Fitness in the Desert-Hydration

I grew up in the SF bay area, a place with very mild climate. Yes, we got a couple of triple digit days a year, but in general the humidity was mild, it never got too hot or too cold, and I never really worried about hydration.

When I got to Arizona, it became a significant concern. I wasn’t going to let the climate curtail my activities, but suddenly, hydration became a huge deal. Even in the winter time when the temperatures are very pleasant, the humidity is so low that water is just wicked out of your body at phenomenal rates. In the summer, when the temperatures are in triple digits for three months, humidity is in the 20’s, you really need to be careful.

Water is important, but unless you are exercising for only a brief time, you need something that will help replace your electrolytes. I am definitely one of those who puts more salt out in their sweat, so anytime I am out for more than a half hour I have to rely on supplement.

My top hydration product I use is Accelerade. It is a mixture of carbs, electrolytes, and protein. This combination really helps keep me going for longer rides. I typically mix it a little weak. The amount for a pint, mixed into 24 or 32 ounces is about perfect. However, I can’t just have accelerade, even mixed weak.  I have to have water with me as well. With this combo, I can easily go for 3 or 4 hours even in 110F temperatures. The one down side is that it causes me to retain water like crazy. After a day of riding or hiking, I will actually gain 3 pounds or so of water weight.

When I am less aggressive in my exercise, I use a product called Nuun. These are tablets that you add to a pint of water. Mildly flavored, it has no carbohydrates, and a good mix of electrolytes. This is good for medium exertion efforts, my lunchtime jogs, mid distance walks, and when I cycle to and from the office. We discovered this product when we were preparing to hike the grand canyon. Space and weight were crucial considerations. We saw these little tubes full of hydration tablets and just popped them in our basket. Fast forward three years, and I rediscovered them, and am now a religious user.

One product that I prefer not to use is Gatorade. It really has too much sugar in it for while I am exercising, and it is too heavy when I am recovering.  I just don’t like it.

As a sufferer of coronary artery disease, I try to keep a low sodium diet. That works when I am not exercising, but when I exercise I quickly get the symptoms of hyponatremia, and that is far more dangerous than having too much sodium.  So I walk a fine line in balance, monitor my weight, and my blood pressure daily to understand where I am (and of course, I take lots of medicine)

All part of life in the desert.

The downside of out of doors exercise

Not really a secret, I prefer to do my exercise out of doors. Whether it is hiking, or cycling, or even jogging, I vastly prefer to get out and pound the pavement (or trail). But it can be challenging when summer happens here in Arizona.
When the thermometer goes past 100F by 10:00AM, and at 5:00AM it is already 88F, it is difficult to get out and exercise. Yet I do it nonetheless. But I do take some precautions to make it a little more tolerable.
I take plenty of fluids. I have a camelback, and I fill the bladder with ice water (100oz). I also mix up a couple of water bottles with a product called Accelerade (thanks to Melinda Bullaro for getting me hooked on this stuff).
Wearing some of the perspiration wicking garments (Coolmax or similar) also helps you keep comfortable. If you wear cotton, it will soak, and it will make you miserable. But the wicking fabrics help you keep cool by efficiently wicking the sweat away .
But even then, it is a challenge to be out in the hot weather. You have to acclimatize as the temperatures begin to rise. I have been working on my fitness for a long time, so as it heats up, I am adjusted. Living in the desert, your body does adapt in some subtle ways. We do carry a lot of extra water. I am not sure how much, or why, but it seems to be quite true. When I travel to a high humidity locale, the first 3 days are miserable, as I dump the extra water.
Even with these precautions, it is important to know the symptoms of heat stroke, and to call it quits before you get into a dangerous state.
There is an out. You can join a gym, and workout indoors, but I hate the gym. A topic for another post…
(This is a test of the MacJournal blog connection)

Diet Update

One of the hazards of dieting, and the process of losing weight is the inevitable plateaus that you will encounter. They are frustrating as hell. You know that you are not going overboard on the calories, and you are doing your exercise, but the needle doesn’t budge.

I had been stalled at 214#’s for almost 2 weeks. It was frustrating, particularly because I picked up the intensity of my exercising, doing more and longer bicycle rides. Hell, even my tracking program was telling me that something was broken.

Fortunately, I broke through that plateau, and am now down to 212#’s. That marks a milestone. Since I started in mid April, 9 weeks ago (roughly), I am down 20#’s.  I am almost half way to my goal. Woo hoo!

Why I care about being able to jog for exercise

This week, I was happy as a pig in a sty that I was able to run most of a 4 mile loop at lunch. Some people might think that is an odd position to be happy about, but it really is a big difference.

I have battled with plantar fasciitis for over 2 years. It has limited me to moderate walking, and lately bicycling for my exercise. While walking is rather pedestrian (ha ha), cycling is actually a pretty good workout. But it isn’t a “great” workout.

The reason why is pretty easy to figure out with my handy – dandy heart rate monitor.

Walking, 4 miles per hour pace, I burn about 560 calories in an hour. My heart rate rarely rises above 80 BPM. This is fairly moderate exertion by any measure (heightened by the beta blocker I take)

Cycling, 19 miles per hour pace, I burn about 1,100 calories per hour. Much better, and certainly a better workout. The monitor tells me that I average around a heart rate of 120 BPM.  A pretty good aerobic workout, but again, it is affected by the medication I take.

Running. 6 mile per hour pace (very slow for me, but when I am in shape I can d0 8 minute miles easily). I burn about the same calories per distance as walking, but I go further in the same time.  I burn about 900 calories in an hour. But the real benefit is my heart rate.  I can overcome the beta blocker, and keep my heart rate between 130 – 145 BPM, a pretty good aerobic workout by any measure.

So, of the three primary avenues for me to exercise, running is clearly the winner in the aerobic sense, and pretty good burning of calories.  Cycling’s benefit is that I can keep up a 19 mph pace for 2 – 3 hours, and burn a shedload of calories. Something that I enjoy.

But running has one other major benefit, the fact that when I am traveling, I can pretty much run ANYWHERE. If I get up early enough, I can do 5, 6, or even 7 miles before a day of work.  All I need are shorts and shoes, and I am good to go!

BTW: Having a smartphone with a GPS and a bluetooth heart rate monitor makes tracking my progress easy, and VERY satisfying.

Exercising in the heat

Living in Arizona, it can sure be tough to get out and pound the pavement when the temps climb into triple digits. Many people recede to the gym, and work out in air conditioned comfort, but I have always hated the gym (variety of reasons). So I lace up my shoes at lunch and go for a run, or I ride my bicycle in to the off (always good for a 106F+ ride home).

People in the office look at me like I am from Mars.

But it can be done safely. There are precautions that you take, and symptoms that you look for while on your outdoor fitness excursions:

  • Pre-load with fluids. If you are going to run at lunch, drink 2 – 3 12oz glasses of water in the hour before you head out. Your body will need it.
  • Bring fluids with you. I go through about 16 oz for each 3-4 miles I run. If you begin to cramp, drink.
  • Put some electrolyte supplements in your water. In the summer I use Accelerade, a protein/carb mix that really does help recovery.
  • Don’t “start” cold turkey. The key is to acclimatize yourself. Start in early spring, and keep at it as the temps rise. You will not “shock” your system, and it will become more enjoyable (plus exercising regularly is a great stress reliever)
  • If you cramp, become dizzy, disoriented or “dazed” STOP.  Call for help.  The difference between a comfortable albeit it hot run, and heat stroke can happen quickly.  Carry a phone.

It isn’t for everyone, but if you prepare, and ease yourself into it, you can keep your outdoor fitness going, even in the baking Arizona sun. Use common sense, and don’t push too hard.