Performance nutrition: how your body reacts to heat and tips to beat it

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Every skyrunner knows – heat is the enemy of performance. Studies show that running performance decreased by 2-3 minutes in elite marathon competitors when the temperature increased from 10 – 25°C. For this reason, 2-3 weeks of acclimatization before a competition is advised so the body can adapt to the environment and reduce the risks associated with heat exposure. 

It’s all about a well-thought-out training program, a well-balanced diet high in antioxidants, and, ideally, an individualized fluid plan. Here are some tips on how to adapt your workout nutrition for optimal performance.

© MRSWS / Joao M Faria

Heat can Increase energy intake

For those athletes who have a suppressed appetite when exposed to heat, more frequent access to and ingestion of high-energy-dense snacks and larger meals than usual may be needed prior to exercise to meet higher energy requirements associated with the effects of training and hypoxia.

 

Increased fluid requirements

In hot environments, athletes are at higher risk of disturbances in thermoregulation, the process that allows the body to maintain its core internal temperature. Loss of fluid increases in hot temperatures through sweating which can lead to dehydration if these fluids are not replaced. 

 

Type and timing of fluid intake 

Combinations of foods/beverages that contain carbohydrate and small amounts of protein consumed almost immediately after exercise is a critical component of “recovery” nutrition for all athletes but especially those training in extreme environmental conditions. 

 

Increase carbohydrate intake

Include sports drinks or other high carb fluids, dried fruit, grains, cereals, sports bars or gels. These are a compact source of fuel, therefore a great way to top-up energy stores when heat results in a loss of appetite.

 © MRSWS / Joao M Faria

Keeping cool in hot conditions

During prolonged exercise in extreme heat where there is a risk of hypohydration (the uncompensated loss of body water), cold beverages such as cold sports drinks (≥ 10% CHO), ice and slushies, make us want to drink more, therefore increasing fluid consumption. An increase in fluid consumption not only prevents dehydration but can also have a positive impact on our performance. Using mouthwashes ice slushies/ plain ice or menthol also give a perception of a cooling effect. For shorter training sessions in the heat, cold water or ice is enough to keep you cool.

Heat Nutrition