article by Ben Day
Riding in the cold
Let’s start with the cold. Performing in cold conditions is more a matter of good choices than adaptation. Yes, spending time training and racing consistently in cold temperatures will enable you to perform at a higher level, because you’ll be are able to maintain core body temperature better and muscular contractions won’t be negatively affected.
But it’s the clothing you choose in cold weather that can be the difference between winning and not finishing – or between being comfortable and getting hypothermia.
Look after your extremities and cover up!
Your extremities are your feet, hands and head. Keeping these bits all covered and warm is vital. Exposed skin is the most susceptible to damage from extreme weather.
Layer your clothing, starting with a good base layer, and the sweat that you generate will be wicked away from your skin to the surface, keeping you warmer and drier. Take layers on and off as you get colder or warmer to regulate your temperature. This is a skill that might take some practice.
Not sure if it was the Belgians who came up with this idea, but they have heat cream for the legs that you could cook an egg on.
Keeping your legs warm helps to maintain efficient muscular contraction. Just be careful not to accidentally get this cream where it might not feel so pleasant (tip: do your chamois cream first!). And be ready for it to burn in the shower when you wash it off!
This can be the difference between staying healthy and just chilling to the bone. High-tech fabrics, such as Nano Flex, are designed to wick the sweat from your skin to your outer layers where it is then evaporated – negating that nasty windchill you can get on your chest when you’re sweating in the cold.
Wet vs dry
Choose the right clothing for the conditions. When it’s cold but dry, using fleecy top clothing that’s warm and breathable is best. When it’s cold and wet, you need to keep that water out. Look for water-repellent rain jackets that don’t hold or let in water.
Whatever the weather, you’re better safe than sorry. Taking that one extra jacket, even if it’s a light wind jacket, is excellent security.
Riding in hot conditions is a little trickier to get right than riding in cold – mainly because you can only take off so many clothes to regulate your heat.
Once your core temperature goes past a certain level, your brain will choose survival over performance. Your output will start to decrease as your body redirects your blood to perform cooling duties.
With this in mind, there has been a lot research on what you can do to minimise the affect.
Spending a period of 10 to 14 days in hot environments sees a change in your blood plasma levels, which helps core temperature regulation.
Saunas are becoming a popular method to acclimatise to hot and humid conditions
In recent years, it’s become common for elite atheletes to use a sauna in the training process as they come into the summer races. Stressing the body in this manner is similar to how you might train out on the road. Your body is challenged so it adapts to become stronger and more efficient at handling the heat.
What you wear plays a part and it’s obvious in this scenario that you want the lightest clothing possible. It’s is a matter of balance between covering up to keep the sun off and keeping your garments light and breathable.
You’re crazy if you don’t wear it. Yes, Ben Day is an Aussie and skin cancer is a common cause of death in Australia, but if you need another argument, when your skin burns, your core temperature rises and you can overheat – use sunscreen to stop this happening.
Keeping your fluids up, and ideally with an electrolyte solution, keeps your motor running cooler. As you become dehydrated, your core temperature will once again go up. On very hot days, it is impossible to ingest enough fluid to maintain hydration when you’re exercising, so it needs to be a 24/7 effort.
Observe your urine and don’t be afraid of alternating between the electrolyte solution and water. If what you’re drinking is passing straight through you, up your sports drink intake. It not, keep up both water and the sports drink.
OK, they’re packed full of sugar, but frozen slushy drinks have been proven to be the best non-invasive way to keep your core temperature down. The best way to make them is to combine blended ice with your favourite electrolyte solution, and companies such as Polar Bottle make insulated water bottles that keep your cold drinks colder for longer, and your hot drinks hotter.
Do not underestimate the importance of negotiating these weather conditions correctly. Asides from affecting your performance, extreme weather can actually threaten your life.
Plan ahead and give yourself the best chances for success.
I am Ben Day – an experienced and seasoned cycling professional since 2002 and a successful cycling coach. In my time as an elite athlete, I have worked with various coaches from Australia, Germany, Spain, Portugal, England and the USA. I have also had the privilege to have collaborated and learn from many great physiologists, strength and conditioning trainers, sports medicine doctors, sport psychologists and career advisors with the Queensland Academy of Sport and the Australian Institute of Sport, an internationally renowned sporting revolution, facilitating Australia’s great successes in cycling in the past 20 years.
My experience racing and training across the globe has equipped me beyond most coaches as I am not only current with ideas and methodologies, I am also understanding of what makes a cyclist good in this modern world of cycling. I have had some incredibly knowledgeable people all in my corner throughout this time, teaching me many things that contribute to making an athlete the best possible athlete he or she can be.
Already during my professional cycling career, I have had some incredible moments such as representing my country at World Championships and Commonwealth Games level with success, which has enabled me to learn about what makes a cyclist perform to the best of their abilities.
I am able to draw upon all of these experiences and knowledge in my coaching to make a better cyclist – day by day. Based in Boulder, Colorado, USA, I work with athletes throughout the US, Europe, Australia and the World
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