As the longer events on the calendar start creeping up to us (especially Desert Dash, Double Century and the Munga), I want to take you through why we do heat acclimatization with our athletes and what the benefits are.
Although this is may be directed to our ultra athletes racing at the end of the year, it is as applicable to the events in the calendar next year, such as the Epic, Attakwas and to be honest any race in the heat (actually any main race!)
Interestingly enough you will see later on that heat acclimatisation has the same benefit as training at altitude, so this can be applied to all major events that you may be doing.
Remember though, the body has a wonderful way to adapt, so by doing too much training in the heat on an ongoing basis, the body will eventually adapt so that no benefit will be seen. So, heat acclimatisation for performance improvement needs to be a PLANNED approach.
So, let’s start with some of the research behind heat acclimatization.
One of the first studies was in 2010 that showed elite cyclists that trained in the heat for 10 days had a performance increase of 6 to 8% in the time trial over a 60-minute period.
Those are some big gains.
The problem with most of us is that we cannot spend 10 days sitting on our bikes in succession during the hottest periods of the day.
Researchers then started to turn their attention to how external heat from other sources could impact performance. This led to a number of research papers around training without fans, training in a sauna, sitting in a sauna, and more recently sitting in a hot bath.
What was found was that the best approach with regards to performance improvement was actually sitting in a hot bath. This gave similar performance improvements that were seen in the original 2010 study.
(I’m not going to go into the detail of how heat acclimatisation changes your body, the big improvement in physiology is the increase in plasma volume after heat acclimatisation as well as being more tolerant. If any of you want to understand the detail reach out to me)
Now even more interesting was a very recent study that compared altitude training with heat acclimatisation. In summary the outcome of this study showed that heat acclimatisation was as good and in some instances for certain individuals even better than doing altitude training. So, train high, sleep low may have to change to train hot, race cold!
What we have found over the last two years plus is that we have been using heat acclimatisation with our athletes, is that based on certain physiological parameters such as the VO2 percentage, male or female, and acclamation history each person needs to have a slightly different protocol to maximize the benefit.
Last but probably most important……., since I mentioned above one of the major benefits is the improvement in plasma volume is that it is extremely important to make sure that during the event plasma volume stays at those elevated levels. That means hydration is CRITICAL. You all know my view around what product you need to be using to keep up properly hydrated.
If you become dehydrated your heat adaptation will basically become zero. So, stay hydrated.
So, in summary:
· heat adaptation can give improvements are between 5 to 8% (more pronounced in hotter conditions)
· hot baths seem to be the best way to apply the stress (between 5 to 14 days)
· the exact protocol will be based on your physiology - a two stage approach may be more beneficial
· hydration is critical during the event to maintain the adaptation
· the benefits of heat adaptation are seen irrespective if the race is held in hot or cold conditions