Don’t let the mild May we had pull the wool over your eyes – just as sure as Western States runners will be battling out extreme temps in the Canyons later this month, hot days are on the way. When the temperatures climb, items like sun protection, hydration (before, during, and after exertion), and proper nutrition become even more important. Under-fueling for an effort in the winter may leave you feeling tired or lagging, but under-fueling for an effort in the summer can become very dangerous, if you let yourself fall too far behind what your body needs. At the top of the need hierarchy is of course water, but there are many other items to consider, to keep yourself walking, hiking, or running safely through the summer and to ensure lasting health beyond the season (think your skin exposed to the sun each day!).
Listed below are common challenges and concerns walkers and runners experience when exercising outdoors through the hot valley summers, and how you can address them. Often, the biggest challenge is nipping these issues in the bud – whether you’re on a training run or it’s race day, if you wait until you feel dehydrated or feel sunburnt, it is already too late. Once you are playing catch up, you sacrifice performance.
In a study focusing on military personnel and their nutritional needs in hot environments1, it was found that, “maximal sweating capacity can rise from 1.5 liters per hour in a healthy unacclimatized man to as much as 2 to 3 liters per hour in a highly trained acclimatized soldier.” In other words – as you get more “in shape,” your body actually becomes more efficient at cooling itself (cooling = sweating), so your fluid needs increase the more you train over time. There are many factors that determine fluid needs per hour, including temperature, sex, weight, and metabolism.
However, you may be surprised to know just how much water the typical person loses while running, and how fast it occurs! A 150lb person typically loses 1.5 quarts of water per hour of running in average conditions2 – equivalent to three pounds. Most people can tolerate water loss up to about two percent of their body weight, before dehydration impairs exercise performance, which for our 150 lb. person is equal to those three pounds. Consequently, dehydration is usually not a problem during exercise events lasting 30 to 45 minutes or less. However, when you push beyond this, and particularly when you are not in average environmental conditions (think 90 degrees plus), it is critical to hydrate before, during, and after your exercise.
Hydrating effectively also means taking in more than just water. We all know that when we sweat, we lose vital electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Of these, sodium is the most critical. So, when hydrating, preparing your water bottle or hydration vest with an electrolyte drink mix is extremely important. Look for drink mixes that have a healthy dose of salt, such as Tailwind or Skratch. And if you are unable to consume sugars, there are options available with little to no added sugar, that still contain all the salt and electrolytes crucial to replace during and immediately after exercise (like Superieur and ).Skratch. And if you are unable to consume sugars, there are options available with little to no added sugar, that still contain all the salt and electrolytes crucial to replace during and immediately after exercise (like Superieur and Nuun).
It is also worth noting that while running and walking are very common morning activities, we naturally wake up in a somewhat dehydrated state. When you start a run already dehydrated, you’re playing catch up before you even start! Begin sipping water and/or an electrolyte beverage as you get ready for activity in the morning (at least 8-12oz), and it will pay dividends during your exercise. And after you finish, it is recommended to consume three 8-oz glasses of water for each pound lost due to sweat.
How to carry water/drink mix is a challenge all runners face, and how you address this challenge depends on many factors, like how long your planned activity is, if there will be places to fill up along the way, and what method find it the least distracting/uncomfortable. For shorter efforts, or if there are opportunities to fill up (like around Lake Natoma, along the American River Bike Trail, or in parks in Rocklin or El Dorado Hills), you may be comfortable carrying a handheld bottle. Amphipod and Nathan each make great options, ranging from 12-22oz and with different levels of insulation. Less insulation = less weight, but warmer fluids on a hot day, so there is a trade off!
For those who find carrying a handhelds to be uncomfortable or lacking capacity, belts like the Profile Lite 20 or vests like the Quickstart 2.0 6L can be great hands-free solutions, and offer added storage for other nutrition items, in addition to increased fluid storage capacity.
Whichever way you decide to carry your hydration, find a product that works and is comfortable for you, and don’t rely on finding water along the way if you’re exploring a new route. More than once, I have come thirsty to a water fountain in a park, only to find it out of service (or running at barely a trickle)! In those moments I was glad I at least hydrated well before starting, but on hot days, I don’t leave the house without at least a handheld to get me through the miles!
I recently had the opportunity to attend a 3-day running conference in downtown Chicago called Runchella (yes, Runchella). One of the presentations I attended was hosted by the husband/wife duo behind KINeSYS performance sunscreen, Wade and Lisa Heggie. For 30 minutes, Lisa opened my eyes to a lot of misconceptions regarding sunscreen, and basically scared the sh*t out of me. All those runs with no sunscreen, those light burns that turned into sun-kissed tans overnight? – NOT ok! 1 in 4 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, and in sunny CA that ratio is even lower. As part of her presentation, Lisa photographed my hand under a UV detecting light, first without sunscreen, then with one spray of KINeSYS rubbed into the skin. White indicates UV on skin, black indicates where UV cannot permeate. The resulting photographs showed, literally in black and white, how exposed our skin is to UV every day, and how something as simple as a spray of sunscreen can protect us.
With KINeSYS, like any other sunscreen, the key is re-application. This is far more important than SPF rating. In fact, sometimes people think that with a high SPF sunscreen they don’t need to re-apply at all, and end up getting worse burns! KINeSYS keeps this in mind and they make very small 1-oz bottles (170 sprays per bottle) that fit easily into a pack or belt, or even shorts pocket, so that you can re-apply during long runs or walks. It is recommended to reapply every 80-90 minutes of activity (and every hour if swimming). KINeSYS is not oil or water based. Rather, the ingredient in its base is used in many makeup primers, so you’ll find that it sticks very effectively to the skin and applies very lightly, evenly, and goes on 100% clear.
While sunscreen is very important, it really is your last line of defense. Ideally, you will have some physical coverage from the sun in the form of a hat, sunglasses, or even UPF clothing (UPF = ultraviolet protection factor). Vuori does offer some UPF 30+ options, as well as Rabbit. For sunglasses, the real key is polarization, and all the offerings from Goodr include this feature, along with their signature “no bounce, all fun” promise. I, along with thousands of other runners, can attest that this promise holds up!
Fueling during runs may require more calories and electrolytes than what you find in your standard drink mix. Fueling during hot runs is tricky because gastro-intestional (GI) issues are more likely to arise. As temperatures increase, our blood flow pivots away from our GI tract and organs to cool other systems in the body, like our nervous system3. However, it’s the GI system that’s impacted the most, resulting in a higher likelihood of related issues like stomach cramping, diarrhea, and nausea. In situations like these, runners and walkers look for nutrition that is easy on the GI system. Whole-foods based gels like Spring Energy have a proven track record of success amongst runners. Additionally, Spring has options that are higher in carbs (Canaberry, Awesome Sauce, Hill Aid), and ones that are higher in fats (Speednut, Long Haul), if you’re looking for faster or slower burning fuels, respectively. Another option, Huma, gets its power from the easily digestible chia seed. And Honey Stinger features products containing honey, an unprocessed sugar that is very easily and quickly absorbed by the body. All these options contain electrolytes and salt, like those found in the drink mixes mentioned in the last section. But for those runners and walkers on long efforts who need additional salts, pills and chews, like those from Salt Stick, are great options.
Of course, the most important factor with fueling is to practice, especially if you have a race coming up! The adage, “nothing new on race day” is an adage for a reason. The amount of calories you need to consume during a run depends on a wide variety of factors, including metabolism, length of activity, and environmental factors. Knowing what amount and what kinds of fuel will work for your body, especially in the heat, takes experimentation and practice. So, get a variety of options and start fueling!
Besides soreness, chafing may be one of the painful things runners and walkers experience. If it’s not your first rodeo, you’ll know that anything that can chafe, will chafe, and sometimes it seems no body part is safe! And it’s made worse in the heat, when things can get real swampy ‘n sweaty. To protect your skin, products from Squirrel’s Nut Butter
(get your laughs in now about the name – their products really do work) and provide effective protection against chafing, and each make compact travel size options which you could carry in a pack or belt. Squirrel’s in particular stresses the use of all-natural ingredients which work not just to protect the skin from friction, but actually heal and moisturize as well. Their primary ingredient is beeswax, but for vegans they just added a 100% plant-based, vegan option, that is just as effective. If you think it can rub, it probably will. Get that skin protected! Body Glide provide effective protection against chafing, and each make compact travel size options which you could carry in a pack or belt. Squirrel’s in particular stresses the use of all-natural ingredients which work not just to protect the skin from friction, but actually heal and moisturize as well. Their primary ingredient is beeswax, but for vegans they just added a 100% plant-based, vegan option, that is just as effective. If you think it can rub, it probably will. Get that skin protected!
I hope the above information and recommendations help you beat the heat in your summer running adventures! Well, maybe beating the heat isn’t actually possible, but at least “learn to live with,” if that’s the case. We all know the Sacramento Valley summer is intense, and sometimes running at 6am is just not an option. Or, you may be seeking the heat on purpose! Getting uncomfortable and pushing your body with targeted “heat training” sessions, if you have races or hiking trips planned, is crucial to success when the big day(s) arrives. On those occasions, remember to take care of your body and be extra aware of its needs. There is a big difference between getting uncomfortable and putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. Stay on top of your hydration, nutrition, and sun exposure, and it will help your performance and also keep you safe. Happy Summer everyone, and have fun out there!