Whether you’re a mountain biker, roadie or weekend warrior, heat stress can put you in a dangerous situation. Fortunately, by learning to identify common warning signs early and using basic prevention tips, you can ride safely straight through the dog days of summer.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF HEAT STRESS
The first step in preventing heat stress is being aware of the common signs and symptoms. Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identifies as warning signs for heat exhaustion:
- Heavy perspiration
- Clammy skin that may be cold or pale in color
- An increased heart rate that may feel weak and rapid
If you continue to exercise, and these warning signs are left untreated, heat stroke is possible, which is a more serious condition requiring immediate medical attention. In addition to those above, the CDC’s other common symptoms for heat stroke include:
- An elevated body temperature, often higher than 103°F
- Confusion, such as not knowing where you are
- Dry and red skin that might also feel damp
- Passing out or losing consciousness
When you experience these symptoms, move to a cool place to lower your body temperature and call for help as soon as possible. Keep in mind that while sipping water or a sports drink during heat exhaustion is recommended, the CDC does not recommend rehydrating immediately when heat stroke occurs.
TIPS FOR AVOIDING HEAT STRESS
When it’s hot outside, keeping your core temperature from elevating can be a challenge. Use these tips to stay cool in hot or humid weather and prevent overheating on the bike:
1. WEAR MOISTURE-WICKING CLOTHING
To keep your body temperature at normal levels, you’ll need to sweat and let it evaporate. Using less-breathable materials that trap heat and perspiration have a tendency to make your core body temperature rise. Instead, wear a base layer and a lightweight summer cycling jersey that wicks sweat away from the body and releases body heat. A breathable helmet with lots of air vents is also a must.
2. STAY HYDRATED
While sweat rates can vary by individual, it’s common to lose 1–2 quarts of fluid through perspiration for every hour you ride. If you don’t replenish at least this amount, dehydration occurs, and regulating your core temperature through sweat becomes more difficult. Make sure you are properly hydrated in the days leading up to your ride and stay on top of your hydration while you’re on the bike. Drinking two or more 500ml bottles of water per hour depending on your sweat rate is generally recommended in extreme weather conditions. Including a sports drink that contains sodium and electrolytes to replace the salt lost through sweat also improves water retention while you’re out on the road.
3. AVOID STRENUOUS ACTIVITY IN THE HOTTEST PART OF THE DAY
Doing interval training and long rides when temperatures are at their highest can set yourself up for disaster. Avoid riding between noon and 5 p.m. when possible. Early morning rides are ideal because temps will be at their lowest, as will the UV index, which can also help prevent sunburns. For hard interval sessions in the hottest times of year, consider an indoor trainer where it’ll be easier to control your body temperature and stay hydrated. When you do ride outside, make sure your pace is conservative since your body will have to work harder just to maintain its normal core temperature.
READ MORE > WHY YOU SHOULD CYCLE INDOORS IN THE SUMMER
4. ACCLIMATIZE TO THE WEATHER
If you’re planning to race in hot and humid weather, you’ll need to acclimatize to make things a bit easier on race day. During your training, slowly build up to the race-day distance and figure out exactly what level of intensity your body can sustain in the heat. Going too hard on race day when you aren’t used to the conditions can put you in a dangerous situation. Try to ride at the same time of day as your event and always ride at a conservative pace; there’s no need to push too hard in hot and humid weather and put yourself at risk for heat-related illnesses.