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Cycling Safely in the Heat

By Laurel-Lea Shannon

Cycling Safely in the HeatThe return of summer is especially welcomed in northern climes where long months of winter leave you craving hot weather and unbroken days of sunshine. But, like most things in life, too much of a good thing can quickly turn bad—stay out too long in the summer heat and the health benefits quickly become health challenges. If your favourite summer sport is cycling, knowing how to keep cool is crucial.

The Optimal Temperature for Cycling

According to a study done by Galloway and Maughan (1997), the optimal temperature for endurance sports like running and cycling is 10º C (52 º F). So, unless you live in the UK, you’re probably cycling in temperatures that are frequently above 30º C (92 º F) during the summer months.

Cycling safely in hot weather requires taking a few precautions. Exercising in the heat raises your internal body temperature, putting additional stress on your heart and lungs, which affects your performance and your health.

How Your Body Stays Cool

When your body temperature goes above normal (37º C or 98.6º F) two processes, vasodilation and sweating, kick in to remove heat from the body. In vasodilation, veins and capillaries expand, and the heart pumps harder to send blood to the outer layers of the skin where it can be cooled. When the outside air is warmer than your body temperature you start to sweat. The evaporation of the sweat from your body helps cool it. But on hot, humid days, evaporation is reduced and this cooling process is slowed down.

What You Can Do to Keep Cool While Cycling

You can help this cooling process by wearing the correct clothing. Fabric that wicks the sweat away from your skin, allowing it to quickly evaporate, is the best choice. Cycling jerseys made from light material with zippers at the front will also help keep you cooler.

Make sure you hydrate well and use electrolyte fluids (or make your own). Drinking water frequently and in the right amounts will help replace the fluid you lose during your ride. To find out how much fluid you need to replace during a long ride:

  • weigh yourself before and after a ride (without clothes)—one pound of weight lost equals 500 ml (16 ounces)
  • factor in the amount you drank during the ride
  • drink approximately 1.5 times this amount during your rides

When the temperature soars, cycle during the cooler times of the day—in the early morning or early evening.

Danger Signs

These are the warning signs to look out for when you exercise in the heat:

  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you experience any of these symptoms, stop cycling, find some shade to lay down in, and replenish your fluids. You should feel better within 60 minutes.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke can happen quickly and it can be fatal. It means that your body can no longer cool itself and your core temperature has exceeded 40º C (104 º F). Symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, confusion, and coma. If this happens, seek medical attention immediately.

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