The Role of Hydration and Nutrition in Preventing Heat Stroke and Other Heat-related Illnesses
How Staying Hydrated and Eating Properly Can Help Prevent Heat-related Illnesses
As an experienced endurance runner, I’ve learned the hard way just how important it is to stay properly hydrated and nourished when exercising in the heat. Heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps, can be serious and even life-threatening if left untreated. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help prevent these conditions, including staying hydrated and eating a balanced diet.
What Happens to Your Body in the Heat
When your body gets too hot, it tries to cool itself down by sweating. However, if you’re not properly hydrated, your body may not be able to produce enough sweat to cool itself down, leading to a dangerous rise in body temperature. In addition to dehydration, exercising in the heat can also cause a depletion of important nutrients, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, which can further increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.
The Importance of Hydration
One of the most important steps you can take to prevent heat-related illnesses is to stay hydrated. This means drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, before, during, and after exercise in the heat. The amount of fluid you need will depend on several factors, including your body size, the temperature and humidity of your environment, and how much you’re sweating. As a general rule, aim to drink at least 16 ounces of water two hours before exercising and 7-10 ounces of water every 10-20 minutes during exercise. After exercise, drink enough fluids to replace any fluids lost during exercise.
It’s important to recognize the signs of dehydration, as early intervention can help prevent more serious heat-related illnesses. Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth and throat
- Darker than usual urine
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Muscle cramps
- Passing out
The Role of Nutrition
In addition to staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet can also help prevent heat-related illnesses. When you exercise in the heat, your body loses not only fluids but also important electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium. These electrolytes help regulate your body’s fluid balance, muscle function, and nerve function. To help replenish these electrolytes, aim to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.
Some of the best electrolyte-rich foods include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa
- Lean protein, such as chicken or fish
How to Exercise Safely in the Heat
In addition to staying hydrated and eating properly, there are several other steps you can take to exercise safely in the heat:
- Avoid exercising during the hottest parts of the day, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that allows your skin to breathe.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your face and eyes from the sun.
- Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to protect your skin from sunburn.
- Take frequent breaks to rest and cool down, especially if you start to feel overheated.
- Consider exercising indoors, such as at a gym or community center, on particularly hot days.
Staying hydrated and eating properly is essential for preventing heat-related illnesses when exercising in the heat. By following these tips and listening to your body, you can stay safe and healthy while enjoying your favourite outdoor activities.