Tips For Coping With The Heat

Words by David Hicks

on 03/08/2018 12:13:05

Article written by Graham Slade. Graham used to be a mechanic for Rutland Cycling and left to live and work in Thailand. Find out more about Graham >

It's 40�C, an average humidity of 80%, you've only done 25 miles and you have already sponged up your only two litres of water. While standing in the searing sunshine you start to feel a cold chill over your body...

It's at times like this when you realise you are in real danger of overheating and you know you should have managed your hydration and cooling a little better.

If you're lucky enough to have done any significant amount of cycling outside of the familiar chills of Old Blighty, you might have experienced a climate shock before. Keeping yourself topped up with liquids is rarely a huge issue in the UK and let's be honest, many parts of Europe. So, when an opportunity presents itself to us for a cycling trip to somewhere which isn't rainy and cold for what seems like 11 months of the year, we often think all our birthdays have come at once. Off we spin, into the glorious sunshine, revelling in the well-overdue quota of vitamin D which we are about to cash in on. As a result of the enthusiasm to hit the road or start shredding the trails, it's not unusual to find yourself getting caught out when pedalling your way around warmer parts.

Moving to a subtropical climate and continuing to ride bikes has a bit of a sharp learning curve, as I have found out. Even more so when you have no one else to ride with. I ventured out to Southeast Asia where I have mostly been using my mountain bikes but also road cycling around the concrete jungle. Being in Asia has forced me to change my eating habits, my usual hydration regime and my diet. This has obviously had an impact on how I have to manage my energy for riding bikes. I have found that making sure you consume the right foods, and at the right time is so much more important in a tropical climate than somewhere cooler such as the UK. It makes sense really - it's hotter, your body works harder, so you have to manage your energy more carefully. There are a few key things to consider when it comes to your actual intake of food and water in this kind of heat. This is by no means an exhaustive guide or the only way to do things, but some guidelines that have worked for me long-term.

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Preparing for your ride

  1. Eat a large and balanced meal the day before you ride, as you would normally
  2. Having high carbs is of course helpful but make sure it has a balance of other foodstuffs. Eat a meal which won't disturb your sleep pattern too much. You'll be needing your rest!

    Don't go to bed thirsty, try to avoid a night of tipple the day before or you'll begin your day dehydrated and at a significant disadvantage. Having said that...

  3. Get a good night's sleep!
  4. Sleep deprivation is always bad but the heat drains your energy enough on its own. You don't need any other reason to feel tired. I have set out for day-long rides after little sleep and have found myself suffering significantly more.

  5. Eat breakfast very eary
  6. If you are travelling to the start point of your ride (i.e. driving to the mountains) then have another, smaller breakfast a short while before you plan to start riding

    If you rely too much on having a sizable lunch then in combination with the heat, you might find lethargy takes over and hinders your stamina.

  7. Snacks!
  8. Although you might not normally ride with snacks in your homeland, if you're somewhere hot you may need an emergency boost.

    You'll need some solid snacks that pack a punch. Your usual ride snacks should do the job nicely but you may need a few more.

    Don't overlook the local abundance of fruits and look out for good cycling snacks in the country you're riding in. If in doubt, you can always trust the faithful banana.

    Coconut water is an excellent drink while exercising.

    Read our Cycling Nutrition Guide;

  9. Bring an INSULATED bottle on your ride if you have one (or two, or three) and stock up on COLD water.
  10. Don't forget to bring hydration sachets or tablets also. Just a couple for emergency rehydration.

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Energy Crashes/Overheating

Cycling in a hot climate through an urban environment is punishing. Even though a metropolis may have an abundance of shade, the heat from the roads and buildings is difficult to escape. Similarly, when mountain biking, you can be quite exposed to the elements, isolated and far from help. At least with mountain biking you can seek some sanctuary in the cool(er) shade of trees. If you start bonking or feeling overwhelmed by the heat then stop somewhere with some shade and take a moment. Forget your average speed, Strava segments and your pride. It' unwise to play games with that big hydrogen-bomb-inferno in the sky. These steps should help reduce the effects of the heat and exhaustion while actually out on your ride:

  1. Try not to ride alone- especially if you don't know the area or route well.
  2. When the heat hits you and you're running low on water, or you run out altogether, you can't risk being alone. Both road riding and mountain biking, you are likely to venture a long way from the nearest town or familiar area.

    You don't want to have to leave your boutique build unattended while you skate into a shop in a frantic search for water. Having a cycling chum takes away that worry.

    If you're riding in fierce heat then fit all the bottle cages your bike will accept and fill those with glacial glory.

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  3. Preload on fluids, but not too much
  4. You don't want to stop and start your ride all the time to run off and water the bushes.

    It makes it more difficult to keep on top of pacing you water intake if you overdo it to begin with.

  5. That being said... Ration your liquids!
  6. Don't try to keep yourself absolutely full to the brim. Sip little and often.

    However, when you have a chance to replenish your water supplies and stop for a moment, take the opportunity. If you are feeling the fatigue or the heat getting to you, quench your thirst as you wish and continue when you are ready.

  7. Set out on your ride as early as you can, before first light if possible.
  8. In hotter countries it obviously heats up pretty rapidly as soon as the sun has started to rise. If it feels safe enough to set out while it is still dark, then it is always best to set out before sunrise.

    That way you also get to watch the beauty of the sunrise from the comfort of your bicycle - what a treat!

  9. Pace yourself.
  10. You may find that you feel faster with the heat and a nice warm road or trail beneath you, but don't go in all guns blazing.

    Keep a lower-than-usual pace until you are comfortable in the heat and gradually raise it as you adjust to the climate.

  11. KNOW WHEN TO STOP.
  12. This is probably the most important one. There is no shame in putting your health and wellbeing first and calling it a day. No one is going to ridicule or chastise you for heading back home.

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    Read Our Guide on Summer Cycling Clothing

    Long Term:

    If you're going to be in a warmer environment for a longer period of time (several weeks, months or longer) then you'll need to make some long-term adjustments. It may seem unhelpful to say it, but the truth is that you will simply have to acclimatise yourself to the heat. From my experience, here are a few tips of what you can do:

    1. Don't use air conditioning if possible.
    2. Get used to using a fan or nothing at all. If you do use the AC then set the temperature to the maximum comfortable temperature, just to take the edge off.

    3. Get used to staying hydrated even when not exercising.
    4. Don't leave the house without water and ration it. Only drink when you need to but don't allow yourself to be spitting feathers before you have a swig.

    5. Get used to the local diet.
    6. As mentioned earlier, work out which foods are going to give you a decent boost.

      For example, in South East Asia, there are many snacks based around rice. My favourite in particular for cycling food is sticky rice wrapped around a banana, then steamed in a banana leaf. They're cheap, delicious and about the size of a multi-tool - perfect for a jersey pocket!

      In conclusion:

      Most of the ways that you can avoid suffering in the heat involve forethought and planning. If you anticipate the weather and prepare yourself for the heat accordingly, you can enjoy many scorching miles without baking your brains. If you dash out into the tropical midday sun and you haven't prepared for it, you aren't doing yourself any favours and the best thing you can do is keep your ride short or leisurely.

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      Graham bio

      Graham Slade

      My main passions in life are bikes, nature and lasagne.

      For me, cycling began when I realised that I kept breaking cheap bikes because I wanted more than the bike could give, and therefore I genuinely needed to spend lots of cash on a nice, hefty mountain bike.

      My real passion has always been mountain biking (downhill/enduro/trail). However, my cycling interests are varied and my collection has always featured some classic Italian steel dripping in Campagnolo.

      After years working in a few different bike shops, I left my mechanic job at Rutland Cycles to go and live and work in Thailand.

      For a while I hunted around looking for places to ride and people to ride with. Dodging giant lizards, tarantulas, silly-sized snails and the occasional snake proved entertaining for a bit.

      One year in, and when I finally sussed out some trails, I entered the Thailand Gravity Series. I'd never raced downhill before and was pitched against some seasoned team racers but was happy to take 3rd overall.

      Now, with a bike and fitness upgrade I hope to enter the next Thailand Enduro Series. I also hope to enter the Asian Enduro Series in the near future which will take me to Nepal, Brunei and Malaysia.

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