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The challenges of summer running
Running in the winter — especially in snowy, frigid climates — presents a certain set of challenges. Layers of clothing, protecting your body's extremities, adding traction to keep your footing and making sure you're visible on the road are all issues winter runners plan for each year.
Running — or other outdoor exercises, like hiking or cycling — sounds simpler in the summer. Throw on a tank top and shorts and hit the road, whether your road is a trail, a paved path or the concrete roadways around your neighborhood. Unfortunately, higher temperatures, stifling humidity and increased hours of sunlight can leave fitness enthusiasts sweating, worn out and exhausted by exercise routines that they did easily in the spring.
Hydration is crucial to summer exercise
Keeping your body hydrated is an important component of fitness performance. Dehydration can be dangerous. Passing out and kidney damage are two serious consequences of true dehydration, but runners and cyclists will see a decrease in their energy and performance before those occur. Drinking water or a salt-balanced sports drink will help replace fluids lost during a workout due to increased sweat.
Another component of healthy hydration is the consumption of water before and after workouts. The body functions better when it's adequately hydrated before a workout even begins. Don't wait until you feel parched or thirsty to guzzle large amounts of water — as the body becomes dehydrated, you may actually feel less thirsty. Instead of reacting to your thirst, have a plan in place for adequate hydration on days you plan on exercising. Be sure to drink fluids before you go for a run or bike ride, bring water or a sports drink with you and keep hydrating after you return from your workout.
Sun protection protects more than your skin
Applying sunscreen is a must-do for outdoor activities in the summer months — some would argue it should be applied during the whole year. Summer workout clothing generally exposes more skin than any other season, so skipping the lotion application might result in some serious overexposure. Avoid a burn by applying sunscreen before you go outside, paying special attention to shoulders, the back of the neck, ears, face and hands.
Scalps are another area that can take a sun-beating during runs and bike rides, especially if you have a specific part in your hair. A breathable baseball cap with SPF is one way to protect your head without the mess of sunscreening your head. Sunglasses offer another type of protection against the sun's rays. Shady running trails might make this addition unnecessary, but the sun's glare off a blacktop trail or concrete road can lead to tired, strained eyes — not to mention the squinting you'll have to do to overcompensate.
Proper fueling will help you beat an energy slump
Anyone who's spent a day at the beach only to yawn the entire drive home knows how exhausting sun and heat can be. Staying energized while increasing, or even maintaining, fitness means taking care to fuel properly with adequate nutrition. Runners and cyclists who have established a training regimen can consider whether to add fuel during a workout in the form of an energy gel packet or even a handful of jelly beans.
Those who are increasing their training or starting something new may have to experiment a little to see what works. Try a half of a banana or peanut butter toast before a workout to give your body some fuel to call on while you're exercising. Unless you're adding a ton of miles at once — which might lead to injuries — you don't need hundreds of extra calories to boost your energy for exercise. Even a little calorie boost at the right time might help your body push past a plateau.
The bottom line
Summer workouts don't have to leave you exhausted for the remainder of the day. Listen to your body, stay hydrated and keep consuming all of those fabulous, seasonal fruits and vegetables to make the most of your workouts when it's hot outside.