The Outdoor Athlete’s Guide to Beating the Heat

10 ways to stay safe in the scorching sun and rising temperatures of summer

The summer heat can get intense, but it’s no match for an outdoor athlete. Fiercely passionate, hardworking and determined, the last thing outdoor enthusiasts want to do is take a day off. If you’re one of those people who just need to be outside, it’s important to know your personal limits, listen to your body and be aware of a few other tips that will keep you safe.

For the outdoor athlete who refuses to be held back by the strong sun and rising temperatures, here are a few top tips to help you safely enjoy the summer.

Don’t dwell on the temperature, but know your personal limits. The old phrase, “ignorance is bliss” may ring true when it comes to feeling cool in spite of the heat. According to a study published in European Journal of Applied Physiology, elite cyclists performed better when they thought it was cooler, despite the actual temperature. The cyclists each went through three tests, one trial when the room temperature was 71.2 degrees (control trial), the other when the room was 88.5 degrees and the third—a deception trial—where the room was actually 88.8 degrees, but the display in the room (which the cyclists could see) said it was 78.8 degrees.

At the end of the experiment, the athletes performed best during the deception trial, even beating the distance total and power output of the control trial by a small margin. So, the moral of the story is that you should keep your eyes off the thermometer and think cool thoughts. It is incredibly important, though, to know when outdoor exercise might be unsafe.

Choose your outfit wisely. Clothing choice is incredibly important to staying cool and we don’t just mean throwing on any pair of shorts and a t-shirt. The best option for hot weather is a loose-fitting, light-colored outfit made of material that doesn’t weigh much. Dark, tight clothing traps heat and moisture, which is not only uncomfortable, but can also be dangerous. Sunglasses and visors (not traditional hats) are also important for blocking the sun’s rays and staying cool.

Hydrate and refuel properly. It’s no secret that dehydration is a big issue in the summer and when you’re dehydrated, not only does the heat feel even more extreme, but you also run an increased risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Learn about how much water you should be drinking and then stay hydrated with cold water and other cool liquids like smoothies.

Keep in mind, though, that there is a risk of overhydrating (especially for athletes in the heat) and drinking too much water can be deadly. Electrolytes will help maintain a good balance and prevent cramping, but a good rule of thumb is to drink when you’re thirsty.

Care for your skin. We know, we know—you’ve heard the old advice “wear sunscreen” about a billion times already, but there are some things you probably don’t know. For example, spray sunscreens don’t offer great protection and many other sunscreens have harmful ingredients—check out our outdoor athlete’s guide to skincare in the summer for the full list.

Mimic race conditions, but build up slowly. If you’re signed up for an outdoor race this summer, then most of your training should be taking place outside to prepare your body. That doesn’t mean that you need to be training in the afternoon heat immediately, though, build up to race conditions gradually to be safe and always be aware of your limits.

Train in the morning or late afternoon. If you’re not on a strict race day deadline, opt for morning or late afternoon training to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Take regular breaks. If you’re starting to feel too hot or drained of energy, get to a cool spot and chill out for a while. It takes some time for our body temperature to come down, so wait until you’re breathing normally, your heart rate has come back down and then take a few more minutes to be safe. Generally you should be resting for at least 15 minutes to take some of the strain of the heat off your body.

Try something different. You might be a hardcore runner, cyclist or hiker, but when the heat really hits it might be time to try something a little different. Go for a swim or try an indoor class to get a new range of fitness benefits while staying relatively cool. Cross-training should be a bit part of every athlete’s training anyway, so this would be a great time to try it out.

Know where to put the ice pack. You might know that the back of the neck and the inside of your wrists are great spots to put a cold compress, but don’t forget about the inside of your elbows, behind your kneecaps, inner thighs and the tops of your feet. If you can, dipping your feet in ice cold water works wonders.

End with a cold shower. In the height of summer an ice cold shower is one of the best ways to beat the heat. The frigid water effectively brings down your body temperature, removes sweat and when you leave shower water on your skin afterward, it could help keep you chilly through evaporative cooling. On top of those benefits, cold showers are good for your health in ways that have nothing to do with heat.

All of the above photos are courtesy of Shutterstock.