Summer running: five top tips for running in the heat

Physiotherapist at Bupa UK
02 May 2017

Blue skies and sunlight can be a great motivator to get outside in the fresh air and run. But making the transition from running in the winter into the summer sun takes a bit of forethought.

Image of a runner in the sun

There are different things to think about when you’re running in the sun and heat. A bit of time in the sunshine can benefit both your physical and mental health. Sunlight makes your body produce vitamin D, which is essential for good bone and muscle health. The longer daylight hours can also improve your mood and sleep pattern.

But if you’re a runner, it’s important to think about preventing sunburn, keeping hydrated and countering the negative effects sweating can have on your performance.

These five key tips cover everything you need to know to ensure your summer running is both safe and enjoyable.

1. Stay hydrated

When it’s hot, your body sweats to try and evaporate heat and cool you down. You lose electrolytes such as sodium and potassium through sweating which then need to be replenished. This means it’s really important to be hydrated.

Make sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day, rather than preloading before you run. When you’re out running, listen to your body: if you’re sweating a lot or feeling thirsty, drink some more.

See if you can plan your route so you pass a few public water fountains on the way and drink a couple of glasses of water when you’re finished. Remember, your urine should be a pale straw-like colour.

If you’re running for longer than an hour, you may want to hydrate with a sports drink. The carbohydrates in sports drinks can replenish your glycogen (sugar) levels, and the electrolytes in these drinks help to speed up rehydration.

Image showing hydration level by urine colour 

2. Use plenty of sunscreen

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can be damaging to your skin and eyes. So it’s important to make sure you use a good sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 or more to protect yourself. Choose a water-resistant sunscreen where possible. And remember that your skin could become damaged or burnt even on cloudy days, so it’s always best to apply plenty of sunscreen before you head outside.

Remember to apply it everywhere that your skin is exposed – some of the easily missed spots include your lips, the tops of your ears and the back of your neck.

3. Time your runs appropriately

If you’re new to running, it’s probably best that you don’t choose a very hot day to do your first run. Or at least go out in the early morning or evening when the temperatures are cooler.

The sun tends to be strongest between the hours of 11am and 3pm, so in general it’s better for all runners to try to avoid running between these hours. If you’re an early bird, a morning run could work for you. Not only will it be less hot, it may give you a boost for the rest of the day. Or if you don’t have time in the morning, a cool evening run can be a good way to wind down at the end of the day. If you’re still finding it hard to avoid the sun, look for shaded areas wherever possible.

4. Choose your clothing wisely

Comfort is key when you’re running in the sunny weather; as is protection. Wear long sleeve tops to protect your arms. Many retailers now produce workout gear using materials designed to keep you cooler and drier. So choose loose-fitted, breathable clothing. Also look out for UPF on the label – this stands for UV Protection Factor. A shirt that has a UPF of 50 for example, only lets two per cent of the sun’s UV radiation reach your skin. A white t-shirt only has a UPF of three. Don’t forget your accessories either; sunglasses and a hat are just as important for extra protection.

5. Think about your diet

Eating well is important when taking part in any type of exercise. Getting the right food into your body will help to fuel your run and aid recovery after. So if you find running in the heat impacts your performance, getting the right nutrition means there’s one less thing to worry about. Take a look at our sports nutrition guide for more details.

Carrie Mattinson
Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

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