Spending the day at a college tennis tournament reminded me not only how much of an effect the right choices can have on how we feel (and play) in the heat, but also how many people are not using all of the tools that they could be!
There are a number of challenges when playing in the heat, including keeping your core body temperature down, replacing fluids and electrolytes lost due to increased sweating, and keeping up with your body’s increased carbohydrate needs. This all becomes extra-important for women during days 19-24 of their cycle, as you may remember from my post on “girl stuff”.
- Start off hydrated
- Cool down your body before and during your match
- Reduce heat exposure
- Stay hydrated and fueled
- Take advantage of the time between matches
- Cool down quickly
Start off hydrated – Be sure to drink enough fluids during the 24 hours leading up to the tournament, and add salt liberally to your food (and drinks)*. For very heavy sweaters and those who may struggle with cramping, taking a “salt-loading” product may be beneficial. “The Right Stuff” is a product that I have used successfully with a number of tennis players, and many professional and collegiate sports teams rely on it as well. For a simpler solution, drink some soup (usually high in sodium) a few hours before your match.
Pre and on-court cooling – a variety of methods are available for cooling down your body both before and during your match that have been shown to improve performance in the heat. These can include drinking an ice-slurry before your match (like a slurpee but with plain water or even sports drink), cooling your neck (which I see a bit more commonly used), ingestion of cold beverages, or even using a spray bottle to spray water on your face. Amazingly, facial water spraying led to a 51% improvement in cycling time to exhaustion at 75% intensity! By lowering the core body temperature prior to exercise, pre-cooling allows greater work capacity by delaying the time until a critical temperature is reached that would involuntarily reduce the exercise workload. For things like the facial water spray, the brain is given feedback that body temperatures have decreased, which then allows greater activation of skeletal muscle and reduced perceptions of fatigue.
Reduce heat exposure – This can mean shortening your warm-ups, standing in the shade while watching another match, and finding shade on changeovers and between points. Don’t sit in the direct sunlight while waiting to go on!
Stay hydrated and fueled – be consistent with your fluid intake during breaks and changeovers, and consume a sports drink that contains adequate sodium and carbohydrate in order to hydrate more effectively. This means water won’t be sufficient. My definition of adequate sodium would be to consume at least 500 mg/hour though some players may need to go much higher. Also, be sure to consume additional carbohydrate if you’ll be playing for longer than an hour. My go-to drinks for pro tennis players are Gatorade Endurance (which has more sodium than regular Gatorade), and Thorne Catalyte for shorter practices and matches (contains vitamins and electrolytes but no carbs).
Take advantage of the time between matches – Don’t come off the court and sit around, or even just drink plain water if you’ve just had a grueling match. Especially if you have another match coming up, you should rehydrate with a cold, carbohydrate-electrolyte drink in order to speed up your recovery, and also get some protein in (either from a shake or real food). Chocolate milk is a great choice after a match. Salty snacks such as pretzels can also be helpful during this time. See my previous post on traveling like a pro for tips here. The longer you have between matches the larger your meals can be, but don’t waste any opportunity (even if it’s 10 minutes) to refuel your body.
Cool down quickly – Consuming cold beverages after playing, getting ice packs on your body, or getting in an ice bath are all ways for you to lower your body temperature back down more quickly after exercise and speed up the recovery process.
As you see, there are many more tools for beating the heat than most people usually think about. Try some of these during your next hot workout or match, and leave a comment here or on facebook!
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* If you have any medical condition that can be affected by a change in salt intake, please consult with a healthcare practitioner prior to making any dietary changes.