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Benefits of training in the heat

Posted by James Eacott on

The benefits of training in the heat are substantial: increase blood plasma, boost lactate threshold and get fit fast. The benefits even carry over to performance in cool conditions.

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When training in the heat, consume sports nutrition - preferably from a natural source - rich in electrolytes, just like Better Fuel

Acclimation vs acclimatisation – what’s the difference?

‘Acclimation’ and ‘acclimatisation’ are often used interchangeably, but they’re different.

Acclimation is the process of replicating environmental conditions, like running in a heat chamber or sitting in a sauna, whereas acclimatisation describes real world environmental conditions, such as travelling to a hot climate pre-event to adapt.

The science behind training in the heat

Santiago Lorenzo et al from the University of Oregon undertook research studying the impact of heat acclimation on well-trained cyclists.

The study tested three aspects of fitness: maximal aerobic power, time-trial performance and lactate threshold. All of which were improved with training in the heat. Their findings, presented in the Journal of Applied Physiology conclude that:

10 days of heat acclimation provide considerable ergogenic benefits in cool conditions. In addition, heat acclimation provided the expected performance benefits in hot conditions

33fuel benefits of training in the heat - extra demand

Training in the heat places extra demands on the body, but the benefits are worth it

Another study, this time in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, tested the effects of short-term heat training andfound similar improvements despite the short exposure. 

Let’s explore the main benefits of training in the heat.

Training in the heat benefits #1: Increase blood plasma volume

Heat exposure stimulates your body to produce more blood plasma. This results in greater cardiac output and VO2, both central to improving endurance performance

Increased blood plasma volume has a knock-on effect of enhancing the speed at which blood is sent to the skin for cooling, a benefit described in #3.

Training in the heat benefits #2: Get fit quick

Even short-term heat exposure reaps benefits. One study in the Journal of Sports Medicine lasted only five days and showed heat acclimation was “effective in inducing thermo-physiological adaptations to hear stress”.

The study went on to find “meaningful physiological and performance improvements occurred for highly trained athletes using a short-term (5-day) heat acclimation under hyperthermia control, with dehydration”.

Training in the heat benefits #3: Improves ability to cool yourself

33fuel benefits of training in the heat - reduce core temperature

One benefit of training in the heat is the improved ability to reduce core temperature

One of the most effective methods of cooling ourselves is to pump blood to the surface of the skin. Repeated heat exposure trains your body to kickstart this process at a lower core temperature, resulting in a more efficient cooling process.

Chris Minson from the University of Oregon studies the effect of heat on athletes notes that “athletes who train in warm temperatures get better at regulating heat by sweating earlier or developing a colder resting body temperature”.

Training in the heat benefits #4: Reduce blood lactate

Lorenzo and his team from the University of Oregon also discovered “heat acclimation increased lactate threshold in cool environments”.

Even though it’s not fully understood why this happen during heat training, the benefits of increased lactate threshold for endurance athletes are comprehensive.

Your lactate threshold defines the upper limit of your aerobic capacity. As lactate threshold increases, so too do all zones below this.

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Training in the heat benefits #5: Boost mental strength

It’s mentally tough.

Training in the heat demands more focus and grit than cooler climes. Heat elevates heart rate so your rate of perceived exertion will also increase at all pace ranges, but this will gradually reduce.

If you’ve a race in a hot climate, training in warm conditions will mentally prepare you mentally for the challenge. For races in cooler conditions, your RPE will be lower after training in the heat.

Training in the heat benefits #6: It’s even better than altitude training

The same study mentioned earlier by Santiago Lorenzo states “heat acclimation provides more substantial environmental specific improvements in aerobic performance than altitude acclimation”.

Training in the heat benefits: negatives

It’d be remiss to ignore the potential negatives of training in the heat, despite the convincing benefits.

In part two of this series we’ll show how to safely incorporate heat training into your schedule but as a first step, be aware that it can induce hypernatremia or hyponatremia.

Understand the symptoms of hypernatremia and hyponatremia

Some argue that training in the heat reduces one’s ability to hit the highest intensities. If this is your experience, save your toughest sessions for the treadmill or cooler time of day.

Training in the heat - conclusion

The impact of heat training on endurance performance cannot be underestimated. Whether you’re competing in warm or mild climes, heat training should form a key part of your preparation to maximise performance.

In part two, we’ll show how you to incorporate heat acclimation into your training schedule.

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