While more and more people are being bitten by the fitness bug, the scorching heat can act as a dampener. When it’s hot and sticky outside, the last thing you want to do is launch into a workout. But that’s no reason to give up. Here are tips to follow during the next few months so you continue exercising safely and comfortably.
Hydrate before, during and after exercise
Sweating is a cooling mechanism of the body. Even minor dehydration can lead to a drop in physical strength, power, endurance and mental performance – and cramps too. In severe cases of dehydration, heat stroke could ensue, causing major trauma to the body.
Hydration before exercise: Drinking at least 500ml of fluid two hours before exercise and repeating it 15 minutes before the exercise is recommended. You can add a pinch of salt to the water. Including electrolytes is also a good idea. Consult your fitness trainer on the kind of electrolytes and amount to be added.
Hydration during exercise: When sweat rates are high, consuming small volumes of fluid frequently rather than large volumes is a better option. I suggest 200ml of water for every 15 minutes of exercise is a good strategy. Do not wait for the first signals of thirst before taking a sip of water. If you have started feeling thirsty then you are already in the first stage of dehydration.
Rehydration after exercise: While rehydration is important, taking in a large volume of water at one sitting will only result in increased urine output. Instead, opt for regular intake of water with electrolytes over the next six hours following exercise.
Replenish lost electrolytes: Electrolytes like sodium chloride, potassium, magnesium are charged minerals that are lost during excess sweating and dehydration. They are important for metabolic functions like muscle contractions, nerve transmissions and balancing hormones. Adding a pinch of salt to your pre-exercise drink or consuming a healthy sports drink during exercise is recommended. They are loaded with electrolytes and help balance your system. For post-workout hydration, coconut water is a good idea followed by regular and adequate water intake.
Supplement with magnesium
Magnesium supplements (upon advice of your nutritionist) is also a good idea. This will not only help prevent cramps but also has other benefits. You could also consider magnesium-rich foods such as nuts, avocado, spinach and grains.
Avoid too much sugar and processed foods
These can cause dehydration if consumed before or during your exercise regime because the breakdown of sugars in your body requires a lot of water. Limit consumption of cakes, doughnuts, muffins, bread and pasta. Instead you can increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. They have more water content and are lower in calories. Stick to low-sugar fruits such as berries, watermelon and apple.
Avoid excess caffeine
Coffee and tea are diuretics and will only make you lose water from the body quickly.
Avoid fruit juices and sugary beverages
Don’t let summer be an excuse to go heavy on beverages. They are loaded with sugar and calories and only serve in putting on unnecessary pounds. Fruits juices, especially – little do people realise that sugar from fruits is also sugar, so even ‘fresh’ juices will load you up with sugars and calories. Instead, have water or a no-calorie beverage. One of my favourites is chilled lemon water with a pinch of salt and crushed ice. Coconut water is also a good option. However, too much of it too can result in spiking your calorie count.
Avoid fad or crash diets
While in general, extreme diets need to be avoided, this is especially so during summer. Fad diets can make you dehydrated and deplete vital nutrients from your system leaving you weak, fatigued and irritable.
Keto dieters — Beware
The keto diet is becoming common. It makes you lose water and electrolytes and may cause you to feel thirstier. Staying hydrated and replenishing with electrolytes is mandatory lest you end up feeling thirsty, weak, tired, irritable and have cramps. Have lime water with sea salt or rock salt multiple times a day. But do not go heavy with the salt. Consult your nutritionist before following any diet.
Train with weights
When cardio and high intensity interval training sessions become uncomfortable/boring, train with weights. Build those muscles and train for strength. Trust me, it will pay off even if you are an endurance athlete or a bootcamp lover. And to lose fat, there is no better way to do it than with weight training.
Caution for outdoor athletes
For people who still want to enjoy a good run in the heat, apply a good-quality sunscreen with the right SPF value generously to prevent sunburn. Wear light coloured clothes and carry plenty of fluids.
Don’t avoid nutritious foods because they are ‘heaty’
Some people, particularly those from the subcontinent, avoid having certain foods perceiving them to be ‘heaty’ – those that increase the body heat. Among such foods are eggs, chicken, beef and nuts. These are nutrient-rich and important sources of proteins and fats, and unless you have a health condition or have been advised against consuming them by your doctor, do not avoid them in your diet.
Avoid too much of grains and fruits in perception of ‘light’ foods
Certain people stick to high-carb foods such as idli, poha (a preparation with flaked rice), rice, lentils and fruits in the perception that they are light on the gut and good during summers. Relying only on these can cause insulin resistance.
Total water intake in a day
The common wisdom that you must have eight glasses of water a day isn’t backed up by scientific evidence. While it is important to stay hydrated, an average-sized male requires three litres of water and a female 2.2 litres of water, in addition to the hydration required pre, during and post workouts. Water intake should be higher if you are training regularly in summer or under diuretic diets like keto.
Special note for diabetics
Fitness training and healthy eating is a priority for diabetics. However, there is an increased risk of dehydration due to blood sugar levels rising. Moreover, in severe diabetics, kidney function is impaired, which can lead to altered excretion of water and imbalances in electrolytes. Diabetics should consult their doctor or a clinical dietitian for a personalised diet plan before taking up any form of exercise. For fitness training, always train with a qualified personal trainer who is an exercise referral specialist and is aware of your medical condition.
Abhinav Malhotra is a sports nutritionist, exercise referral and lower back specialist, and master trainer at Fitness First.