It’s concerning the misfortune of the lives lost recently in motorcycle events. When a tragedy happens, it is human nature to involve itself in knee-jerk reactions. Perspective is thrown out the window. These are awful circumstances that we find here. It is unfortunate that this happened and we all mourn the loss of the riders. And with the Red Bud AMA national coming up, we shouldn’t forget about Josh Lichtle, who passed after suffering a heat-related seizure at the Red Bud AMA national. Likewise, the 2015 Dakar Rally death of Michal Hernik, which was apparently from dehydration.
What happened in Mexico was a rare and unfortunate incident. Remember that a handful of football related deaths occur during training camps every single summer. Fortunately, you never hear of this in motocross or desert racing very often.
There are several issues to consider, but when it comes to heat and hydration, I feel these kinds of mishaps are totally avoidable and should be a zero event. Extreme temperatures causing fatigue leading to crashes and injury and even death are often from dehydration and fuel substrate depletion. Mental and exercise performance can be impaired from any drop in hydration and depends on how well physiologically one is prepared for an event.
One of the main reasons dehydration impacts mental and physical performance is from changes in core temperature. As human beings, our bodies are tightly regulated in a narrow range of temperatures (97-100) and any deviation from these temperatures, the mind and body become greatly affected.
Dehydration not only increases core body temperature, but also erases any other fitness gains you may have, such as aerobic or heat adaptation. Motorcycle riders must be very aware of overheating as a rider has to deal with increases in body temperature, conservation of heat from wearing motorcycle gear, the heat of the motorcycle, and finally access to hydration. Endurance becomes limited in hot environments; here is a summary of some of the changes that take place:
Reduction in blood volume
Decreased skin blood flow
Decreased sweat rate
Decreased heat dissipation
Increased core body temperature
Increased muscle glycogen use
The reduction in blood flow is really a re-directing of blood flow to the flow to the more vital parts of our body, the brain and heart. Thus your skin, muscles and intestines receive less blood flow and you become weaker faster.
The decreased sweat rate is a reaction where the body is trying to conserve water. The big problem is that as humans, we have to sweat to regulate our core temperature. Also, decreasing sweat rate will increase salt in our body in a bad way. It is a last ditch response to maintain hydration.
Decreased heat dissipation is due to the sweat glands not working optimally. Pretty much from the decreased blood flow to the skin.
An increase in core body temperature is basically saying that the metabolic heat produced the body can’t get out.
Increased muscle glycogen use is when the body uses energy sources faster than it should, leading to hypoglycemia, also known as bonking. This probably happens as a result in the stress response. When this happens, your sugar levels drop, you feel loopy, and often lose focus of what you are doing. This leads to crashing and making the wrong decisions out on the trail.
The critical temperature of a person’s ability to tolerate heat appears to be around 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 C). This temperature is easily attainable when it is nearly a hundred degrees outside along with riding gear that is not well ventilated.
Preventing heat stress begins long before the race
If you know that you are going to ride or compete in hot temperatures, then practice in the heat. It usually takes about 2 weeks to truly become heat acclimated.
Practice heat adaptation in a sauna.
Increase the flexibility of your autonomic nervous system. This means performing certain breathing techniques such as the Wim Hof method or the Buddhist monk method of Tummo. These types of breathing exercises can increase the flexibility of the nervous system that controls your sweat glands and blood flow. I understand that it may sound somewhat woo woo, but this stuff works.
Get ventilated gear. Ventilated gear was once popular in the 90’s and it can make a big difference. Every little bit of skin exposure while riding can help dissipate heat.
Sunscreen – be careful of the type of sunscreen you use. Some types of sunscreen can block your sweat pores and prevent you from sweating optimally. This is not a huge concern in riding motorcycles, but it is a good thing to keep in mind.
Use a large hydration pack. Consider a 3-liter bladder and double them up if you have to.
Don’t use highly concentrated drink mix’s. Water will absorb better in hot conditions when the glucose concentration is about 3 percent. This will actually taste pretty dilute and not be too sweet. But add in your own salts, such as Tri Salts. These are a mixture of finely powdered bicarbonate salts that mix very well. The bicarbonate also reduces the acid load somewhat and can help a bit. There may be other reasons why alkaline water can be good, but the pH is not one of them and is a complex topic.
Water. The most important thing is to not use distilled water; it is devoid of minerals such as sodium and potassium. Use water of source of drinking water that you have available and that you trust. Also don’t worry about using alkaline water. Many may disagree and swear by it, but the alkalinity of this water does not make a difference once it hits the stomach. The reason is because the stomach contents are so acidic, alkaline water is immediately turned acidic. It’s pretty much the same thing as throwing water into a pool of hydrochloric acid – literally!
Salt tablets – pre load with plenty of salt tablets. I use a brand called Tri Salts which are a mixture of bicarbonate salts. During a stage of the Tour of California, where it was about 110 degrees, I put these salts in all of the bottles and all of my riders did very well in the heat. The type of salt can matter.
IV’s – if you are worried enough that the heat may be dangerous and dehydration is going to be problem, consider asking your doctor to prescribe you an IV prior to the event. It’s not legal in every sport, so know the rules before doing it.
Tracking device – if you are going in the middle of Africa, South America, or Mexico, then invest in a tracking device so people know where you are. If you crash or stop because of dehydration, at least someone can know when you stopped and arrange to get appropriate help if needed.
Infection – if you have an intestinal infection like giardia or something else and you are experiencing diarrhea, then be conservative about riding or racing in the heat. You are already starting behind the eight ball even if you had the infection 2 weeks ago and feel fine at the start of the race. It does not take much in hot conditions to throw you over the edge into extreme dehydration.
Dakar Rally Dehydration
This actually happened to one of my riders in the Dakar Rally. He caught food poisoning or some type of infection the night before and did not really feel it until the next morning. He was already scheduled to leave the bivouac, so he had no time to get an IV or hydrate himself. Of course he couldn’t eat breakfast. So he left the bivouac, and got the start of the special. He forced himself to drink trying to prepare for what was coming. He kept going and halfway through the special, he remembers stopping for a bit and became very tired. He was trying to sit out the diarrhea hoping that rest would let him continue in an hour or so. Things became worse and he started to become delusional, thankfully he pulled his emergency beacon in time and the helicopters came. The doctor immediately started an IV and gave the rider over 6 liters of fluid. My rider became so dehydrated that his brain started to not function properly. This type of dehydration will decrease the blood pressure so much that it is possible to have a spinal cord injury due to not enough blood flow to the spinal cord. Finally, the rider recovered, but it took many months to feel somewhat normal again.
To your health