Friday, April 17, 2015

Seems Like Science: But I'm freezing!

I occasionally present theories on various aspects of endurance sport through this blog for which I have little to no scientific proof, but which seem pretty plausible. Since the plural of "anecdote" is not, in fact, "data", I'm instituting a new, searchable tag for my unsubstantiated but marginally logical ramblings.

Welcome to the latest edition of Seems Like Science!

Today I want to talk about why feeling cold all the time is a by-product of your fitness...but not for the reason you might think.

Every. Damn. Day.

I get cold really easily. I probably own more sweaters and jackets than any 3 normal people should, and wear them constantly. Poor Tanker the Wonder Sherpa is constantly on the verge of heat stroke through the dog days of summer while I find myself finally able to sit comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt. Barely. Despite the weather finally having broken (ABOUT DAMN TIME), I'm still mostly wearing a light sweater to the office just to ward off the inevitable chill.

I can't pin this on low body fat levels, because that's not a thing that applies to me right now. I'm not saying the effect has nothing to do with lack of insulating layers for many of you, but race weight and I aren't even in the same area code right now.

Plenty of room for sponsor logos, folks.

It was while I was out running through a sunset that I realized that my problem isn't poor blood circulation or a thyroid issue, though those things can totally make you feel cold all the time - if you suspect either one, go see a doctor. I'm just some dork on the interwebz here, not a medical professional. While I was concerned I'd under-dressed for the temperature I'd encounter after the sun went down, I actually ended up being perfectly comfortable - I was even sweating, though I didn't really feel too warm. Obviously running was keeping me from getting chilled, as I'd have been curled up in a whimpering, shivering ball wearing just shorts and a t-shirt at 8c/46f had I not been working.

The fact I was sweating without really feeling hot was what finally tipped me off. You see, trained athletes have an earlier and more copious sweat response than sedentary folks. This is actual, legit science - studies have been done & part of your physiological response to exercise is increased perspiration for evaporative cooling. You'll start to sweat in anticipation of your core temperature rising rather than trying to play catch up after the fact.

It all comes down to the fact that humans aren't terribly efficient when exerting effort, and the body is pretty particular about its working conditions. For every watt of power you manage to transmit into motion, you're producing 3 additional watts of heat energy. You need to get rid of that heat somehow, because your body only functions right within a very narrow range of temperatures - when your core temperature starts to rise, your only choices are to slow down, stop completely, or die.

So what does this have to do with being cold all the time?

The increased sweat rate is essentially an indication that your body has become more efficient at dumping heat as a response to exercise stimulus. While the primary (and desirable) effect of this adaptation is increased performance - particularly since most of us race in the warmest seasons - I theorize that the body doesn't cease it's efforts to keep you cool once you're done your workout. Even while sitting still or walking to the photocopier, my body is leaping into action to make sure my core temperature stays as low as possible in case I decide to try to lay down a fast mile just for the hell of it. If it's even marginally warm, I might even sweat lightly without realising it, and end up chilled in clothing that's now slightly damp.

Thus, the next time Tanker is looking at me like I'm some kind of idiot for being bundled up like the Michelin man while he's in shorts, I'm just gonna yell "FITNESS M'FER" at him and run away.

'Cause at least from an exercise physiology perspective, I'm cooler than him.

Can you feel me, daddy-o?

Who am I kidding? I'm just chilly, and chilly ain't never been cool.

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