While the old saying, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" makes sense in theory, it isn't very practical for runners trying to maintain physical fitness or achieve race goals during intense summer heat. "Warm-weather running impacts all runners," says Marlene Atwood of Women's 101 Fitness in Alpharetta, Georgia. "Not only do we lose precious body fluids through perspiration, but heat makes us feel like we're working harder than we really are." Striding it out on a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym and running late at night are both options. But if you don't want to relegate yourself to a summer of gym drudgery or little sleep you're going to have to deal with the heat.
Drink to Your Health
"It's imperative to be hydrated when you begin an exercise session," says Jim Rutberg, pro coach at Carmichael Training Systems. "Hydration must occur on an ongoing basis, not just when you exercise." According to Rutberg, most people are somewhat dehydrated at all times; we simply don't drink enough fluids. To improve, Rutberg suggests scheduling water consumption just as you schedule workouts. "Don't water load, but be conscious of consuming enough fluids throughout the day to optimize your hydration level," he says. "Your body will be better able to handle the heat and stress, resulting in a more effective workout."
"Proper hydration should be a lifestyle," says Jen Burn, a cross-country team alumna at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. "If I wake up thirsty that is a sure sign I'm not properly hydrated." Considering the fact that water makes up approximately 60 percent of our body weight, hydrating with cool fluids is a must. When exercising in the heat, aim for 16 to 28 ounces of fluid intake per hour.
It is crucial to stick with your hydration plan once you are exercising. "By the time you feel thirsty, you could have a two percent body-weight water loss, already putting you into the impairment zone," says Steve Born, fueling expert for Hammer Nutrition. While you can sweat up to 3 liters an hour in extreme conditions, the most water your body can take back in the same time period is 1 liter. This means you'll finish extended workouts at a hydration deficit, according to Born, so be prepared to hydrate as part of your recovery.
"When it's hot, you need to salt up," Atwood says. She recommends incorporating an electrolyte-balanced sports drink into your hydration plan. Experiment with different products to find the one that works best for you.
Adapting to the Heat
If you run every day at the same time, no matter the weather, your body is already naturally adjusting to seasonal temperature changes. But for runners beginning a new workout program, increasing mileage or preparing for a hot weather race, they will need to consciously adapt to the heat.