It’s that time of the year where the US start to warm up and the readers of The Coached Cyclist are interested in racing tactics. So with the two in mind I thought I would share my experiences with dealing with heat as a cyclist.
I have used several practical tactics for dealing with the stresses of training and racing in the heat. No magic or complicated sweat evaporation formulas. Just good old common sense approaches to managing heat load.
Let’s break the discussion down to three phases: Pre-Ride, In Ride and Post Ride.
- Pre-Ride heat preparations
- Stay hydratedDrinking plenty of water is the key to doing well during a hot day of training or racing. I will drink the equivalent of 8-12 glasses of water during the work day prior to stepping outdoors for a ride. I also drink 2-3 cups of coffee on top of that and yes once in a while I will have a soft drink (Nasty Habit). To add to even more fluid consumption during the day remember that you may take in as much as 20% of you needed fluids through foods. If you feel hungry reach for the water before you reach for more food! Also make sure you weigh in before heading out, more on this in a bit.
- Eat properly for the heatDo not be surprised if you eat a bunch of food just before you go out to do intervals or hammer in a group ride that you get sick. Meals throughout the day should be small and consumed every 2 hours. The closer you get to your training/race the less “heavy” he foods need to be. I will not eat up to 3 hours before training or racing. Eating 2 hours before training/racing is the absolute minimum amount of time that I know my stomach will empty before I begin a physically demanding effort. I will stick to denser carbs in the morning during a training week and migrate my way into proteins and simple carbs the sooner I get to my time to train. If I am preparing for a priority race I will follow a carb loading regimen the week of the race.
- Stay CoolI know this sounds kind of silly but it’s important to understand that you need to take your rest before a hard effort seriously. If it’s hot outside you need to stay cool. When outside seek shade before the race or training when waiting on others. I will even minimize a warm up when the weather becomes hotter and more humid than usual.
- Step out for a bitOn a day I know it’s going to be blazing hot I might take 10-15 minutes and step outside during the work day to see what the weather is like. I like to believe that doing this telegraphs a message to my body – “Hey it’s hot out and you’re going to have to work through it.” Exposing yourself to the heat 5-10 minutes a day with an increase of 5 additional minutes every other day will help you acclimate to the heat. Riding in the winter when its cold also seems to help me better prepare for the hot summers.
- In ride heat mitigation
- Drink before you need toIf its blazing hot and you have been on your bike for a while and you are thirsty you are in trouble. I drink every 2-5 minutes when training and racing. I have even heard of athletes who set timer’s on their watches to beep every 5 minutes to warn them they should be drinking. If you remember one thing from this article remember this Drink Before You Need To! If you are thirsty and its hot you have done something wrong and could face mild to severe heat illness before you can get you and your bike home.
- Drink appropriatelyIf I am going out for a ride or race that lasts less than an hour (Excluding Criteriums) I will only bring water along. When I bring water or my sports drink on a hot day I will ice down my drinks. Some athletes I know have also frozen there bottles in advance of riding. The only problem doing this is if it takes too long for the bottles to begin melting to meet the demands of drinking every few minutes. When I start ramping up mileage for training or just getting in a long ride at the end of the season I will take a Camel Back Hydration pack and cram it full of ice and top it off with water. I will also do the same with extra sports bottles and stuff them in my Jersey pockets. It’s a bit chilly at first but I have noticed that my fitness will carry me further during a long ride. It has been proven over and over again that keeping the body’s core temperature above normal levels will degrade performance over time and will lead to heat illnesses. While you’re watching the next stage of your favorite stage race do not be surprised to see the pros wearing cooling vests between warm ups and race starts.
- Drink your mealWhen the temp soars I will not eat solid food on the bike. Just the thought of it makes my stomach turn. Instead I turn to gels or the new solid gels. What I am talking about are the new in ride nutrition items that are like gummies that have the same ingredients as a liquid gel. I have also been known from time to time to take a banana with me when it’s hot. I have also been known to increase the calories I take in by adding more to sports drink mix to my sports bottles. The key is to make your in ride nutrition easy to handle and easy to digest.
- Train and race when and where it’s coolerPick times of the day when the temps are much more civilized. Same goes for your races or cycling events. If you are out for a training ride and must ride in the heat plan routes that keep you in the shade of trees and near stores where you can stop and get a drink. If you find yourself out on new roads and running out of fluids check out a church. Many churches will have water taps that you can use to fill a bottle. Word of caution when doing this: If the church is older the water may not have been used in a while so its a wise move to let the water run for a minute or more before putting it in your bottle. If you do this at the same church on a regular basis make sure to donate a little money to the church at the end of the season or you may find they have removed the handle! When the weather has just gotten too hot to race in pack up your bike and head north to cooler weather. You might be surprised at how well you do in different surroundings. I know from past experience what I may think is a manageable temperature others maybe melting
- Post ride cooling down
- Time to drink some moreAs soon as the ride is over you need to replenish carbs ASAP. It is widely agreed that the first 30 minutes after training and racing is the optimal window to start replenishing your glycogen stores. I know several athletes who swear by drinking Chocolate Milk after training and I am one of them. I must admit that once the weather hits 90F the last thing I want to drink is milk! I have been known to drink a Coke instead but only after races and extreme hammer fests with teammates.
- Have you drunk enoughRemember when I suggested that you weigh in before heading out to ride. Weigh in after your ride and compare your before and after weight. Unless you burned more than 3000 calories in your ride your weight loss can mostly be attributed to fluid loss. Do not think for a second that you can just gulp down 4 glasses of water to bring you fluid levels up. It took you X number of hours and minutes to lose it so it will take you X number of hours and minutes longer to replace it. if I was out for 3-4 hours I will fill a glass with water and take a sip every five minutes and continue to do so for up to the time I rode and even up to an additional hour to replace lost fluids.
- Get cleaned up fastIf you’re on a training ride or happen to have a team bus with a shower I strongly recommend you get a shower as soon as you get off the bike. Just remember that this should not be a hot shower as it will continue to raise your body’s core temperature and will cause you to sweat longer. Instead start off with a warm shower and decrease the temperature incrementally over 5-10 minutes. I will take focus the cold water on my legs to get the effect of taking an ice plunge. I just started to do this recently and have noticed that my recovery has really improved by doing so. I have also taken the same type of shower later in the day when it’s hot outside to allow my body to better regulate my body temp before going to bed. This has also helped with my restlessness with summer sleeping.
Well there you have it, “Tactics for dealing with heat in training and racing”. If you have other experiences or suggestions on dealing with heat that have helped you share them in the comments section. If you have questions about training, racing and event preparation give me Rob Grissom a call at Positive Performance Coaching (502) 509-7624.
Stay cool and stay smart when racing and training in the heat. Good luck.
Really great tips Rob! Like you say, much of it is common sense and I knew most of these already, but you gave me a few more tidbits to add to my knowledge. I raced for the first time in 100 degree heat yesterday and was fine. Though I *did* get dropped (but only after making some hard chase/bridge efforts – my droppage had nothing or little to do with the heat!)
Thanks! Glad to have been able to provide a few new tips. Good deal on finishing a Road Race in 100 degree weather. Last 2 races I was in that were blazing hot as many as 20 racers dropped out due to the heat.
Hi Rob! All great advice – I’ll definitely incorporate some of your tips on eating properly in hot weather!
One thing that I like to do as well, to keep cool, is take an ice pack, and put it in my middle jersey pocket, when the temperature gets up over 100. This isn’t for really long rides, as the ice pack eventually warms up, and then becomes dead weight in your pocket, but some are good for 90 minutes to 2 hours. I don’t want to be out any longer than that anyways, in that weather!
Thanks Rog! I really do like your tip on the ice pac in the jersey pocket. One thing to add on the food. I have found that the new gel bites can be tough to deal with when working hard. If I find myself above zone 3 training I have to be careful not to inhale them. I read a tip that when it gets hard to breathe to just put the gel bite between the cheek and gum and let them melt. I know it sounds like a chewing tobacco commercial but it works.
Thanks Rob. There were a few good tips in here I’d never thought of. We face a LOT of heat in Houston, and my husband Eric and I ride in the Hotter n hell Hundred each year. I also find that if I do take an actual rest stop, dousing my head is the fasted way to cool my body. If I am gu’ing, I freeze my gu’s pre-workout, too. Sounds silly, but I wear white in the summer too. So many black biking shorts out there sucking up the sun. Every little bit helps!
Excellent tip on the KIT. Wearing light colors will reflect the sun light where as wearing dark colors or black will absorb heat. The team I race for has made a point of this and and better than 75% of our kit is white with the rest mostly bright green and yellow.