Eat to Beat the Heat
Strawberry Beet Smoothie.
A racer’s mind can push through torture, however when it comes to heat, we have a built-in survival mechanism. The body has a switch that triggers if it gets too hot and shuts you down. If it happens on race day, your competition is over. But don’t worry, you will survive to race another day. Good nutrition can help you beat the heat. Here’s how:
Tweak your day-to-day nutrition when it’s hot. Consume quality carbohydrates (fresh veggies and fruits that are dense in nutrients, natural sugar and salts) and water. Processed carbs will decrease your endurance because they make blood sugar levels spike and crash. Stored carbs (glycogen) will be released too early, which pulls out electrolytes and can shut down your gut.
- Eat good fats and quality protein to protect your muscles. Fat could be your best fuel source in the heat.
- Pre-fuel with a dairy-free smoothie. They sit well in the stomach, particularly for people who get nauseous before a race (dairy in your smoothie is hard to digest).
- Drink water before and during training or racing: ½ – 1 cup every hour leading up to the race. Add electrolytes to your water the day before your race if the temperatures exceed 25C. During the race you should drink two to three big gulps of water every 10-15 minutes. Extreme heat can mean drinking one cup every 10-15 minutes. Set your watch to beep every 15 minutes and drink each time. Drinking too much water can make some people feel queasy.
- Consume electrolytes. If you just drink water leading up to the race and during the race, you might end up with a dangerous state called hyponatremia (electrolytes are flushed out creating a biochemical imbalance for your cardiovascular system). You can balance electrolyte/mineral levels by consuming coconut water, lemon and sea salt. Magnesium is a natural electrolyte and can be taken in supplement form daily. As well, there are many commercial products designed to use in training and racing. Test these in training to see how they work for you.
- Fuel with salty snacks or fruit that has natural salts and water in it. Once the heat really increases, eat food that is easy to digest, such such as bars, etc.
- Refuel with liquids such as natural fruit syrups (no acidic juices), diluted gels, sports drinks, or powders added to water. You get fuel and hydration all in one.
- Put salt on your food and drink your electrolyte beverage before race day. The best way to consume sodium is diluted in a drink or by sprinkling sea salt on your food.
We all suffer when heat hits, so slow down to reduce stress on your body. People may pass you along the way, but many will end up cramped up in the ditch or DNFing. Keep things slow and simple. As a general rule, for every 5 degrees over 20C drop your effort 10%; over 30C, drop your effort 15% for every 2C rise in temperatures.
Do what you can to keep your body cool. Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. Put ice into your hat, shorts, bra or shirt. Don’t give your body a reason to flip the switch. Keep cool and survive to thrive.
Common Signs of Heat Exhaustion
Watch for these symptoms whether you are racing or training in hot weather:
- Pale, cool and moist skin
- Fast and weak pulse
- Muscle cramps
Allyson A. Johnson is an elite multisport athlete and IMPACT’s nutrition editor.