What a week! Here we are, back again for Coach Tip Tuesday. :)
As temperatures dip across much of the United States this week, it’s a great time to talk about how managing core temperature is extremely important in endurance sports.
A lot of people don’t consider core temperature management until the temperatures soar in the summertime. However, this is actually something that needs to be managed year-round.
We feel our level of exertion most when temperatures are high. We sweat more, we start to feel overheated, we feel sluggish. We have very “obvious” signs that our body is being required to work harder than normal. Most athletes learn over time (and usually the hard way by going too hard when it’s too hot) that these are signs that signal conditions that no human can actually overcome. We must always modify to account for extreme heat. It might mean slowing down. It might mean drinking more fluids. It might be stuffing ice in places where ice typically doesn’t go. It might mean heading indoors to do a workout in a climate-controlled setting.
So I’m sure at least a few of you are nodding your heads at me right now...you agree that summertime brings conditions that we need to adjust for. But how many of you think that exercising outdoors in the wintertime actually brings the same amount of stress on your body?
Yes, yes. It’s true. The trick here is that you can’t feel the extra exertion the same way you can in the summer. I bet that a great portion of you don’t even think you need to hydrate wintertime workouts because you “don’t sweat.” Spoiler: You DO need to hydrate ALL workouts ALL year long. You also need to adjust for conditions that are not ideal year-round. “Ideal” workout conditions are typically in the 50-60ºF temperature range. Anything beyond that, and you need to adjust.
This means that workouts completed in colder temperatures require your body to work just as hard as your body is required to work in hot conditions. In fact, on average, your body burns through 15% more fuel in wintertime workouts due to the extra work your body needs to do in order to keep you warm. Yes, indeed, your body needs to work just as hard to warm itself in the winter as it needs to work in the summer to keep you cool.
All of this relates back to one big thing: core temperature. Whether it’s hot or cold outside, your body is seeking to maintain a consistent core temperature. If it is unable to do so, then major problems start to happen. You feel sluggish, tired. You impair your body’s ability to recover efficiently from a workout. You get dehydrated or under-fueled, which leads to an entire host of issues in the body.
How can we help our bodies do this? We can properly hydrate all workouts, all year long. We can fuel our bodies properly so we’re either stoking our furnace or powering our built-in air conditioner. We can wear the appropriate amount of clothing for the conditions we are experiencing. We can head inside to climate-controlled environments when conditions are too extreme in either direction. We can shorten workouts to be appropriate durations for the conditions that exist.
You are not being weak if you do these things. You are being smart. We are all biological beings, and while we definitely have certain adaptations that we’ve developed over time, none of us, no matter how “tough” or stubborn we’re being, can avoid these basic biological facts. Our bodies need to maintain a certain temperature in order to function. Manage that core temperature well and you’ll be MUCH better for it. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.