If you’re craving something different in your workout routine, one way to amp up your motivation is to change your environment. With summer in full swing, you can take your sweat session from the stuffy four walls of your gym or home workout setup to the great outdoors. From swimming and hiking to a quiet yoga routine in the park, there are so many ways to enjoy summer workouts.
Before you switch things up, though, it’s important to account for the way heat and humidity can affect your workout performance. For instance, let’s say you normally run on the treadmill in your air-conditioned basement every day for about 30 minutes. But on a muggy August afternoon, you decide to take your cardio outside instead. The combination of the exercise itself and the heat can rapidly increase your core body temperature. Plus, in an effort to cool itself, your body boosts its blood circulation, leaving less blood for your muscles, which in turn increases your heart rate. Add humidity into the mix, and your body temperature will bump up even higher, thanks to the fact that your sweat isn’t evaporating as quickly from your skin.
For those who have a chronic condition such as diabetes, the heat can be even more brutal. Depending on what you’ve eaten, how hydrated you are, and your activity level, summer heat can affect blood sugar in different ways. If, for example, you’re sweating a lot, your blood sugar levels will likely rise, which means more frequent trips to the bathroom, more dehydration, and even higher blood sugars.
On the flip side, exercising in the heat can also make blood sugar levels drop. Why? Heat makes your blood vessels expand, which can speed up your body’s insulin absorption and potentially lead to hypoglycemia.
Regardless of whether you have diabetes, exercising outside in the summer can also come with the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, a life-threatening condition in which your body can’t regulate its temperature or produce enough sweat to cool down. Common signs of heat stroke include confusion, headache, dry, flushed skin (from lack of sweat), dizziness, nausea, a rapid pulse, and a body temperature of at least 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with finding shade and cooling down immediately, it’s best to seek medical help ASAP if you notice any of these signs, as untreated heat stroke can be fatal.
To avoid any type of overheating, try squeezing in your workout—whatever it may be—before or after the 12 p.m.-3 p.m. window of the day (when the sun is highest).
It’s also a good idea to keep your phone with you (in addition to sunscreen, water, and any health tools or medications you may need, such as your glucose meter or insulin) in case of an emergency, heat-related or otherwise, says One Drop health coach, Julia Dugas, a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) and certified personal trainer (CPT). Additionally, consider a loop or location that keeps you close to home in case you start feeling overheated or unwell.
Need more pointers ahead of your next outdoor sweat session? Here are some expert-informed tips for making the most of your summer workouts.
1. Fuel Up Before and After Your Workout
According to Dugas, most people won’t need to change how they eat before exercising outside on a hot day. That said, though, maybe you already know that solid food doesn’t typically sit well in your stomach in extreme heat, regardless of your activity level. In that case, it might be a good idea to opt for a protein shake instead around an hour before your workout, suggests Dugas.
“I recommend eating any pre-workout snacks around an hour before the workout to give your body time to digest,” she adds. “If your body’s using a lot of energy for digestion, there’s less energy that can be used for exercise.” For your next pre-workout snack, opt for something that’s low in carbs with a little bit of fat and protein, such as yogurt or a few spoonfuls of peanut butter.
Since exercise uses the sugar stored in your muscles and liver, you’ll probably need to replenish that supply after your workout to avoid a low blood sugar episode. Aim for a post-workout snack with slow-acting carbs, such as a granola bar or trail mix.
But remember: Everyone’s bodies react differently to exercise, food, and heat—not to mention the combination of all three—so you might need time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Be sure to check your blood sugar before and after your workout, as well as before and after eating, to understand how these factors impact your health.
2. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
As you sweat, you lose water from your blood. So, if you’re slacking on hydration, that means you’re potentially compromising your blood volume, which in turn negatively affects blood circulation and leaves you with less fluid for sweating.
To avoid dehydration, start by drinking about two or three cups of water two hours before working out, suggests Lindsay Vettleson, RDN, CPT, and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES). During your workout, she says, an “easy rule of thumb” is to drink a cup of water for every 15 minutes of outdoor exercise. And, of course, continue hydrating post-workout, aiming for at least one cup of water within a half hour of your sweat session.
For the most part, plain water will keep you sufficiently hydrated, but experts say an electrolyte drink can be helpful after an especially strenuous workout. However, sports drinks often contain a lot of sugar, so you’ll want to be mindful of how that could affect your glucose levels.
Instead, you could try drinking coconut water after exercising to help your body maintain electrolytes without the sugar rush, suggests Tyler Read, CPT.
3. Tone Down the Intensity
That is, at least at first. If a 30-minute run at a well-ventilated, air-conditioned gym is your usual go-to, you might need to modify your routine before pounding the pavement on a hot day.
“My recommendation would be to tone down the intensity of your run when you go outside, as too much exertion on your body can cause you to dehydrate and sometimes even faint,” says Read. “It’s best to expend that energy in short bursts, which can help you build stamina in the long run.”
That said, keep in mind that short bursts of energy—such as those associated with high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—can, at times, spike your blood sugar, at least in the short-term, due to the adrenaline rush and resulting flood of stress hormones that can come with intense exercise. As with any form of exercise, remember to check your blood sugar before, during, and after to be sure you’re in a solid place.
You don’t necessarily have to tone things down every time you take your workout outside, though. Try taking it easy throughout your first and second week outside and assessing from there. For example, if you normally run 30 minutes inside, start by running for just 20 minutes outside, listening to your body as you acclimate to the heat.
4. Keep Your Workout Clothes Cool, Comfy, and Breathable
It can be easy to forget that what you wear when exercising in the heat has an impact on your body temperature.
“Thick clothing, additional protective gear, or equipment can trap heat and increase your body temperature,” says Lizzie May, CPT and fitness consultant for Mom Loves Best.
So, it’s best to opt for light-colored, loose-fitting workout clothes when exercising outdoors on a hot day. You also want to make sure you wear clothing that’s sweat-wicking and dries quickly so your body stays cool, adds Vettleson.
If chafing is a struggle for you during summer workouts, consider applying an anti-chafing stick (it looks a lot like deodorant, but is usually made with soothing ingredients such as aloe vera and vitamin E) to any dry spots before your workout, suggests Dugas.
5. Slather On the Sunscreen
Of course, it’s important to wear sunscreen every day, regardless of the season or weather. But it’s especially important when exercising outdoors, particularly if you have diabetes, as sunburn can stress the body and raise blood sugar levels.
Try using a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 about a half hour before your workout for maximum, sweatproof protection (and don’t forget to reapply as needed!). Additionally, using hats, gaiters, and UV-protectant clothing will help you stay cool, calm, and protected from heat stress.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations at One Drop.