Expert Tips for Running in the Heat

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It's summer. It's New Orleans. It's hot outside. But that doesn't mean you can't still run in the heat.

Of course, hydration, as well as planning for early mornings and later evenings are important factors when participating in hot weather activities. But did you know gardening and chocolate milk can help as well?

For tips on running in the heat, I spoke with Matthew DesJardins, MD, Sports Medicine Specialist with OrthoCincy Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Cincinnati; Cindy Kuzma, runner of over 20 marathons with coaching certifications from Road Runners Club of America and USA Track & Field (Level 1) and writer for publications such as Runner's World and Men's HealthAmanda McIntosh, ultra-marathoner—2x Leadville 100 Champion and WMA 100K World Champion—and endurance coach; and Wilfredo Aguirre, ultra-runner and running coach with Lempira Delta Running Consultants.

The Heat Effect

Per DesJardins, running in the heat can be stressful on the heart for those new to running or not in good aerobic conditioning. This holds especially true for middle-aged and older runners.

A big sign that running in the heat may be affecting you is unusual fatigue—feeling winded, out of breath, and a loss of energy earlier than expected. Also, rising body temperature, altered sweat production, lethargy, and dizziness are signs "something bad is getting ready to happen."

Ease into It

The most protective factor for exercising in the heat, DesJardins emphasized, is climatizing your body. In other words, allowing your body to get used to being in the heat again, especially when coming out of the winter months or just starting a workout routine after being sedentary.

It can be as simple as starting with shorter runs, but it doesn't have to be sport specific or even involve high exertion. Just walking or doing yard work will help the body adjust to the heat. DesJardins advises the athletes he works with to climatize an hour to two a day for two to four weeks prior to starting their formal training programs.

Likewise, McIntosh suggested it takes 14 runs to acclimate to the hot weather. However, she pointed out that doesn't mean the heat won't affect you.

"Even though your training in the heat may feel better," she warned, "that doesn't mean that you are going to be able to race and perform at the same level in the heat even though you're acclimated."

Adjust Your Workout

McIntosh trains her athletes by heart rate, which comes in handy while running in extreme temperatures.

"What they do is lower their intensity," she said. "They don't go slower because we don't want to waste the gains we've made in the winter as far as leg speed. I usually have them run a pace that's close to what they've been running all winter, but when their heart rates get too high I have them walk. So, their leg speed is not diminished by doing that. Their cardiovascular benefits of heat training are enhanced by that, but their intensity has been slightly lowered so that they're not overworking in the heat."

Meanwhile, Kuzma opined that performing at a slower pace is almost inevitable because running takes more effort when it's hot and humid out. She suggested runners dial back their targets—be it pace, heart rate or effort level—and to not be surprised if they are moving slower but working harder.

While she doesn't feel it's necessary to plan for fewer miles, Kuzma does encourage runners to listen to their bodies and "call it a day" if the above symptoms, as well as muscle cramps, nausea or confusion, arise.

Warm up/Cool Down

Prior to running, Kuzma recommended warming up with dynamic exercises—butt-kicks, skips, bounds—which is good practice no matter what the weather. While muscles might loosen up a little more quickly in the heat, she suggested easing into harder efforts because of the heat's extra strain on the cardiovascular system. 

Kuzma also endorsed pre-cooling. "Studies show things like cooling vests, cold drinks (even icy slushies), and cold packs before you head out can improve athletic performance."

Something as simple as putting cold cloths around the back of your neck or putting ice under a hat or down your shirt can help as well. "It’s amazing how much a little bit of coldness can change how your entire body feels," she said. 

Hydrate and Replenish

To hydrate effectively, Aguirre is big on scheduling his workouts.

"If I know I go to work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in the morning and I have evenings [free] I prepare each day for that run. What I mean by prepare… make sure you eat the right food and start hydrating beforehand so it won't be more of a spontaneous run."

Aguirre referred to CamelBak's online hydration calculator to help determine how much water you should be drinking.

As for electrolytes and supplements, DesJardins indicated that most mid to lower distance runners running under an hour won't have to worry too much about them, due to insignificant salt loss.

It's after running over an hour when DesJardins advised runners replenish their salt. This can be done by way of sports drinks (even though they don't have a ton of salt), salt tablets, and products such as Gatorade and Gu.

McIntosh prefers Hammer Endurolytes because the caplets aren't high in any one electrolyte. She likes the control over how much she can take as opposed to a pre-mixed drink that might be watered down, therefore containing fewer electrolytes.

"It's a fairly low dose," she said of Hammer Endurolytes, "and that way in the winter I can take one capsule every hour and in the summer when it's super hot I'll sometimes bump that up to 3 capsules every hour."

Kuzma is a fan of taking all-natural Huma gels with her on runs longer than five miles. She also suggested a snack afterward that has both carbs and protein in it, such as Greek yogurt with tart cherry juice concentrate, or a Clif or RX Bar. 

While Aguirre gave Gu a shout out for their recovery products, he also utilizes nutrition you might already have at home. He noted that some people drink chocolate milk or a protein shake after a run, while he keeps to lighter fare such as bananas, oranges and his personal favorite… mangos.

In regards to chocolate milk, DesJardins said that while it won't necessarily replenish your salt, "If you're doing a heavy workout and you've been sweating a lot and you're pretty tapped out, chocolate milk will get you back feeling better pretty quick because you get a sugar rush from it, but you're also getting some fat and protein. It's as good as anything and it's easy to drink."

Accessorize

What you wear or bring with you on a hot day can make all the difference on a run. 

McIntosh is all about the CamelBak. "I almost always use a CamelBak even for my shorter runs," she shared. "Even if I'm only going out for an hour I throw my CamelBak on … I just run with it all the time and that way I'm used to it when I race as well."

As for Kuzma, she recommended wearing breathable technical fabrics when running in the heat, such as Adidas' Adizero and Nike's Taliwind. She also gave nods to Knockarounds and GoodrsBody for sunglasses, as well as Glide and Aquaphor to reduce chafing.

She also advised bringing your phone on a run (if you don't already) in case the heat is too much and a ride home or back to the car is needed. 

And don't forget the sunscreen!

How do you prepare for running in the heat? Tell us below!

- Lori Wilson

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lori wilson

Chicago, IL 60640, U.S.

After moving away from her hometown, just outside of Detroit, Lori has done her best to stay out of her former constantly-working-to-make-ends-meet rut. Having lived in Los Angeles, Chicago and Denver, Lori began her writing career covering soap operas. While she will always keep track of the latest returns from the dead on “General Hospital,” she now focuses her writing on fun ways to stay happy, fit and out of the house. Recent adventures have led to her love of indoor cycling, getting pampered at the spa and her new favorite city New Orleans. A Midwestern girl at heart, Lori is back in Chicago, where she continues her quest to top the thrill she felt her first time on the trapeze.