As I sit down to start writing this article, the “real feel” temperature in Tampa is 117° F… and it’s only 11:00 am. It only seems fitting that we share our best tips on how to stay cool in the heat when you’re working summer construction jobs.
While all of these tips come from experience, I’m drawing part from outdoor work and the other from my time as an Ironman triathlete. Why? With the temperatures hitting such high numbers, if we were to take a look at your heart rate, sweat rate, and other metrics, we’d find that construction work in the summer has some correlations with the stress that endurance athletes put their body under.
While there are some no-brainers on this list, we’ll also share some tips on how to treat your body like an endurance athlete, so you can wake up in the morning refreshed and ready for the day.
How To Stay Cool In The Heat: Nutrition and Hydration
Summer Construction Tip #1: Drink More Than You Think
By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already getting dehydrated. You need to start drinking water first thing in the morning and keep it up throughout the day. At a bare minimum, you should be drinking one bottle per hour.
Yes, that means more trips to the porta potty, but good hydration is essential for cellular function that drives your muscles’ ability to work and your digestive system’s ability to deliver nutrients.
Summer Construction Tip #2: Replace Electrolytes
Water alone isn’t going to do everything you need. As you sweat, you’re releasing electrolytes, which is why it tastes salty. Gatorade, Powerade, and other sports drinks are great, and because you’re working so hard, the calories you’re getting won’t hurt your waistline too bad.
You can step up your game by using the same drinks endurance athletes use. They’re more expensive, but include complex carbohydrates that make for a stable, steady fuel source for your body. Gatorade and Powerade both make their own versions. I use a product called Tailwind. Mix one scoop in a bottle of water and you’re good to go.
Summer Construction Tip #3: Eat More Often in Lower Quantities
While endurance drinks have some calories to keep you going, you’re still running at a deficit and need some solid food as well. The trick is to eat more often but less at each serving. By doing that, your body gets the fuel it needs without shifting a ton of effort into digestion and making you feel sluggish or sleepy.
Let’s say breakfast and lunch total 2000 calories. Try breaking that into four 500-calorie meals instead of two 1000-calorie ones. That means you’re going to have to plan and pack food, but you’ll feel better for it.
How To Stay Cool In The Heat: Clothing
Summer Construction Tip #4: Wear Sunscreen
Today’s sunburn is tomorrow’s skin cancer, and that mega beach tan you’re rocking at the age of 25 doesn’t look as great when everything is sagging at 45. Wearing sunscreen might not make you feel better right away, but you’re staving off the skin cancer treatments that aren’t too far over the horizon.
Yes, mom, I was listening all those years ago. Here’s to honoring you today!
Summer Construction Tip #5 Wear Sunglasses
There’s a good chance that you’re already wearing sunglasses, but if you’re not, you should start. They reduce eye strain, and you’d be surprised how much strain in your eyes, jaws, and cheeks contributes to an overall feeling of physical stress to your body. You can even get sunglasses with OSHA-approved safety glass lenses. They run the full price spectrum from inexpensive models to premium sunglasses.
I like the models Milwaukee offers with the polarized lenses. They’re more expensive than basic ones, but still well under the price of Oakley or similar brands.
Summer Construction Tip #6: Cover Up with Lightweight, Breathable, UV Protection Workwear
When it comes to work clothes for hot weather, you want the lightest, most breathable material you can get that offers UV protection. Polyester and polyester/cotton blends are the materials of choice, offering high airflow and sweat-wicking characteristics. Sweat-wicking is particularly important because of evaporative cooling—as sweat evaporates off of your skin, it draws heat away and cools more than a breeze on its own can.
Our favorites are the Cloud series shirts and pants from Truewerk. However, those are so lightweight that they might not be durable enough for every work environment. If that’s the case for you, check out their T1 line instead.
How To Stay Cool In The Heat: Rest and Recovery
Summer Construction Tip #7: Find Some Shade
When it’s time to take a break, you want to help your body get its core temperature down without going into full-on recovery mode. Finding a shady spot in the breeze is perfect. It gives your whole body a break without getting so cool that you have a sluggish restart to the work. If you don’t have a breeze, grab a cordless fan or cordless misting fan to help you out.
Sometimes, you need to cool down more than just shade and breeze can offer. When temps or your effort level puts you in danger of heat stress or heat stroke, you’re in a much more dangerous situation. Your body needs to cool down further and needs longer to recover before returning to work. Learn to know the signs of these conditions for both yourself and your coworkers.
Keep in mind that proper hydration and nutrition can keep your body’s cooling systems working efficiently and contribute significantly to avoiding heat stress and stroke.
Summer Construction Tip #8: Refuel
When the work day is done, it’s time for your body and mind to recover. During the summer, you need a full range of vitamins, minerals, protein, and carbohydrates to aid your recovery. Plan for well-balanced meals that include lean high protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates.
Consider adding a multi-vitamin to your morning routine to supplement any deficiencies in your diet as well.
Summer Construction Tip #9: Mind Your Alcohol Intake
Overconsumption of alcohol isn’t good no matter what time of year it is. In the summer, the effects can be compounded, though. Many nutritionists tout the “empty calories” alcohol adds to your diet (no nutrient benefit), but your waistline isn’t all it affects. Your body’s ability to recover and enter into quality, sustained sleep both suffer as well.
Summer Construction Tip #10: Get Some Sleep
Your body does the majority of its repair work while you’re asleep. While it’s tempting to binge-watch your favorite show, scroll through Instagram, or watch YouTube videos late into the night, keep it all in moderation.
Give yourself time to settle down and come up with a routine that gives you at least 8 hours of sleep between actually falling asleep and the alarm going off. Here are some things to consider:
- Finish dinner at least 2 hours before bed (and avoid snacking after dinner)
- Avoid caffeine after lunch
- Finish any alcohol at least 4 hours before bed (this can be tough during the week)
- Turn the TV, phone, tablet, and computer off 30 minutes before bed (read a book or magazine instead)