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Heat Slowing You Down on Race Day? Beat The Heat Like a Pro, Here's How - With Dr. Stephen Cheung

Dr. Stephen Cheung running a study in his environmental physiology lab at Brock University.

Every year athletes drop out of races because the heat beats them down. It's a hard pill to swallow after all of that training you've put in, to have to DNF. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Heat adaptation is a powerful performance tool that even the best in the world aren't implementing, but they should be. The proof is in the science and the many Olympians who have put it to the test.

Listen to episode 22 of Imperfect Progress Podcast here on Apple or the podcast logo below for Spotify, or listen on your favorite podcast platform at Imperfect Progress with Anne Guzman.

In this podcast episode I had the privilege to speak with Environmental Physiology expert

Dr. Stephen Cheung. Dr. Cheung has been instrumental in preparing many athletes for Olympic games including the Tokyo Olympics and Doha World Championships, where the heat was guaranteed to be a factor.

Dr. Stephen Cheung: Professor and Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Kinesiology at Brock University.

Dr. Cheung is a Professor and Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Kinesiology at Brock University. He was also Canada Research Chair in Environmental Ergonomics from 2007-2017.

With over 25 years of research in Environmental Physiology, he is known worldwide for his expertise and has collaborated with other world renowned scientists in this space. Dr. Cheung has worked in the field with numerous elite level athletes including Olympian Amber Neben, who helped prepare for the high temperatures which were well anticipated at the Tokyo Olympics.

While he is often running studies and mentoring students, you will also find Dr. Cheung volunteering for some of his grueling studies, and he's one tough participant, recently cycling in the lab in -5C temps. For those California athletes who think 60F is cold, this would be unbearable!

Dr. Stephen Cheung has been an avid cyclist himself since 1984. He's put everything he's researched into motion and understands the demands of endurance sports himself.

Here are some of the things we cover during our conversation and time stamps:

  • Definitions of heat acclimation, acclimatization and habituation (9:55)

  • Why are high temperatures bad for performance? (14:30)

  • Heat and neuromuscular function (17:00)

  • How does heat affect cognitive function and decision making? (22:25)

  • How do we get rid of heat? (28:00)

  • What is cardiac drift and how does can it affect our performance? (30:15-33:30)

  • Managing sweat losses. How much is too much loss? (33:40)

  • What's the best was to prepare for the heat? (36:15)

  • What does heat adaptation involve? Steps. (37:25)

  • Are there sex differences in adaptation duration? (44:45)

  • How do I time my heat adaptation plan? (47:55)

  • How do you know you are getting hot enough during adaptation? (1:04:21)

  • Are all forms of heat exposure the same (hot vs hot and humid)? (52:35)

  • How does heat adaptation impact your thirst mechanisms? (1:08)

One study we talk about during this conversation out of Qatar and Denmark included elite cyclists performing a 40km TT effort before and after 2 week heat adaptation. The results are significant. Dr. Cheung breaks down how they tested and the impact of heat adaptation on the time trial performance. You'll never line up for a TT in the heat again not heat adapted after listening to this.

How did they do it? That's what we break down today, so you can implement it. We we discuss what's happening inside of your body that leads to performance decrements and then how you can take agency over your training and heat adaptation to overcome these changes and prepare yourself for a peak performance. Remember, a LOT of your competitors will NOT undergo a heat adaptation protocol, so by doing so, you may really surprise yourself on race day!

You'll be FLOORED when you hear the percentage of athletes who didn't heat adapt for the 2019 Qatar World Cycling Championships. Shocking!

Looking back on my own racing, I wish I had implemented all of these tactics, especially as a heavy sweater and salt sweater, I needed all the help I could get. If I was racing today, it wouldn't even be a question. I'd be preparing for any hot race just as Dr. Cheung recommends.

Remember, you can't make up for all of the ramifications of the heat with a cold water bottle, you really need to invest the time and do the work. That's what it takes to beat the heat.

Dr. Cheung has a variety of amazing books he has authored where you can learn more about environmental physiology. It's a super exciting topic and will come in handy with performance and in life. Do you know what to do if you fall out of a boat in cold water? Do you hang on to the boat or try to swim for shore? What factors would you consider first? There's some super interesting topics in these books! I've linked all of them below if you're interested as well as Dr. Cheung's You Tube Channel where he does some excellent science communication on all things environmental physiology.

You can follow and learn more from Dr. Cheung here:

Thank you so much for listening and learning with us. Please take a quick second and head over to Apple or Spotify and rate my podcast. It's so helpful to get the word out and to promote my guests and their amazing knowledge. The more ratings and comments on my podcast page the more the platforms will put the podcast in viewers feeds.

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I love translating the science to athletes and I appreciate you listening and being a part of this amazing community of curious human beings! (If there are non humans listening...well that's even more interesting!?).

Stay tuned for some interesting episodes on inflammation and training technology. See you in the pod!


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