Preparing to race in hot and humid conditions
Training and racing in hot and humid conditions places an extra stress on the body much in the same way as racing at altitude. If we don’t prepare adequately for these conditions, then we cannot expect to be able to perform at our best.
The acclimatization process allows our bodies to become adequately adapted to performing in the conditions in which we need to race. When we exercise in these conditions performance is reduced significantly, however with proper acclimatization our performance returns towards normal.
The primary acclimatization adaptions to heat exposure include an increase in plasma volume, earlier onset of sweating, reduction in electrolyte concentration in sweat, increased skin blood flow, reduced oxygen consumption for a given workload and improved myocardial efficiency. These adaptations allow us to more readily control our core body temperature and exercise at a higher intensity for longer.
Many of our adaptions to heat occur relatively rapidly in approximately 10-14 days. However, to maximize acclimatization. It has been recommended that the athlete has 2-5 exposures p/w for up to 6 weeks with sessions generally lasting 15-60 minutes. The conditions for this should gradually approach those which will be experienced in competition.
Race prep: pre – mid race cooling
When we exercise a large proportion of our energy is converted to heat, this heat either needs to be dissipated through various mechanisms or it results in an increase to our core body temperature. Core body temperature is tightly regulated and increases to over 400c cannot be tolerated for extended periods of time. In hot and humid conditions, the body’s ability to dissipate heat is compromised meaning that temperature regulation becomes significantly harder and exercise capacity can be reduced.
Pre and mid race cooling allows us to give our bodies a helping hand and by lowering our body temperature we allow ourselves to perform harder for longer.
- Pre-cooling with an ice-slushy drink: ingesting an icy drink has been shown to significantly increase exercise time in hot conditions, the volume and timing depends on the individual but 300ml about 30min prior to racing is a good place to start.
- Ice vests: external application of ice prior to the start of a race is a commonly used strategy, if the race start is fast make sure to take off beforehand to ditch the extra weight.
- Pre-cooled bidons: If possible make sure the drinks your support team are feeding you have been pre-cooled and stored in an esky.
- Don’t worry about getting wet: Being wet speeds up the cooling process known as convection, splashing your water bottle over your head is an effective way to keep your body temperature down.
Remember race day should not be an experiment, try out these strategies beforehand to see what works best for you!