By Grace Ingram
While sweating up a storm can be a satisfying signal of a good workout, when it comes to game day, a competition or just trying to hit a PB, overheating can cause serious issues for your performance and health.
As the body temperature rises due to a hot environment or physical exertion, physiological systems in your body are put under greater strain (1). This means that the body needs to work harder than usual and often stops you from performing at your best.
Top 5 Tips for Staying Cool to Compete
1. Cold water immersion
Research suggests that immersing the whole body in cold water (5-15°C) before competing is the most effective pre-exercise cooling technique. Lowering the body temperature prior to exercising creates a lower ‘baseline’ body temperature, delaying heat exhaustion (2). It should be noted that while pre-cooling significantly improves endurance and intermittent sprint performance it may negatively affect single sprint performance (2).
2. Drinking cold water or an ice slurry
While cooling down prior to exercising is an effective technique, the effects tend to wear off after 20-25 minutes of activity. Cooling during exercise by drinking cold water or an ice slurry can help to keep your body temperature low (2). A cold drink before exercise is also recognised as an effective pre-cooling technique (2).
3. Cold packs
Cold packs are a convenient way to cool down the body both before competing and during half-time breaks (2). As they don’t cover a large surface area, you can maximise the effectiveness of cold packs by placing them on the thighs for optimal core temperature cooling (3).
Cryotherapy has gained popularity in recent years for its role in assisting athletes’ recovery. It involves full-body exposure to extremely cold temperatures (less than −100°C) for 2-4 minutes in a specialised chamber. It can be used after exercise to improve muscle strength and soreness while also dampening the body’s natural inflammatory response to exercise.
5. Heat acclimation
Heat acclimation involves training in heated conditions for weeks prior to competition to elicit physiological adaptions within the body. Essentially, the body gets used to performing in hot conditions and adapts to be able to resist increases in body temperature (1). This usually involves low intensity, high volume training. The longer the training is performed, the better the body will adapt (1).
All these methods can be used on their own, or in a combination tailored to you. Current research shows that a mixed-method approach is the most effective, and that endurance athletes are likely to see the greatest benefits from body temperature control techniques.