. For many athletes training in the heat, this is one reason the heart rate is elevated during exercise. The blood which once was used to work those mucles has now moved to the surface of the skin to keep you cool. Typically the heart rate will drop is effort is relaxed. During further dehydration the heart rate will rise and typically stay there where no drop will occur even if you back off.

The efforts of the body to reduce its internal temperature are not without consequence. Excess perspiration, composed almost exclusively of water, with smaller amounts of sodium, calcium, and other minerals, reduces the amount of fluid available to the volume of blood plasma, the fluid component of blood that forms approximately 90% of its volume. Lesser blood volume will result in a correspondingly reduced ability of the cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen, nutrients, and energy stores throughout the body. This is the state generally known as dehydration. Early stages elevate the heart rate once again, but this time, typically the heart rate will take longer to drop and at times will not drop at all.

It is in such circumstances that heat cramps most commonly, although not exclusively, arise. The heat cramp is a form of a forceful muscle contraction or spasm, often quite painful, most frequently observed in a limb that is actively involved in the sport or exercise in question. In runners and cyclists, heat cramps occur in the gastrocnemius (calf) or hamstrings and quadriceps (thigh) muscles. Other symptoms include dizziness or apparent disorientation, weakness, vomiting, skin that is hot and sweaty to the touch, and a rapid heartbeat.

Overexertion of a muscle or muscle group will often be an underlying cause of heat cramps. Also contributing to both the existence as well as the persistence of a heat cramp are a failure on the part of the athlete to properly warm up or stretch out the affected muscle groups, as well as a failure to properly hydrate the body both before and during the activity. There is a documented higher incidence of heat cramps among less-conditioned as opposed to elite-level athletes.

The impact of dehydration on the muscles is a correlation to the optimal balance of water, sodium, and calcium in the system. Sodium and calcium are minerals that are a part of the group of vital substances functioning within the body known as electrolytes, chemicals capable of transmitting electronic signals from the central nervous system to the working muscles. The production of perspiration and the creation of imbalances in the electrolytic system contribute to the creation of heat cramps. The mechanism of heat cramps is such that it is possible, although less likely, to sustain a heat cramp injury in cool weather, as dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can occur in any weather.

Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps, which may exist alone or in combination, are caused in the following circumstances: fatigue or overexertion; dehydration; low levels of the minerals potassium, calcium, sodium, or magnesium; ingestion of various types of medications; excessive consumption of caffeine; or failure to properly warm up and stretch the muscles.

When an athlete has not properly prepared the body for a physical activity through the combined effect of proper pre-event hydration and carbohydrate consumption, the likelihood of muscle cramp is much greater. Inadequate carbohydrate consumption prior to competition will create correspondingly reduced levels of glycogen, the stored sugars that the body utilizes for the creation of the fuel adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Without adequate production of ATP, the muscle will become prematurely fatigued, which can lead to cramping. Insufficient hydration, both prior to and during the activity, will usually cause a decrease in blood volume, which will impair the delivery of electrolytes and nutrients to the muscles in question. Deficiencies in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium, all of which play a significant role in the transmission of nervous system impulses to a muscle, as well as the regulation of heart rate, will also speed the formation of muscle cramps.

Caffeine, a substance commonly consumed by endurance athletes for both its stimulating as well as its glycogen-regulating qualities, is a contributor to muscle cramps by virtue of its diuretic (an increased urine output) properties. Caffeine will often speed the dehydration of the body. In sports that require anaerobic energy production, lactic acid, a byproduct of the production of ATP, may cause an involuntary muscle contraction. The initial treatment of a muscle cramp includes a gentle stretch of the affected area. If the cramp arises in competition, the athlete should not immediately attempt to return to full speed. The keys to the prevention of cramps are developing a high level of general fitness, regular and comprehensive stretching of the key muscle groups, and careful attention to nutrition practices, including carbohydrate, vitamin, and fluid levels. Stomach cramps can be as disabling as muscle cramps, and as stomach problems most often arise in the pressure of competition, these cramps can have a significant negative impact on performance. For endurance athletes, stomach cramps often occur when the athlete consumes too much food or liquid during competition. When athletes eat too much food prior to an event, or when they experiment during a competition with a drink or an energy gel to which they are not accustomed, cramping may also result. In circumstances where the athlete consumes a great deal of water without having an adequate amount of sodium present in the system (a mineral lost through perspiration), a condition known as hyponatrania will arise, which results in excessive water in the stomach, which is not capable of being processed by the body.

In Conclusion

Planning and preparing is just as important as the training itself. Heat will fatigue are bodies much quicker than in normal weather conditions. That being said, we MUST always try to do the following:
  • Limit your exposure in extreme heat
  • Reduce your training if weather becomes too hot
  • Take your brick runs indoors after your long rides
  • Limit your breaks during exercise, you should never exceed more than 2 to 4 minutes for any break, during endurance training never stop more than once or twice. Each stop effects how your body has to adapt to the weather, intensity, and fatigued muscles. In other words, train like you plan to race on race day.
  • Know and understand your sweat rate and sodium needs; sweat test, weigh yourself pre and post exercise, look for signs of salt post workout on face and clothes
  • Read last newsletter on how to keep you body cool during hot conditions
  • Prepare and plan for your long workout
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