Watch our first Kenzen video blog with VP of Research & Development, Nicole Moyen, as she explores the differences between how men & women handle working in the heat.
If men & women are working at the same relative work-rate, then men typically have a higher sweat rate than women (assuming men have a larger body surface area to mass ratio).
Remember: sweating is the main way that we get rid of body heat.
This higher sweat rate in men means that:
In hot-dry (low humidity) climates, men will likely be able to work for a longer period of time with a lower core temp than women, because they are better able to get rid of body heat through increased sweating.
In hot-humid climates, women will likely be to work for a longer period of time in the heat (with a lower core temp) because their lower sweat rate will keep them from losing body water (through sweating) that isn’t evaporating or cooling.
Men, on the other hand, due to their higher sweat rate will be losing a lot of body water through sweating, but it won’t be evaporating in the high humidity. So men will become dehydrated more quickly vs. women, and see a faster increase in core temperature.
This information is important to keep in mind if you have men and women on your workforce, so that you consider the humidity and sex when determining work/rest schedules for your employees that day.
There are several supplements that can help or harm you in the heat, and it might not be what you think…
We have all seen the overwhelming wall of pills, powders, and tonics claiming to help cure every disease known to man. Some of these supplements even claim to help with working in a hot environment. But do they work?
The short answer is… maybe.
By definition, a supplement is exactly that. Not a replacement or a stand alone food item, but a supplement to your day to day nutrition. And as is the same with most supplements, they are generally only useful when we are lacking in our normal nutritional health.
TWO SUPPLEMENTS THAT MIGHT HELP YOU IN THE HEAT:
Creatine is one of the most popular nutritional supplements in the world. While most people tend to take creatine to increase muscle size with weightlifting, there is major concern that creatine can lead to muscle cramping, primarily from dehydration.
It was once thought that because creatine causes more water to be held in the muscle cells, it would lead to dehydration.
However, research has shown us that these fears are not only unnecessary, but reversed! Scientists now believe that creatine may actually improve our tolerance to the heat. It turns out that the extra water held in the muscle cells may actually enhance our body’s ability to deal with heat stress.
Take action: For optimal results, start with 20 g/day for one week, followed by a maintenance dose of 5 g/day thereafter. Unlike Vitamin C, it is hard to get enough creatine naturally from your diet, so supplementing with creatine is the best way to increase levels.
Although research is conflicted, it has generally been shown that taking a Vitamin C supplement can lower core body temperature during the first few days of heat acclimatization, thus minimizing the risk of heat-related injuries and illnesses.
Moreover, although the amount of vitamins lost through sweating is minimal, research indicates that for individuals who have a diet lower in Vitamin C and are consistently working in the heat (and sweating a lot), can benefit from taking a daily dose of Vitamin C to help replenish stores that are lost through sweating.
Take action: For optimal results, take 250 mg/day, and not more than this amount because it can compromise the absorption of vitamin B12.
ONE THING THAT DOESN’T HELP OR HINDER YOU IN THE HEAT
While caffeine tends to be a bit confusing as to its effects on overall health, research has shown that caffeine does not seem to affect performance in the heat or increase the risk of heat illness. And if you are a regular coffee or tea drinker, research shows that regular consumption of coffee or tea will not dehydrate you. So while caffeine may not help you beat the heat, it won’t hurt you either.
THINGS THAT CAN HARM YOU IN THE HEAT
Consistent nicotine use (in the form of tobacco, cigarettes, etc) can impair your ability to get rid of body heat because nicotine use alters your sweating and skin blood flow mechanisms, making you more susceptible to heat-related injuries and illnesses. Even short-term nicotine use in the heat can be dangerous because nicotine is a stimulant, which leads to increased heart rate and blood pressure, meaning that your cardiovascular strain will not only be higher from the heat, but also from the nicotine. It’s best to avoid nicotine-related products altogether.
While alcohol can lead to vasodilation, which in theory, would help to dissipate heat, the slight benefit does not outweigh the harm. Alcoholic drinks (>4% ABV) lead to increased urination (they act as a diuretic), which can dehydrate you. This means that if you’re drinking alcohol after a long day of working in the heat, you probably will not replenish the body water you lost that day through sweating, and so you will start the next work day dehydrated.
This of course is a problem because dehydration exacerbates the effects of heat stress on the body by reducing sweat rate and skin blood flow— the two key mechanisms to get rid of body heat— and also increases the cardiovascular strain on your body. This means that you won’t be able to work as hard or be as productive at work when dehydrated, and you are also more susceptible to heat-related injuries and illnesses.
Moral of the story: be aware of the things you’re consuming that might help you, but can also harm you in the heat.
AND REMEMBER THAT HEAT ILLNESSES ARE 100% PREVENTABLE!
If you’ve ever worked or exercised in a hot, humid environment, and you didn’t take adequate rest breaks, you may have gotten to a point where you got goosebumps or chills, you felt light-headed, or even a bit nauseous, and maybe you started to feel weak or more fatigued. What did you do about it?
YOU LIKELY WERE EXPERIENCING HEAT EXHAUSTION
This is a cue to most people to stop exercising or working, find shade or air conditioning, drink fluids (water), and sit down. The above signs are all signs of heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is typically the point where your cardiovascular system (your heart and blood vessels) can no longer support the work you’re doing. Remember how your heart rate is higher when working in a hot (vs. a cool) environment? (see here for a refresher!) Well, your heart rate can only increase so much, and you also have a finite amount of blood that can go to your working muscles for energy and to your skin to cool you off.
When you reach this “maximum” point with your cardiovascular system, you will feel symptoms of heat exhaustion: weakness, fatigue, faint/light-headedness, really hot skin, very sweaty, potentially vomiting, and difficulty working or exercising.
These are all signs that you should:
Stop working immediately
Find shade or air conditioning
Remove extra clothing (to help you cool down faster)
Elevate your feet (to help return blood flow)
Use ice-cold towels to help cool you off
Drink plenty of fluids
You should start to feel better within 10-15 minutes, and can return to work. But take care— you may need to slow down your work rate or take extra breaks throughout the rest of the day to avoid experiencing heat exhaustion again (or other heat-related injuries).
Exertional Heat Stroke
Exertional heat stroke (EHS), on the other hand, is a serious medical emergency, and if not treated properly can result in death. But the good news is that EHS is 100% preventable.
It is important to remember that heat exhaustion does not precede EHS. What does that mean? Simply put it means that Heat Exhaustion and EHS are two separate things…. someone won’t necessarily experience heat exhaustion before getting EHS.
Often, EHS can come about very suddenly, without any signs or symptoms.
There are 2 main ways to diagnose Exertional Heat Stroke:
A core temperature >104°F or 40°C. And the only real way to differentiate between heat exhaustion & EHS is to measure core body temperature (with a rectal or esophageal probe).
Central nervous system dysfunction, such as hallucinating, behavior changes (e.g., aggressiveness, irritability, confusion, irrational behavior), weakness or inability to work, collapse/fainting.
[Note: The person may also experience vomiting, hot & sweaty skin, and fatigue, but the behavior changes are the key clue that the person needs serious medical attention and emergency cooling.]
And lastly, if someone is experiencing EHS, call 911, and in the meantime cool them down quickly (ideally using an ice bath), and do not leave their side.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO TO PREVENT HEAT EXHAUSTION AND EHS?
Use a buddy system at work to check on each other. Try to talk to a buddy (that you know fairly well) sporadically throughout the day to check in. If you notice personality changes in your buddy, take immediate precautions to get them rest, shade, and fluids, and seek medical attention (if you suspect EHS).
Pay attention to your own symptoms. You will not be able to “push through” a heat illness. Being “tough” in the heat will not get you anywhere but passed out on the ground or in the hospital. Take any warning signs/symptoms seriously. When you notice that you feel “off”, take a break, drink water, and remove extra clothing to cool down. You will be much more of a hero if you can complete your work for the day and stay safe.
Be vocal. If you’re not feeling okay, let someone know immediately- don’t wait until it’s too late.
Listen to others & take them seriously. If someone tells you they’re not okay, encourage them to take a break and rest. Help them find water & shade if necessary. Check on them in 5 min to make sure they’re doing better. If they’re not feeling any better after 10-15 min, seek medical attention right away.