Female Athletes Thriving in the Heat – Part 1 - Runners Edge Physio
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Female Athletes Thriving in the Heat – Part 1

Natalie Snyder PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS

Female Athlete Specialist

July 5, 2021

Hey HOT ladies!

Yes, I meant you!  July 4th just came around the corner and went – you know what this means.  Summer is going to be getting hotter and hotter for the next two months!  As a new Alaskan girl, I keep hearing that the local Alaskans cannot stand the heat (but cold in negative degrees is no problem, lol).  This got me thinking about my half-marathon I’m training for, which I’m sure MANY of you are training for some kind of race this summer.  Let’s talk about how HOT female athletes are this summer.

Why is sweating so important?  It assists to regulate our body internal core temperature via homeostasis and allow us to perform optimally.  We are not polar bears in Alaska.  Sorry.  J 

Not only your core temperature is raised and dictates how you perform, but also the overall thermal stress and your blood availability.  The perfect call for crisis is hot skin, low body water, and elevated core temperature.  Exercising in heat will only increase the burden of your body trying to keep blood flowing to your skin to keep you cool.  Don’t you want those blood to deliver oxygen to the muscles for best performance instead?  Now I got you thinking, huh? 

It’s a competition between the skin and muscles for blood flow, whether to the skin for cooling or to the muscles for performance.  Ultimately, the muscles win most of the time, yet the lack of skin cooling can lead to heat illness. 

The skin temperature is affected by the ambient air and the core temperature is affected by exercise intensity and is largely independent of environmental factors.  Hot skin = less cooling capability to the blood returning to the body.  Sweating works by pulling water out of your blood plasma through your skin, so it can evaporate and cool you down. The more you sweat, the more your blood plasma volume drops.  The blood becomes more viscous like honey and it’s harder for it to flow through the tunnels of arteries and veins. The heart works harder, heart rate goes up, power goes down, core temperature rises.  All leads to fatigue, reduced performance, and power decline at the last mile. Don’t you want those blood to be rushing through the tunnels like the wave-runners? Got you thinking again, huh?

To prevent heat stress, increase in heat storage, and overall increased strain on your body.  Hyperhydration is a place we can start.  The more fluid you have on-board to start with, it allows some wiggle room for loss.  If you are doing multiple events, then doing some work with heat acclimation, meaning “permissive dehydration.”  Ultimately, training your body to acclimate to the heat, slowly and progressively, tolerating exertion in high temperatures with more blood volume, start sweating earlier, and increase bloodflow to the muscles and skin.

What can we do for our BEST sport performance? 

1.  Staying on top of Hydration:

  • Hydration is more important than eating while you exercise; if you mess up hydration, you’ll mess up your fueling.  Keep Hydration & Fueling SEPARATE.
  • The goal of hydration is to keep your body-fluid levels high enough to get rid of the heat you produce and cool you down while you’re exercising.
  • Do NOT depend on a sports drink for hydration.
    • They’re 5-8% carbohydrate with low level of sodium & key electrolytes. It is taxing for your digestion & may cause distress.  Gels actually dehydrates you, giving you only 2 minutes of energy then you will flat out.
  • Food in your pocket, hydration in your bottle.
    • Eat REAL food like mini-burritos, rice cakes, and homemade oats/date bars.
    • Salty food can help for fueling, smoked salmon, pickles, salted nuts to keep yourself hydrated in the heat.
  • Plain water isn’t optimal for hydration, it has no drivers for fluid into the intestines for optimal absorption.  Combine water with sodium and glucose gives the optimal balance.
  • IDEAL sports drink for fluid absorption should contain:
    • 3-4% carbohydrate solution (7-9 g of carbohydrate per 8 oz).
    • 7-9 g of sugar from glucose and sucrose per 8 oz.
    • With 180-225 mg of sodium & 60-75 mg of potassium per 8 oz.
    • Aim to drink 0.1 ounce per body weight per hour in temperatures 75° F or below (140 lbs. woman drinks 14 oz of water per hour).
    • Aim to drink 0.15 ounce per body weight per hour in temperatures 80° F or above (140 lbs. woman drinks 21 oz of water per hour). 
    • Do NOT go more than 25-27 oz of water per hour, as it leads to risk of hyponatremia.
    • Examples: OSMO hydration, Skratch Labs, Clif Shot (electrolyte), GU Hydration Drink Mix, Bonk Breaker Real Hydration.

2.  Heat Acclimation:

  • Drink to thirst during exercise if you are in the high-hormone phase, pre-hydrated prior to race, or dehydrated, are heat acclimated, adequately trained in slight dehydration.
  • Drink on a schedule if you’re a junior athlete, have 2 or more heavy training sessions in a day, to avoid systematic dehydration, and if you’re not acclimated to heat/altitude.
  • Mimic the HOT environment at home by wearing more layers, hat and gloves, and increase the temperature of your house slightly to stimulate the body acclimation and response to heated environment.  But don’t overdo it to give yourself heat stress.
  • Sitting in a sauna or trying a hot yoga class can help to acclimate by a small degree for a combination pf passive dehydration and high-heat condition (short-term heat acclimation). 
    • This heat stress with “drink to thirst” permissive dehydration can affect the body’s feedback mechanism. 
    • Prepare for 5 days in a row prior to the race as a minimum. 
    • Optimal effects were found if the acclimation was trained 2 weeks prior, but 5 days is the minimum.
  • Start half-hour slow jog in the heat as you arrive to the hot destination, start small and work your way up slowly. 
  • Sleep in room with air-conditioning every night as it speeds up the recovery while you sleep optimally.

3. Pre-Cooling Techniques:

  • Reduce your core temperature before the start of the event, so you’ll have a longer time before you reach critical core temperature and the onset of fatigue.
  • Lie low – a lower resting core temperature gives you a head start advantage.  Don’t get into a sauna, exercise hard, or do anything to drive up the core temperature <24 hours before your event.
  • Take a dip – immerse your body in a body of cold water for 10-15 minutes (pool, lake, shower, etc.) before you arrive your event.
  • Drink a slushy – drink an icy, blended breakfast smoothie to lower core temperature and create a heat sink.
  • Drape cool towels over your neck – instead of packing ice (ice is too cold on the skin and will constrict blood vessels to drive the blood back to core, driving up the temperature).

4. Cooling During Exercise:

  • Ideally, you’ll be sucking a cold popsicle throughout the race, but that’s not realistic.
  • Stash ice-cold beverages – pack frozen bottles along the course so you’ll have a cold drink midway.  This work great if you have a stock your own feed zone, or ask friends at the cheer zone to give you cold bottles. 
  • Dump cold water on your hands and forearm is the most effective technique.  Pouring water on your body is effective.  Do NOT pour ice water over your head.  Ice water is too cold for your head and will constrict blood vessels and give you headache.
  • Wear sunblock and/or sun sleeves (especially forearms) to protect from sunburn and heat absorption.

5. Post-Exercise Cooling:

  • Dump cold water over your body and forearms.
  • Dip in the cold shower, lake, ocean, etc.
  • Drink ice cold water at the same rate of 16-24 oz per hour. 
  • Walk for few minutes after the race.

Remember, you want to keep your skin cool as much as possible to allow your cool blood plasma to return to core of the body and reserved for delivering blood to the working muscles.

Good luck, HOT ladies!  You’re going to smoke them.  J

Sources:

  • ROAR: How to Match your Food and Fitness to your Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life.  Dr. Stacy T. Sims, PhD.
  • Women are Not Small Men – Continuing Education course. Dr. Stacy T. Sims, PhD.

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