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!
For more information on emergency cooling procedures, or to have Kenzen make your worksite heat-safe, see our Heat Safety Training Program.
- Pryor, J. L., Périard, J. D., & Pryor, R. R. (2020). Predisposing Factors for Exertional Heat Illness. In Exertional Heat Illness (pp. 29-57). Springer, Cham.