Keep your cool - cycling in the heat19 August, 2012 0 comments
Whether basking in the climes of an Indian summer, or warm weather training in a country that guarantees a little more sunshine, ‘caution’ is the buzzword when it comes to cycling well in hot and humid conditions. Ride early, ride slower and ride with lots of bottles of water on your bike is the conventional advice for those cycling in the heat. And it’s worth taking these tips on board, as the warm weather can place an extraordinary amount of stress on the body.
To put that statement into context, a study published in the 2011 journal Experimental Physiology discovered that cyclists riding a 40k time trial were as much as a whopping five minutes slower in 95-degree heat than they were in 68-degree heat. And it’s not just a dip in performance that you need to worry about, as a massive seven out of ten of us get sunburnt exercising outside in the warmer months and 75 per cent of us risk dehydration during training.
In fact, summer ailments may sound harmless enough but catch one and at best you miss out on a nice ride, at worst you could end up in hospital. Here’s how to avoid some of the sun’s most ruthless health hazards...
With symptoms ranging from red skin and dizziness to nausea and confusion, heat exhaustion occurs when your core body temperature rises to 37-40 degrees centigrade. It’s a result of the body’s cooling mechanisms - directing blood to the skin and sweating - no longer doing their job efficiently. Left untreated it can turn into a far more severe form of the condition called heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.
Avoid it: To dodge heat exhaustion, don’t cycle during the hottest part of the day, make sure you’re hydrated before training and take plenty of electrolyte drink with you on the ride. Spend some time riding in the shade, particularly after cycling hard, and go a little easier on your body than normal . Exercising all-out in extreme heat puts a great strain on the cardiovascular system, so pace your pedalling by starting slowly and speeding up gradually. If you think you are suffering from heat exhaustion, go to a cool place and drink plenty of water.
Did you know that as many as 60 per cent of us don’t consider our hydration levels before exercising? According to The Natural Hydration Council, very few of us consider the negative effects of dehydration, such as reduced performance, before working out. And this is despite a myriad of research noting the negative effects of dehydration and aerobic endurance activities like long-distance running or cycling. In one study, the effect of being dehydrated versus hydrated was studied in runners exercising in the heat. Running times were found to be slower and gut temperature (a marker of core body temperature) higher when runners were dehydrated.
Avoid it: Don’t wait until you fancy a sip of water before having a drink. By the time you feel thirsty, you’ve already lost a lot of fluid. Prevention is the best method here, so look for signs that you need to drink more fluid such as dark-coloured urine, bad breath or black circles under your eyes. Aim to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day and gulp some electrolyte drinks to top up on the minerals lost through sweat.
Hay fever is a widespread problem in the UK. Every year, a whopping one in five people have an allergic reaction to the pollen that comes from trees, grasses and weeds. This pollen is released between the March and September, so now is the time to err on the side of caution. Fail to manage it and you might experience itchy eyes, sneezing and a runny nose. In worst-case scenarios, hay fever can affect your vision and cause breathing difficulties.
Avoid it: The best way to sidestep a hay fever attack is to check the pollen levels and try to avoid exposure to the stuff. Don’t cycle early in the morning when pollen counts are high and avoid busy roads, as pollen can cling to petrol fumes, or grassy areas. Antihistamines are available at most chemists and can help control the symptoms of hay fever. However, wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes and showering after a ride are pretty useful methods too. Visit your GP if you experience wheezing or breathing troubles.
Do you like to roll up your sleeves and feel the sun warm your skin? Then put on some sunscreen! A recent survey by the British Skin Foundation revealed that nearly a third of us forgo sun lotion before heading outdoors. Burnt skin will be red and tender, and severely burnt skin will also be blistered or swollen. You may not consider the long-term risks of burning your skin but severely burning skin once every two years can as much as triple your life time risk of melanoma. In short, take some preventative measures to avoid the getting burnt.
Avoid it: Sunscreen should be your first port of call when it comes to avoiding sunburn. Use a minimum of factor 15 and choose a higher factor if you have fair skin. Make sure your sunscreen has both UVA and UVB protection and that you take some with you to reapply on longer rides. You can also avoid burning by covering up with UV protective clothing - there’s plenty of dark-coloured cycling kit available that have been designed to reflect sunlight. Have a cool bath after exercising to draw heat from your skin and ease symptoms of sunburn.