How can sauna training improve my performance?

With race season already started or closeby, we see that many of our clients are asking about sauna training!

How will sauna training help you? 

By following a proper sauna training protocol, you should see improvements in your blood plasma volume, increased red blood cell count, and improved thermoregulation threshold.  

This means that training and racing at elevation, or in hotter, more humid environments will feel easier!

There has been a lot of research in this area, but we’ll highlight just a few findings below. 

Many studies show that with sauna training, the athlete’s perception of heat was lowered, meaning that when performing in 90+ degrees Fahrenheit, it felt cooler and easier [1]. This tells us that the heat exposure trains your body to tolerate hotter temperatures better. 

How? Well, first by increasing your blood plasma volume. Second by allowing you to sweat sooner to maintain that cooler core temperature, but with more dilute sweat.  

What does this mean? You will still be sweating, of course, that is how we cool ourselves and control our core temperature, but the sweat that is being produced will contain less of your body’s electrolytes.

In a different study, a meta analysis that reviewed 96 studies that looked at heat acclimatization (HA) in HUMANS showed that 14 days of HA showed greater improvements on exercise capacity and performance in the heat over <7 day HA stints.  

Additionally, the meta analysis showed benefits of “decreasing core body temperature before and during exercise, maintaining cardiovascular stability, and improving heat loss pathways” [2].  

Furthermore, “HA may reduce oxygen consumption during subsequent exercise, improve glycogen sparing, increase the power output at lactate threshold, reduce lactate concentrations during exercise, have a trivial effect on increasing extracellular concentrations of heat shock proteins, and improve perceived ratings of exertion and thermal sensation” [2].

However, for those who menstruate…

Fluctuating hormones can impact your altitude response and therefore your sauna training response. 

For some menstruators, it may take twice as many days for you to acclimatize as compared to those individuals who do not menstruate. For instance, if someone who doesn’t menstruate needs only 5 days to acclimate, someone who does menstruate might need at least 9 sauna sessions [1].

Additionally, menstruators should allow for 5 days of rest after completing their sauna protocol and before their event.

Furthermore, your menstrual cycle phase may influence your exact sauna training protocol — You may need a “primer” of heat exposure before starting your sauna session during some phases.

To learn more about how to benefit most from sauna training, check out our Heat & Elevation Training Guide.

If you want to figure out your specific sauna training protocol, book a FREE 15 minute call with one of our team members today!

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