Beating the heat: Riding in a Heat Wave

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

by Anne C. M. Hyman — President PPTC
Cyclists are used to riding in all sorts of conditions, but a heatwave is a dangerous weather phenomenon that can lead to serious and permanent health issues, if not death. Here are things to consider before you head outside again:
1. Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of heat exhaustion can either build gradually or wallop you all of a sudden. Here are things to look out for:
  • Sudden stop of sweating, goosebumps, or cold clammy skin
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure upon standing from the saddle
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache
If you begin to experience ANY of these, move to a shaded area, drink plenty of fluids with electrolyte replacement, and call for help. If ignored, this may lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke is far more serious and by the time you’ve reached this state, it may be too late for you to act on your own:
  • High body temperature. A core body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher, is the main sign of heatstroke.
  • Altered mental state or behavior. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke.
  • Alteration in sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel dry or slightly moist.
  • Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
  • Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
  • Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
  • Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
  • Headache. Your head may throb.
2. Plan your ride outside of the hottest part of the day
The UV index and air quality are typically at their worst between 10am and 6pm right now, so if you can ride when it’s cooler and the sun angle isn’t as severe, so much the better.
3.Don’t forget sun protection!
Wear good quality sunscreen that is sweat and rub-proof (I’m looking at you, zinc oxide), UPF-rated clothing that wicks sweat, and a cap and sunglasses to protect your eyes. Skin cancer has much longer lasting effects than a brutal ride in the heat.
4.Take care of yourself AFTER the ride, too.
When you get home, take a *cool* shower to get your core temp back down- not freezing cold, because the shock of the temperature difference may not be good for your body. Within an hour of your ride, replace some of your burned calories with an electrolyte-based drink or salty food, with a high ratio of carbs to protein, and keep drinking throughout the rest of the day. How much should you have? A simple way to figure this out is to weight yourself before and after your ride to see how much fluid you’ve lost, and remember the mnemonic “A pint’s a pound the world around”. Replace each pound lost with 16oz of electrolyte beverage- NOT just water, as you’ve lost a bunch of salt and other minerals with your sweat as well.

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