5 Ways to Beat the Heat and Ride Through the Summer
Summer is swiftly approaching, and with average Texas temperatures already in the mid80s, it’s time to start thinking about how to stay safe when you’re riding in the heat.
But let’s talk about heat training in general! High temperatures can heighten the intensity of your ride just like increasing speed, distance, or incline. Humidity is another a condition to plan for because it magnifies the effects of high temperatures.
Heat and Humidity
High humidity can affect how your body manages the heat. Since you feel hotter as the heat index rises, your body works harder to cool you down, and your sweat takes longer to evaporate when the atmosphere is already saturated with moisture. It pays to keep track of the humidity levels as well as the temperature when you’re planning a ride, and know that mornings are typically more humid than later in the day.
The Dangers of Heat Stress: Heat Exhaustion versus Heat Stroke
Heat illness can creep up on you slowly—so it’s crucial to be aware of symptoms so you can identify them early—in yourself or in your riding partners. Signs of heat exhaustion include:
- muscle cramping
- a feeling of weakness
- nausea or vomiting
- cold or clammy skin
- excessive sweating
- dizziness or fainting
Without treatment, symptoms can worsen rapidly and turn into heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition (20% of heat stroke victims die). Signs of heat stroke are:
- a temperature at or above 104°F
- hot but dry skin
- a racing heart
- confusion or agitation
- slurred speech
- loss of consciousness
5 Ways to Beat the Heat
- Plan Your Ride for the Morning or Evening
Organize your day around an early or late ride, taking advantage of the lower temperatures and less intense sun. Most group rides take place in the mornings or after work if you need some help getting motivated!
- Acclimate to the Heat Gradually
If your goal is to be able to handle hard efforts on the bike during the summer, gradually increase your body’s tolerance to the heat. Start riding in the mornings and introduce the higher temperatures slowly. Make your first hot rides short and flat—more easy spins than hammerfests! Consider moderate intervals with plenty of time to recover between repetitions. Once your body has become accustomed to the heat, you can increase other training variables like distance and speed.
- Dress for the Weather
There is a massive array of cycling clothing options out there, and with a little preparation you can put together the perfect kit for the conditions. Be sure to choose light-colored clothing to best reflect the sun and breathable items that allow your sweat to escape and efficiently cool you down. Thin materials can also be protective from the sun—there are sleeves with UV protection, and long-sleeved wicking jerseys can be a good option for those looking for extra sun protection.
Consider a bandana to shield the back of your neck, and douse it with water at regular intervals to stay cool. Or try a cooling wrap that you freeze first, like this one.
- Hydrate with the Right Fluids and Nutrients
Hydrating properly includes taking in appropriate amounts of fluid before, during, and after a big effort, especially when exercising in the heat. Research has found that dehydration of even 2% of body mass can impair aerobic performance. Be sure you’re drinking enough throughout the day to prepare your body for the demands of a hot ride. While on the bike, take in water and gels or a sports drink of your choice to replace the electrolytes your body is using to manage your core temperature as you exercise.
Worried about cramping? Every cyclist who has dealt with cramps has their favorite remedy, and these are a few of the Wheelbrothers’ favorites. For example, Ryan, our triathlete, loves his pickle juice. Try a shot of it during or after your ride (and look here for some background on why it works).
Another example is WheelBrother Michael who pops a Tums at the first sign of a cramp to replace the calcium in muscles that can be depleted during heavy exercise.
Sportlegs (Hatt’s favorite cramp cure) is a product containing lactate that helps your muscles perform and recover.
Another theory is that stimulating the nervous system can override the cramping—this is why some claim that mustard helps their cramps.
And finally, HOTSHOT is a product containing strong flavors like ginger, cinnamon, and lime designed to spark your sensory nerves and overpower the cramping signals.
Always take your sweat rate into account, too: there can be a huge difference in fluid loss between individuals, affecting the amount and rate you need to hydrate compared to your buddies. And be aware that, when you are acclimated to training in the heat, your sweat contains less sodium, but you actually produce more sweat—increasing the need to replace fluids. After a ride, continue hydrating and consider a slushie to replace fluids while helping to cool down.
There are plenty of products out there to help you rehydrate and recover post-ride, but milk? Really?
- Use Sunscreen
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Consider how long you’ll be riding and reapply every two hours—sunscreen even helps prevent heat illness, as it keeps your skin cool. And don’t forget areas like the backs of your calves and neck, your lips, and your ears!
Bonus Tip: Be Aware of Road Hazards
Remember the infamous melted tarmac in the 2003 Tour de France that took out Joseba Beloki and forced Lance Armstrong to do some unplanned off-roading across a field? The temperatures were in the 90s that day, and the two riders were speeding into a sweeping right-hand turn when Beloki lost control. Consider how the temperature may affect the road surface and adjust your speed accordingly.
But most importantly, enjoy the ride! Have fun and keep an eye on your buddies so that everyone stays safe. You can still get out there when the temperatures are high and even continue training hard with the right preparation. Embrace summer riding and check in here for Texas rallies throughout 2019!