Any triathlete will sometimes have to deal with heat, but if you compete at Kona you can be sure that it will be hot. To those not used to training in heat, coming from a cooler climate and going to a hot climate that is 90⁰F (30⁰C) can feel like an oven. The heat may not only feel uncomfortable; in most cases will affect your performance in a negative way, if not prepared.
The human body is incredible. It can adapt very well if trained properly for the given conditions it will face. Exposure to warmer climates causes the body to become more efficient in keeping core body temperature low. Here are some of the physiological adaptions that occur with heat acclimatization:
- Sweating starts at a lower body core temperature (cooling starts earlier).
- Higher sweat rates (helps to cool body down more).
- Increased blood plasma levels, sometimes referred to as “blood thinning”. Increased plasma allows the heart to beat slower and the body to sweat more before performance decreases.
- Thirst is improved allowing you to drink more.
- Salt loss through sweat deceases.
All of the adaptions above will enable an athlete to perform better in hot conditions. Therefore, if you are aiming to have a great race day in hot conditions, heat acclimatization is vital.
There are two options that athletes have for heat acclimatization. Option 1 is going to the event site 14 days before the race to train. Most people will take about two weeks to acclimatize to the heat. In general, a fit individual will take less time to adapt to the heat and the number of days can be closer to seven days.
Option 2 would be to create an artificial hot environment to train in. This might include training in hot rooms or even sauna’s.
In either case you should figure out what your sweat rates are in the heat to prevent dehydration. Weigh your self before and after exercise. This will give you your approximate sweat rates, which can be broken down into hours or 15 minute segments.
For example, if your starting weight is 150 pounds before exercise, and you weigh 148.5 pounds after one hour of cycling, you sweat rate would be 1.5 pounds per hour or about 0.4 pounds every 15 minutes.
For every pound lost you should take in 16 ounces of water. In hot conditions you should aim to take in more fluid before and after exercise. Replacing all lost fluids while exercising at a high level in hot conditions can be a tough undertaking.
There is also a difference between dry heat and humid heat acclimatization. A person who is adapted to hot humid conditions will sweat more than if he or she is adapted to dry heat. This will affect performance because higher sweat rates assist in keeping core body temperature cooler.
So what are the general protocols for those hoping to be acclimatized for training in a cooler climate?
1) Arrive to a hot race destination 14 days prior to the competition.
- During the first few days, begin training early in the morning and late in the afternoon in order to get use to heat.
- After five days, start doing one training session at mid-day; you will have to race at mid day in Iron distance races.
- Progressively increase your training to simulate race conditions. For example, if training for an Ironman, you should swim in a morning cycle then run in the late morning and early afternoon.
2) Artificial heat adaption. This is a great option for those who live in cooler climates but can’t arrive early to a race.
- Create hot conditions for training on an indoor bike or treadmill by using a heater or sitting in a area that get lots of sun. Do your best to simulate the race temperatures that you will be racing at.
- Hit the sauna! You can do jumping jacks, step-ups, lunges, etc, in the sauna. Start with five minutes and gradually work your way up.
With any of these recommendations you should ease your way into them. If you feel faint, dizzy, nauseous or like general death, stop exercising get some fluids in and cool yourself off in the shade or AC.
Lastly, it is important to note that just about every person’s performance will decrease in hot conditions. Heat will generally have less impact on elite athletes. Nevertheless, it is still important to acclimatize as much as possible to hot conditions in order to minimize performance reductions.