As a serious athlete, working out in the sun can have its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, training in the sun and heat can improve your body’s tolerance of hot weather conditions and boost your overall performance.
On the other hand, training in the sun can be extremely dangerous if you don’t take certain precautions. Despite our growing knowledge of skin cancer, many athletes are still unaware of the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. There’s also the matter of working out in high heat and humidity, which can lead to serious heat illness for athletes who push themselves too hard.
To make the most of your daily workouts, it’s vital that you give your body the proper protection and fuel its needs to train safely in the sun. By applying the following advice to your outdoor training regimen, you can maximize your fitness results without pushing your body dangerously over the limit:
Make Sunscreen a Daily Habit
While more athletes are becoming aware of the risk of skin cancer, research shows that our sun protection knowledge and behaviors have significant room for improvement. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Skin Cancer, less than half of the participants knew to apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outside, while only 35 percent knew to re-apply sunscreen every hour.
Always apply sunscreen to the exposed areas of your body and don’t forget to use a daily facial moisturizer with SPF on your face. A moisturizer with SPF will provide your face with the essential sun protection it needs without clogging your pores and causing breakouts.
Invest in the Right Gear
Compared to working out in an air-conditioned gym, training in the sun is no picnic. You’ll be sweating profusely, all while feeling the sun’s rays beating down upon your back the entire time.
To make your workouts slightly more enjoyable, investing in moisture-wicking gear for hot weather is critical. Wearing clothes that are breathable is necessary for warm weather training because sweating is your body’s primary method of cooling itself. If your sweat can’t evaporate off the surface of your skin, it can cause all sorts of problems including overheating, chafing and general discomfort—all of which can negatively impact your performance.
Along with moisture-wicking clothes, consider investing in SPF clothing as well. SPF clothing can block UVA and UVB rays, offering additional sun protection for athletes.
Ease into Your Training
When summer rolls around, many athletes ditch the air-conditioned gyms and begin training outdoors. If you aren’t used to the heat, humidity and the sun, don’t expect to beat any personal records in the beginning.
Give your body time to acclimate to hot weather by easing into it with short workouts. Steadily increase the length or intensity of your outdoor workouts over the course of a week. You’ll slowly start to feel your workouts becoming easier as your body adapts to exposure to heat stress.
However, if you go on vacation for a week and plan to resume training outdoors immediately upon returning, keep in mind that you may need to start slow once again. This can be avoided by exercising in the heat once every five days.
Plan Your Hydration Strategy
When training in the sun and heat, it’s especially important that your body gets the proper fuel and hydration it needs before, during and after your workout. Specifically, attention should be paid to replenishing fluids and electrolytes that are lost during a rigorous workout.
Working out in the heat and humidity will naturally lead to increased sweating, which is one of the ways in which electrolytes are lost. While the research is admittedly mixed, there is strong evidence to suggest that planning out your hydration strategy is much more effective than simply drinking whenever you feel thirsty.
According to a 2018 review published in Sports Medicine, a pre-established drinking plan can decrease the risk of heat illness by helping athletes make up for the exact loss of fluids during exercise. However, keep in mind that this strategy relies heavily on being able to calculate your own sweat rate, which isn’t always an exact science.
Load Your Plate with Colorful Foods
When training in the sun, eating foods with powerful nutrients should be a priority. Specifically, aim for loading your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables such as yellow bell peppers, blueberries and tomatoes.
Deeply pigmented foods such as these are especially important for training in the sun because they’re packed with antioxidants that can enhance the body’s sun protection. According to a 2014 study published in the journal Food & Function, the micronutrients found in many antioxidants such as vitamins C and E can help protect against UV damage by reducing oxidative stress. As an added bonus, colorful foods have also been shown to protect against disease and illness, keeping you in the game for longer.
Know When to Take It Easy
Training in the sun and heat will never be comfortable. However, there is a huge difference between being slightly uncomfortable and dangerously uncomfortable.
You know your body better than anyone, so be sure to listen to what it’s trying to tell you. If you feel painful cramping, dizziness, confusion or vision problems, stop what you’re doing and seek shade immediately. These are warning signs of heat illness and need to be taken seriously.
If you’re a collegiate athlete training with a group, it can be particularly difficult to break away from fellow athletes and admit that you need a break. However, taking a much-needed break is essential to avoid setting your training regimen back and continuing to make steady gains.
Maximize Your Workouts by Practicing Sun Safety
With summer just around the corner, athletes everywhere will begin taking their training regimens outside. While there are many perks to working out in the sun, the dangers of UV exposure are all too real.
To reap the maximum benefits of training in the sun, it’s crucial that you practice sun safety. If possible, try to avoid the sun during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your workouts. By taking these sun safety precautions, you can optimize your workouts and improve your overall performance.
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