Managing Summer Heat

Good Day Ripple Effect Athletes!

It’s time for another educational email and a few updates from the desk of Carolyn Parker.
Today the subject is all about heat, why it is so important to NOT over heat, and the science of sport performance and cooling techniques.

Most of the details in this quick overview are presented in the podcast linked below. I urge you to take the time to listen – it is fascinating and deeply important and educational.

It’s summer and for the RFV it’s getting hot!

Meanwhile, your body desperately wants to stay in homeostasis – a fairly narrow range of temperatures where it is the most happy.

Why is training in the heat or overheating so bad for you?

Heating up too much is just plain bad. If the brain gets too hot, neurons actually die and don’t regenerate. If the body gets too hot, the excess heat modifies the enzymes in our cells (think of what happens to an egg getting cooked) and no longer function properly. Cells stop being able to create energy, you lose the ability to contract your muscles and digest food, you lose the ability to think, cells begin to die off and yes you can in fact die in cases of extreme hyperthermia.

So what can we do?

Of course we need to stay hydrated properly which involves more than just drinking water but also utilizing electrolytes to maintain your body’s electrolyte balance (to avoid Hyponatremia).

But really we need to understand what to do to stay cool. There are the obvious answers: exercise early in the day before it heats up, train in a facility with air conditioning (like Ripple Effect), hike/bike/run at higher elevations where it’s cooler, wear lightweight sun protective clothing, find shade if you begin to overheat and stop moving so your core temperature comes down.

The idea is to keep body and brain temps in a “normal” happy range. Our body has many tools to manage heat that we don’t have to think about: our blood vessels vasodilate, we pull water from the blood to sweat and create an evaporative cooling effect.

There are also specific things we can do to help the process along.

On a hot day, your goal should be to dump heat in order to keep your body happy and continue to perform. How do we do this?

There are three main compartments in the body:
1) Core: heart, lungs, pancreas, liver.
2) Periphery: arms, legs, feet, hands.
3) Glabrous (hair-free) skin areas: Face, palms, and bottoms of your feet. These areas are far better at passing heat out of the body, and can help cool everywhere else in the body very quickly. All have no or minimal hair and have special vasculature called AVA (arteriovenous-anastomosis.) This special design allows more heat to leave the body and cooler temps to enter the body more readily than any other area of the body. By heating or cooling these glabrous skin areas you can effectively heat or cool the core of your body and your brain.

So, as we overheat, rather than submerge the body in cold water which could have a negative effect, we want to cool the face, palms of the hands and bottoms of the feet.

In addition, research has shown that palmar cooling has a performance effect as well as a recovery effect – it’s not just for rapid cooling in the face of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It allows people to run further, lift more weight, and do more sets and reps. ~ listen to the podcast.

If you refer back to the recovery email that Ripple Effect sent in April, you’ll learn or have already learned that recovery is THE most vital part of training and a positive outcome to that training.

One of the key ingredients to good recovery is of course cooling our body when over heating or muscle are just hot from muscular work. Things to keep in mind in this regard: palmar cooling is vastly better than an ice bath. You’ll also want to avoid consuming foods/supplements that metabolically heat the body before or after exercise. This includes performance drugs, shots of caffeine, stimulants after exercise, etc. These can all reduce recovery by increasing core temperature. They may create improved performance in the moment, but will have a negative effect on recovery.

Lastly, sleeping in cooler temperatures helps sleep, and therefore helps our recovery process. How do we stay cool at night? Avoid sunburns, which creates a superficial heat that stays in the skin long after the initial burn injury occurs and can raise our body temperature at night, often keeping us awake. Sleeping with a fan on, using a swamp cooler or air conditioner, and not eating late / right before bed, are all helpful tools to improve your sleep and therefore your recovery.

In summary, I’d listen to the podcast for the deep dive if you have a moment on your next drive, hike, while cleaning house or doing chores. Most importantly, manage your body temp this summer, practice caution when exercising in warmer temperatures, stay well hydrated, and if you start to heat up, cool those palms, the face and go stand in a creek!!