Tips for Running Outdoors This Summer
If you live in Dallas-Fort Worth, you can expect more than 230 sunny or partly sunny days per year, so heading outdoors for a run can seem appealing. But add in the fact that the metroplex sees about 90 days of 90°F+ weather each year, running outside during the summer in Texas can be more than just sweat-inducing, it can be dangerous. We spoke to Brittney Bearden, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition manager at Texas Health Sports Medicine, to learn how to safely run outdoors this summer.
Temperatures in Texas easily reach 100°F or higher during the summer months and conditions can also be humid, making the heat feel even more intense. Whether you’re a seasoned endurance runner, training for your first long-distance event or enjoy running recreationally, extreme heat can get the best of you if you don’t take precautions. Hazards of running in extreme heat include muscle cramps, dehydration, dizziness and fainting, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.
Fuel up Appropriately
As our bodies heat up, we sweat. Sweat is our body’s way of removing heat and cooling down. While we lose heat through sweat, we also lose some vital nutrients, fluids and electrolytes. Because running in the heat increases your sweat rate, Bearden says there is an increased need to replenish lost fluid, electrolytes and nutrients, so making sure you’re properly hydrated and fueled up before a run is important.
“The body must work hard during runs in the heat to help cool down,” she explains. “It’s important to hydrate consistently outside of activity to begin a run well hydrated. Blood flow is also redirected during exercise and less blood is available for digestion, so it’s important to fuel up beforehand.”
Two hours before heading out for a run, drink 500 mL of a carbohydrate-rich drink, such as orange juice, skim milk, apple juice or a smoothie. Bearden also suggests eating easily digestible foods low in fat and fiber as pre-run snacks, such as a banana, half to one whole bagel, applesauce or oatmeal with raisins.
Heat acclimation (also called acclimatization) helps you avoid serious risks by letting your body adjust gradually, which usually takes about 10 to 14 days. The longer an athlete is acclimated before an event, the better.
To help your body acclimate to the heat outside, build up your training in event-level heat conditions until you can run for at least one to two hours in those conditions without experiencing symptoms of heat illness. Perform at least six workouts at event-level heat in the two to three weeks leading up to the event, including one to two workouts the week before. If possible, achieve and maintain acclimation for 12 weeks prior to the event.
Get to Know Your Sweat Concentration
Bearden notes that individual sweat rate and sodium (the electrolyte lost the most in sweat) content of sweat varies by person, so the total fluid and electrolyte needs per person vary. If you’re a seasoned runner or you’re training for a run, she suggests seeing a sports dietitian for sweat sodium concentration testing.
“It’s one way to know individual sweat rate as well as sweat sodium concentration, which allows for individualized hydration plans,” Bearden explains.
Hydrate Efficiently and Eat Wisely
No matter how efficiently your body learns to regulate itself, it will never be able to perform in extreme heat without proper hydration and nutrient replacement. Water loss of 2 percent or more of your body weight is enough to impact your performance.
While running, drink a fluid that contains sodium and potassium, as well as 4 to 8 percent daily value of carbohydrate. You should replace 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate each hour that you run by continually sipping fluids.
After a run, drink 500 mL of a carbohydrate-electrolyte fluid every 30 minutes until you’ve consumed 2 liters. After, recreational runners can continue their day with their normal healthy pattern of meals, snacks and hydration. But for serious or competitive runners, Bearden suggests weighing yourself before and after a long run and drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost.
For both, she suggests consuming a meal or snack with carbohydrates and protein to promote muscle recovery and glycogen.
Whether you’re a pro or an amateur, Bearden stresses the importance of planning wisely before running in the heat.
“Run in the early morning or late evening to avoid peak temperatures throughout the day,” she explains. “Fuel appropriately based on the time of your run and make a hydration plan for before, during and after your run. And professional runners can benefit from sweat sodium concentration testing to develop a plan that’s specific to their needs.”
To learn more about Texas Health Sports Medicine or to schedule an appointment with a sports dietitian that can tailor a meal plan that can help you meet your performance goals, visit TexasHealth.org/SportsMedicine.