Beat the Heat
They’re called the dog days of summer, those blistering afternoons in July and August when the summer sun beats down unmercifully. And while summer is often the perfect time to get out on your bike, riding when the thermometer is pegged in the red can also be dangerous. Cyclists who don’t plan ahead and use little caution and less common sense, put themselves at risk for dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke or worse.
When you exercise, heat builds up in working muscles, which in turn, causes your internal temperature to rise. Your body cools itself by perspiring; the evaporation of this sweat helps keep core body temperature normal. But this system is strained when it’s exceptionally hot, and further compromised when humidity is high, because evaporation doesn’t cool you as effectively. That means your body has to work even harder to keep you cool, which leads to increased sweating and more fluid loss. This sets the stage for dehydration, and can cause more significant problems if you don’t replenish liquids.
Here are some tips to stay cool and properly hydrated during the summer months.
Ride Early or Late: Skip the lunch ride when the sun is its most intense, and instead ride in the morning or evening. Also remember that the temperature can be much higher when you’re pedaling on pavement, especially in the heat of the day. If there’s a route that has more shade than others, pedal in that direction.
Drink Lots of Liquids: Start drinking before your ride, and keep replenishing fluids long after your ride is done. While on the bike, aim to consume one 20-ounce bottle every 30-45 minutes. Also, make sure to mix water intake with a well-fortified sports drinks that will help replace electrolytes, carbohydrates and sodium lost via sweat and exertion. Remember, proper hydration starts before you’re thirsty.
Keep Moving: Movement will keep you more comfortable because sweat naturally cools and dissipates when the wind blows. If you have enough extra water, splash your legs, arms and head to increase evaporative cooling. A jersey with a full front zipper is also a good idea, as it can be unzipped to allow air to pass over your skin. When you stop for a break, don’t stand in the sun. Find some shade.
Wear a Helmet: Helmets not only protect your brain and make you more visible to motorists, they also help keep you cool. Most helmets include several vents that facilitate air movement across your head. They also offer shade from the sun’s rays. Just remember that the vents will let some sun in, so make sure to abide by our next tip.
Use Sunscreen: Sunburns hurt and skin cancer is bad. Avoid both by liberally applying sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) before your ride. Use a waterproof version since you’ll be sweating and re-apply if possible.
SYMPTOMS OF DEHYDRATION
There’s a proverb amongst outdoors enthusiasts that says, a happy mountaineer always pees clear. This applies to cyclists as well. If you notice your urine is bright colored or dark, it’s a likely sign of dehydration and a signal to increase fluid intake. Here are some other symptoms to watch out for:
- Muscle cramping
- Dry mouth, lips and/or tongue
- Apathy and/or lack of energy
- Constipation and bloating
TIPS TO PREVENT DEHYDRATION
- Drink, drink and drink some more. On average, humans should consume at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. That number goes up during periods of intense exercise. Also, remember that water alone is often not enough. Instead, opt for a sports drink that’s fortified with electrolytes, sodium and carbohydrates.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Both can increase your susceptibility to dehydration.
- Avoid carbonated beverages. They can cause bloating and make it harder to consume enough fluids to stay hydrated.
- Wear light-colored, wicking clothing in combination with a snug-fitting base layer. This will increase moisture transfer away from the body, helping keep you cool.