Last week we had a very warm streak in London, Ontario, where the thermometer read above 30 degrees Celsius (86F) by 8 a.m. and would peak at 38 degrees Celsius (100F) by 3 p.m. Humidity made the air feel even warmer and heavier.
Unpleasant to say the least, but practice must go on! More importantly, I was determined to limit the effect the hot weather could have on my performances. In rowing, knowing how the heat affects your hydration and your physiology is part of the game. As a matter of fact, my two Olympic experiences have both been in some of the hottest places I have ever rowed: Athens and Beijing, where practicing in the middle of a scorching hot day is not an option!
This blog post is about performing under the hot sun; it’s above and beyond what any fitness magazine will tell you for working out during the summer months. Therefore I will overlook the obvious tips about working out earlier in the day or later at night, drinking water and wearing a hat, etc.
1. Learn the rate at which you dehydrate. On hot days, I weigh myself before and after practice to monitor my water loss. Ideally, you don’t want to fluctuate by more than a kilogram (2 lb) during a practice. Once I know how much I lose in a given practice, depending on its length and intensity, I can gauge how much I will need to drink to prevent possible dehydration. The rule of thumb is 1 liter (4 cups) of water is roughly 1 kilogram (2.2 lb).
2. Electrolytes and salts. You can only drink so much water. Drinking four liters of water to maintain body weight during a practice on a hot day will probably be quite uncomfortable! Instead, you want your body to retain water more efficiently so you don’t have to drink liters and liters. Electrolyte mixes such as Gatorade and Gu2O are good, but in extreme heat I often prefer Gastrolyte (an oral rehydration supplement) or even salt in a diluted fruit juice. Also, ice cubes in your drinks help; not only will you be inclined to drink more, but physiologically cold liquids help lower your core temperature.
3. Recovery. Returning your core body temperature to normal as quickly as possible following your workout or race is critical. Your muscles can’t recover adequately when they are overheated! One option is a cold bath shortly after your workout. Another option, which our team has experimented with at times, are ice vests. After races in Beijing, we would come into the dock, pick up an ice vest and then proceed with the cooldown.
Learning your dehydration rate and the technique that best work for you to hydrate and recover quickly will help you deliver top performances! Happy sweating in August!