If you're a cyclist, you already know that there are many factors that can affect your performance on the bike. Nutrition, hydration, training, rest… every little detail counts.
However, there is one factor that is often overlooked when it comes to improving sports performance: the sauna. That's right, the sauna is not only to relax after an intense training session, but it can also be a useful tool to improve your resistance and physical capacity.
In recent studies, it has been shown that sauna use after training can help acclimatization to high temperatures, increase blood volume and time to exhaustion, and increase red cell values. All of these factors are important in improving cycling performance and can be improved through regular sauna use.
In addition, studies of sauna use have shown improvements in stamina in both highly trained and untrained individuals. In other words, no matter what level you are at, sauna use can be beneficial for you as a cyclist.
Acclimatization to high temperatures
When you exercise, your body temperature gradually rises. This increase in temperature is beneficial up to a point, improving blood flow and muscle function. However, when the temperature becomes too high, your stamina begins to drop and you begin to experience exhaustion.
This phenomenon is also observed in professional cycling. Riders open their jerseys to cool down when they start to overheat, even though this negatively affects aerodynamics.
With heat acclimation, which is simply getting your body used to the heat, your body's ability to regulate heat is dramatically improved. This acclimatization reduces the physical strain you feel when you overheat during a run, optimizing the body for future exercise, especially in hot environments.
Becoming more heat acclimatized also means that you will begin to sweat at a lower body temperature, which will speed up the cooling of the body to maintain optimum temperature for longer. The benefits of sweating are many, and even more if you do sports.
In summary, heat acclimatization is essential for athletes looking to improve their performance in hot conditions, and the sauna is a useful tool in achieving this. By undergoing regular sauna sessions after training, your body adapts to increased heat stress, allowing for better regulation of body temperature and increased sweating, which in turn improves your performance in extreme heat.
The Benefits in Endurance
Regular sauna use is closely related to significant improvements in a cyclist's physical fitness.
A 2007 University of Otago, New Zealand study showed that post-exercise sauna use increased runners' endurance time by 32%. The participants used the sauna twice a week for three weeks, spending 30 minutes in each session.
Another study published in 2020 found that post-exercise sauna use increased VO2max by 8%, running speed by 4%, and endurance time by 12%.
The body's response to sauna sessions is similar to moderate intensity exercise. For example, in medium-temperature saunas, your heart rate can increase to over 110 beats per minute (not a very high rate, obviously, but enough to make your heart work).
In addition, sauna use is recommended as an alternative to exercise for people who are unable to participate in aerobic activity due to chronic illness or physical disabilities. Frequent use can help these people increase and maintain their aerobic capacity.
Increases blood plasma volume
When you go to the sauna after training, your body sends blood to your skin to keep your body temperature down (basically to cool down and not burn alive). This reduces the amount of blood available to your organs, which stimulates your kidneys to produce more erythropoietin (also known as EPO - the same substance cyclists used to dope) and plasma. This increases blood flow to the heart, which reduces cardiovascular load and lowers heart rate for the same workload.
In this study conducted on cyclists, it was shown how sauna after training could increase plasma volume and reduce heart rate.
Increases blood flow to your muscles
As your body adjusts to regular heat exposure, blood flow to your muscles increases, which improves glucose and oxygen delivery to muscle tissues.
This increased blood flow also has a positive effect on energy production by muscle cells. Due to the improvement in glucose and oxygen delivery, muscle cells can be less dependent on glycogen stores, which translates into greater energy efficiency during exercise.
In addition, increased blood flow to the muscles may also have a beneficial effect on muscle protein synthesis. Nutrients and amino acids necessary for protein synthesis are delivered through the bloodstream, so an increase in this flow can increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis and thus contribute to the building and maintenance of muscle mass.
In a study published in 2021, the effect of sauna on muscle protein synthesis in young men was investigated. Participants received sauna sessions and the rate of muscle protein synthesis was measured after the session. The results showed a significant increase in the rate of muscle protein synthesis after the sauna, suggesting that the sauna might have an anabolic effect on muscle protein synthesis.
In summary, increased blood flow to the muscles during a sauna can have a positive effect on exercise energy efficiency and muscle protein synthesis. Therefore, if you are looking to build or maintain muscle mass, the sauna could be a useful tool to complement your training routines.
The sauna as a recovery tool after training
After a hard workout, the body needs time to recover and repair damaged muscles. The sauna after training can be an effective tool to help in this recovery process. By exposing the body to heat, blood flow is increased, which helps reduce muscle pain and inflammation.
Sauna can help release toxins from the body through sweat. For cyclists and other athletes, the sauna can be especially beneficial as intense physical activity can cause muscle soreness and fatigue. A post-workout sauna session can help reduce these symptoms, allowing for faster recovery and better preparation for the next training or competition.
However, it is important to remember that the sauna should not be used as a substitute for proper rest and recovery, but rather as a complementary tool to enhance the body's recovery after training.
In a study conducted in 2005 an infrared sauna and a dry sauna were used once a day for 4 weeks in patients with chronic pain. Right after the therapy, the level of pain was greatly reduced in a large percentage of patients. The most curious thing of all is that after 2 years, a higher percentage (77%) of the patients were able to return to work normally.
Use of the sauna after training in professional cyclists
In 2016, the USA Pro Cycling Team prepared for the Championships in Doha using an unconventional training technique.
In order to accustom their bodies to the desert heat, the team implemented a heat acclimatization plan from the end of September. This plan consisted of training in long-sleeved clothing and long pants and then using a sauna (without the bike, obviously) for about 30 minutes.
In this way, the aim was to prepare the body to withstand extreme heat conditions during the competition. After finishing training, the cyclists drank no water for an hour to expand their plasma and keep their electrolytes in place.
There are other cyclists who also use the sauna to prepare for the high temperatures of certain races. In the case of New Zealand, the young promise Mitchel Fitzsimons, talks about how he uses the sauna to prepare for these types of races.
In Spain a few years ago Alberto Contador published a photo where he showed how he used the sauna after training.
How to improve your health and performance with our infrared sauna blanket?
Our infrared sauna blanket offers the same benefits as a conventional sauna.
Beyond the benefits of a sauna after training on a bike like the ones we have explained in this article, many scientific studies support the benefits of a sauna for health. These studies found that the more frequently a sauna is used, the lower the risk of heart disease and lower overall mortality. Regular sauna users also show a lower risk of dementia, reduced inflammation and pain caused by arthritis, and less severe headaches and flu symptoms.
The infrared sauna blanket is a variant of an infrared sauna, which uses infrared light to heat the body directly instead of heating the air like a conventional sauna.
By using the sauna blanket after cycling, you will be able to maximize the benefits that the sauna offers, since you will sweat even more than in a traditional sauna (you can use it for more minutes without becoming overwhelmed by the heat). Here you can find out how an infrared sauna blanket works.
In addition, it is easy to use at home, you can enjoy these benefits at any time and with total comfort. It's a great way to relax after a hard workout on the bike or just to improve your overall health.