At the first sight of warmth and sunshine, cyclists are like caged birds released from the confines of their cold basements. They excitedly complete long, intense rides in an attempt to play "catch up" from the work they didn't do during less favorable weather.
No one is complaining about the rise in temperatures after a brutally harsh winter, but that doesn't mean that riding in the heat doesn't pose challenges.
So before you enthusiastically begin 20-hour training weeks in the hot, humid weather, keep these tips in mind to stay safe.
1. Plan and Prepare: Decide on a route ahead of time and let at least one other person know where you're going. Pick routes with lots of shade and a few convenient places to stop for water if necessary. Be sure to carry a cell phone to call for a ride home if you get stuck. Bring money for a bus ride and extra fluids for emergency scenarios.
2. Be Smart: Avoid riding during the hottest parts of the day if possible. This is usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Dress appropriately by wearing clothing that wicks away sweat, keeping you dry and comfortable. And don't forget the sunscreen! In the event of a flat or mechanical failure of your equipment, try to find a shady spot to work on the bike instead of staying in the sun.
3. Acclimate: Start out with rides that are short and done at a slow pace. Increase your mileage as your body becomes used to riding in the heat. It takes a few weeks to get over the initial shock of hotter temperatures.
4. Hydrate: Drink water before, during and after rides. Always carry plenty of fluids, even if you're only planning for a short ride. Avoid drinking too much cold water at one time too—this can cause cramping. Aim to take in small amounts of fluids frequently (every 5 to 10 minutes) to stay on top of your hydration needs. Be sure not to wait for the feeling of extreme thirst; this could be one of the initial signs of heat exhaustion.
5. Replace Electrolytes: For rides longer than an hour, drink fluids with an electrolyte replacement in addition to water. Consider an electrolyte drink, salty food, such as pretzels and peanuts, or electrolyte chews/gels to help maintain sodium levels.
6. Recover: Recovery becomes even more critical when riding long miles in the heat. Have something prepared to replenish your energy stores right after the ride that ideally has a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Continue to hydrate in the hours that follow to replace fluids lost during the ride. This will speed the recovery process and allow you to face the heat again tomorrow.
Summer is the peak of road racing season in many parts of the country. Even recreational cyclists and fitness enthusiasts are inspired by the Tour de France to get out on two wheels. The heat can make this a dangerous environment, but with proper preparation and attention to the body's nutritional needs, summer is one of the best times to be on a bike. So get out there, have fun, and be safe.
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