This year's Olympics have shown that even some of the best and most acclimatised athletes in the world can still struggle in Japan's tropical heat.
Here in the UK the weather might not be quite as extreme, but it's still crucial to look after yourself if you want to stay safe and perform at your best. Whether you're training or taking part in a sportive, here are some of the tips we give the Blackzone Coaching athletes to beat the heat.
1. Be smart about your hydration
It'll come as no surprise that we're going to start with staying hydrated. This is an element of cycling that is important all of the time, but especially so when the temperature is high.
Ideally you should begin thinking about your hydration the day before your ride. Gently ramp up the amount of fluids you're taking on to ensure you start the day as hydrated as possible.
On the morning of your ride you should start hydrating as soon as you wake up. Eight hours is a long time to go without drinking, so you'll be waking up slightly dehydrated even if you did drink well the day before. A lot of WorldTour cycling teams ensure their riders start the day with a bottle of water with added salt or an electrolyte drink to get on top of their fluid intake and help to avoid cramping later in the day.
When it comes to your training session or ride you should be aiming to take on 500-1000ml of fluids an hour depending on the heat and intensity of the ride. This may seem excessive, but this is only because the majority of cyclists routinely under-hydrate whilst riding.
Be aware of where the sources of water are along the route and make sure to take advantage of them. Most cafes and pubs in the UK will be happy to fill up your water bottle, and it's a good opportunity to take a break which is crucial in the heat.
2. Keep control of your core temperature
Controlling your core temperature is often easier said than done, but there are a number of things you can do to help your body deal with the heat.
The first may be counterintuitive, but even when it's hot it's crucial that you warm up before any intense efforts. Warming up isn't just for your muscles, it also kick-starts your body's evaporative cooling system. If you jump straight into doing hard work your body temperature rises before you're able to sweat enough to help cool you down, leaving your body playing catch-up.
We all agree that sun protection is crucial, but did you know that oil-based sun creams can actually impede your body's ability to sweat? Try to choose sun protection that has a low oil content or, even better, get a sports specific option that has been designed to allow you to sweat as effectively as possible.
Two slightly more obvious methods; freezing half-filled water bottles overnight and then topping them up before you set off is a good way to help keep your body temperature down for the first hour or so of your ride. And pouring water over yourself might be low tech and a bit messy, but it works!
3. Adjust your expectations
You may have ridden your route a hundred times but it can become a completely different beast in extreme conditions. Check out your options for shortening the ride if the heat becomes too much and be sensible, cutting a ride short isn't going to derail your training but heat stroke, exhaustion and cramps may well do.
Don't expect to go out and set any power records if you're training in the heat. Not only does hot weather impact our ability to perform (just try a turbo trainer session without a fan if you don't believe me) it also makes it more difficult to recover. If you're training either dial back the intensity or aim to complete your session in the cooler parts of the day.
If you're taking part in a sportive be prepared to adjust your target power output and avoid going 'into the red' too often as it will be much more difficult to come back than when it's cooler.
4. Don't forget the basics
Cycling at intensity already puts the body under a large amount of stress; throw in extra heat and you can really push it to its limits. There are a number of easy things we should all be doing to reduce that stress.
Forgive me if I begin to sound like a lecturing parent here, but wearing sun protective clothing, sunglasses and a cap (yes, even under a helmet!) can all make a big difference to your body temperature.
Your body will suppress your appetite when it's hot as it seeks to cut down on temperature generating functions, in this case the digestion of food. This makes it even more important than usual to make sure you continue to take on calories at your usual rate as you often won't feel hungry until it's too late.
While a 'bonk' may be unpleasant at the best of times, in hot weather you run the risk of it turning into heat exhaustion which is an entirely different and much more dangerous situation to be in.
Whatever the weather, if you want to be at your best for your next event and structure your training with the help of an experienced coach get in touch with Blackzone Coaching. We go above and beyond when it comes to getting you ready both physically and mentally for when it matters.