The best ways for athletes to adjust to high humidity
Athletes who haven’t spent much time in humid areas throughout their lives run the risk of serious dehydration or illness. Whether you’ve recently moved into a higher-humidity region, or you’ve simply spent a lot of time inside with air conditioning keeping things dry and cool, Lisa Money, RDN, has a few tips to help athletes adjust to high humidity.
Why do athletes need to acclimatize to humidity?
“One thing that the human body is really good at is adapting to new environments,” said Money. “We can learn to live comfortably just about anywhere, if we have the time to adapt.”
You may have seen news reports on athletes training for the Olympics spending time where they will eventually compete to get used to thinner air in higher-altitude areas. The same happens with places that have a higher humidity. Sweat glands can’t keep up with the change in humidity at first, and it makes athletes more susceptible to rapid heart rate, high core temperatures and other symptoms of dehydration.
Three signs your body is adjusting to high humidity
“As your body begins to adjust to high humidity areas, there are three big signs you can watch for to show that you’re becoming more comfortable,” said Money.
#1: Lower heart rate. Before you have adapted to higher humidity, your body will have to work harder to cool itself off during exercising, causing your heart rate to rise rapidly. As you adapt, you’ll see that heart rate start to come down as your body becomes used to the temperature and humidity around you.
#2: Lower core temperature. A body that isn’t used to humidity will struggle to cool itself rapidly enough through sweat. Your core body temperature may rise beyond healthy levels. As you get used to high-humidity exercise, your body will cool itself more efficiently, and your core temperature will start to remain lower throughout athletic activity.
#3: Higher sweat rate while exercising. One of the biggest signs of dehydration is when the body stops producing sweat to cool itself through evaporation. If you find that you’re sweating more profusely earlier in your workout than when you started training, it may be a sign your body is beginning to adapt and become more effective at cooling itself and keeping your core temperature down.
Tips to help athletes adjust to high humidity during exercise
Train early and often in conditions that match what you expect to compete in. Athletes training for upcoming games or competitions should begin training early in conditions where humidity matches what they’ll be playing or competing in later. It can take up to three weeks for athletes to begin to show measurable conditioning, so early practice is essential.
Exercise in cycles to increase aerobic capacity. Your aerobic capacity is the amount of oxygen your body can effectively use during intense exercise. Going through exercise cycles can help get your heart rate up, then allow it to settle a little, then raise it again. Your heart is a muscle, and continued conditioning and training can help it to move oxygen more efficiently through your blood during exercise or sports performance.
Induce sweating to adjust to the impacts of humidity. Especially if you’ll be working out indoors in an air-conditioned space, induce sweating through wearing full-coverage cotton sweats, working out in a warm room or exercising during the heat of the day. This will let you get a feel for your current ability to cool yourself through sweat.
Don’t skip meals. Your body replaces most of its salt and water when you eat. Skipping meals will actually make it harder for you to adapt and build muscle, even if you work out just as often or with the same intensity. Your body needs that food and nutrition to build muscles and perform at your highest level!
Stay hydrated and keep up your electrolyte balance. Early on, it may be difficult to track hydration by thirst alone. Make sure you’re remembering to take in water and electrolytes to match what you lose through sweat until your sweat glands become more efficient and adapted to high humidity. Sports drinks or water mixed in with electrolytes should be kept available during your workouts.
A quick note on effective rehydration
“While water is always the gold standard for rehydrating during athletic activities, especially with adjusting to high humidity, sports drinks like Gatorade can provide hydration that includes electrolytes, which are lost through sweat via salt,” said Money.
Sports drinks aren’t the only good option for rehydrating and still retaining those electrolytes, either. Another option for rehydrating might be electrolyte packets that mix conveniently into existing water bottles, and often come in a variety of flavors.
Coconut water is also often recommended and easy to find on grocery store shelves. It’s a great option, as it is high in potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium. Plus, simple carbohydrates make it easily absorbed by the body.
Find an orthopedic specialist you trust
Find a provider who’s right for you by viewing their online profiles, star ratings and reviews.Find an Orthopedic Doctor