Heat | Honey, sea salt and a kilo of loose candies – this is how ultrarunner Noora Honkala and Finland’s strongest man Mika Törrö fuel up for the heat race: the doctor tells what to consider

Ultrarunner Noora Honkala, Finland’s strongest man Mika Törrö and doctor Katja Mjösund tell you how to prepare for sports in the heat.

Heat increases the load on the body during heavy sports performance. Especially in long-term performance, energy, fluid and salts are needed, because they evaporate with exertion and sweating. How would it be good to refuel them for hot competition performances?

The doctor in charge of the Olympic Training Center Urhea Katja Mjösund the first word that comes to mind is refueling when talking about maintaining fluid balance during sports performance.

“A person does not have a huge liquid reservoir, like a tank like in a car. You have to drink so that your fluid reserves are optimally full. In a healthy person, the kidneys take care of fluid balance, if there is too much water in the bloodstream, you have to pee.”

Carbohydrates that provide energy for competition performance, on the other hand, can be stored in the body to some extent. Along with carbohydrates, a little water is also stored.

Part athletes swear by electrolyte powders, foams or ready-made drinks, some make their own mixtures of sea salt and honey, some drink coconut water. Is there a better option than the other?

“If you look at expert instructions, there is not much talk about coconut water. It has salts and a few carbohydrates, but their ratio is not quite optimal and the content can vary depending on the maturity and variety of the coconut.”

“But of course if you like it, you can drink it, And if it’s a light performance, then it doesn’t matter that much.”

“Honey contains carbohydrates and sea salt contains sodium chloride, i.e. the same salt that we have in our bodies.”

Katja Mjösund works as the doctor in charge of the Olympic training center Urhea.

Done Mjösund sees electrolyte drinks and solutions as easy because the amount of electrolytes in them is calculated to match what a person loses when sweating. Matters affecting absorption, such as the ratio of different sugars, have also been considered.

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You can also make drinks at home, but then you have to take care of the right proportions. According to Mjösund, honey and sea salt are a good alternative.

“Honey contains carbohydrates and sea salt contains sodium chloride, i.e. the same salt that we have in our bodies.”

The human body tolerate fluid loss up to a certain point. Performance decreases when approximately two percent of body weight is lost. When preparing for a longer running race, it can be good to weigh yourself before and after the training run.

“If you haven’t drunk or peed in between, the weight difference tells you how much fluid has come out.”

You should also prepare for the competition by adapting your body to the conditions in advance.

“If you want to race in the heat, you should prepare in the heat. When we adapt to the heat, the body’s systems save salts and thermoregulation becomes more effective.”

Poor preparation for hot conditions can dilute the result, but the real dangers are dehydration and life-threatening overheating.

Dehydration can be cured by drinking. Overheating is more critical than conditions, then the body requires cooling.

“First, a person starts to get exhausted, then there is a critical point where heat exhaustion starts to affect brain function, there is dizziness and confusion. In the worst case, it results in unconsciousness and even death when the brain overheats.”

The third slightly rarer condition, but at worst requiring hospital treatment, is overhydration, in which case the heat has been prepared by drinking too much.

In Greece resident ultra runner Nora Honkala holds the women’s Finnish record in the 100 km run with a time of 7:41:54.

“No one can say after a hundred kilometers that they are not dehydrated. But you have to remain functional, at a level that the body can withstand the strain”, says Honkala.

The runner trains in the midday sun to acclimate himself to the hot races. It cannot be recommended for ordinary enthusiasts, but for him it is an important part of preparation. On runs of more than an hour, there is always something to drink.

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“It doesn’t make sense for a competitive athlete to lose fluids and have to make up for it when the next training session is already waiting.”

Clean water is Honkala’s top priority. In addition to that, honey and sea salt taste good, he has noticed them as alternatives that work for the stomach.

“I always protect my head, there is a white cap with a hood that protects my neck.”

Noora Honkala in Lohja at the Harju sports field in the summer of 2020. For runners with sensitive stomachs, Honkala recommends that you consume honey, liquids and gels only in small amounts at a time.

With longer ones on trips, the spouse is there with a jar of honey and salt to take care of, but when running alone, Honkala mixes them ready with water.

“In the ten years that I’ve raced ultras, I’ve gotten a pretty good button feel. A good rule is to take a tablespoon of honey during the hour and sprinkle a little sea salt on top.”

Athletes have several ways to combat overheating. Honkala has never had any real dangerous situations.

“I always protect my head, there is a white cap with a hood that protects my neck. I also use ice cubes wrapped in a scarf. A couple of weeks ago in Slovenia at 30 degrees, we had to focus on cooling down, it took a lot of ice.”

The runner, who turned 30 years old on Friday, did not line up at the 100-kilometer WC race line in Salo on his birthday, as his sights are set on August’s World Championships in Berlin.

“It would have been nice when it’s the first official WC and on my birthday. But my father Jarkko Partanen is there to represent the family.”

In the summer heat In the markets, various heavy objects are lifted and pushed by the winner of the Finland’s Strongest Man competition Mika Törrö. He is 205 centimeters tall and at the end of May at the World Championships in Sacramento, USA, the scales showed 183 kilograms.

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“I don’t like racing in the heat when I’m a big man, it wears and softens quite a lot. I try to stay in the shade and drink all the time.”

When competing, Törrö drinks either electrolyte drink powders or sea salt-honey water.

“Sometimes I put salt grains under my tongue.”

The heat soothes the muscles, but otherwise the sun can be insidious. Competitors can get cramps, although some powerlifters who have enjoyed themselves more in the sun have even vomited after the races.

“My heart just kept beating and beating, it felt like it wouldn’t end at all.”

Mika Törrö lifted the atlas stones in the 2020 Finland’s strongest man competition.

Törrö has remembered a few tougher heat races, where the truck pull made his heart pound.

“My heart kept beating and beating, it felt like it wouldn’t end at all. Those were the sensations of the first 10-15 minutes, but then it calmed down.”

Cooling it is important when the competition performances themselves are in the sun. For example, it was 39 degrees warm at the World Championships in May. It didn’t seem so bad as the competitors waited their turn in the air-conditioned tent. The roast still brought its own challenges.

“The deadlift floor was so hot that you had to jump sometimes. I had two pairs of socks on top of each other, but if I had had to stay half a minute longer, the soles of my feet would have burned.”

Torrö refuels with plenty of carbohydrates for the races. If the race day is on Saturday, the refueling day is Thursday, so that one normal day of food is left in between. The refueling day includes 1,800 grams of carbohydrates.

“I gain a kilo from loose grains, you can’t gain it from rice or pasta, you’d have to eat it for 24 hours.”

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