Health Column: Bike safely in the sun |

Health Column: Bike safely in the sun

Scott Rollins
Free Press Health Columnist
mountain bike athlete
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto


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Western Colorado offers some of the greatest off-road cycling in the world. From desert single-track to slickrock to alpine trails, we are blessed with an abundance of terrain that lures cyclists of all ages and all skill sets out for a ride.

Summertime heat can however cause serious problems if cyclists don’t use caution, and it’s easy to get over-heated before you realize you are in trouble. To increase performance and avoid heat-related illness, try these tips.

Cyclists must first, and most obviously, stay well hydrated. One liter of fluid per hour is about as much as we can absorb through the gut, so that is about the maximum one should drink per hour. Plain water is just fine, but with more extensive sweating adding some salt and sugar helps replenish and increase water absorption.

A simple rehydration solution can be made by mixing one liter, or one quart, of water with one to two tablespoons sugar and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons salt. You can also add a few scoops of protein powder to kick it up a notch and help provide nutrients for rebuilding muscle. Hydration drinks such as Gatorade are OK, although they have a bit more sugar than necessary.

When the ambient temperature rises above about 84 degrees, humans can no longer get rid of excess heat by simply radiating heat to the surrounding air. At this point our evaporative cooling system, known as sweating, kicks in. As the liquid sweat evaporates from the skin, heat is rapidly removed from the body. In our dry desert climate removing heat by sweating works quite well, and when combined with some shade, or a breeze, one can stay cool in extreme arid conditions.

With any activity heat naturally builds in the active muscle until core body temperature starts to rise and eventually muscle systems slow down or even shut down when the internal temperature gets too high. Extreme hill climbs or sprinting can increase the body temperature very quickly.

Bright Colorado sunshine is something outdoor enthusiasts dig on and is yet another culprit in heat-related illness. The more you can keep the sun from striking your bare skin, the more radiant heat you will avoid. Avoiding sunburn is especially important as the burn itself causes inflammation and another source of heat.

Heat cramps occur when the body overheats, and if not addressed heat exhaustion follows with nausea, excessive sweating and feeling faint. Heatstroke happens when the body reaches about 104 degrees and presents with confusion, exhaustion and absence of sweating. Heatstroke is an emergency, and if not treated promptly causes damage to the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles.

Treat heat-related illnesses by cooling the body. Getting into shade, resting and hydration are the first priorities. Wetting down the skin and allowing it to dry repeatedly is great for pulling heat from the body. Fanning the skin can speed up this cooling technique. Applying cool packs or wet cloths to vascular areas such as the neck, armpits and groin is another cooling method. Bathing or running hands and feet in cool water will lower body temperature quickly.

To avoid heat-related illness, wear sun-blocking clothing as able, cover bare skin with sunblock, stay hydrated and pace yourself being aware of heat build-up. Avoid riding in the extremes of midday sun and heat. Wet down your shirt or hat to add more evaporative cooling. Rest, preferably in a breezy or shady spot, before getting too hot. Above all, ride hard and stay cool.

Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado ( and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics ( Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.

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