Heat mitigation, heat acclimation and cooling - shaping heat strategy for athlete safety
Since the late 1990s, sport science and sports medical research at University of Brighton has identified contextual and environmental factors determining outcomes in athletic performance and competition. This has included work on altitude and performance thresholds and pioneering interventions on environmental extremes. Collaborative work in the sports performance research specialist Environmental Extremes Lab has established a group of dedicated, expert researchers in this field, including Neil Maxwell, Mark Hayes and Peter Watt. With this resource and its collaborative, interdisciplinary makeup, they are able to investigate the impact of heat and other environmental stressors, for example altitude and cold, on human health and function.
The Environmental Extremes Lab's research has generated evidence and effective strategies for improving safety, performance, and preparing the body for competition in inhospitable environments such as at the Marathon des Sables, and in hot, humid conditions similar to those experienced in summer Olympic Games. The research has also identified heat and exercise issues for para-athletes, who may experience thermoregulatory issues arising from their physical disability.
Researchers from the Environmental Extremes Lab work with elite sports partners, including Team GB and England Rugby, to ascertain detailed understanding of acute and chronic heat mitigating strategies. These include the team investigating and consulting on hydration and cooling manoeuvres (pre, during and post competition) and practical heat acclimation practices to both optimise performance in the heat and reduce the risk of a heat-related illness.
These research findings have shown the importance of preparatory strategies for implementation in athletic competition. For example, analysis of pre-performance heat acclimation for intermittent cycling sprints established the efficacy of heat acclimation for an increase in peak power, with no observed reduction in individual sprint peak power output. Meanwhile, analysis of heat strain and running performance by Neil Maxwell and Mark Hayes expanded the heat acclimation work across the athlete spectrum in relation to conditions of heat and humidity.
Based on this research, national sporting bodies in Brazil and the UK have adopted heat-related principles and practices, changing how heat is addressed in the planning and staging of Olympic events and other international sport competitions including the Military World Games and the Pan American Games. National bodies, including Team GB and English Rugby Union, have used the University of Brighton’s evidence and research-based preparation and education packages.
In the lead up to Tokyo 2020, researchers in the lab developed the ‘Tokyo 2020 Heat Resource Pack’, designed for the English Institute of Sport to protect the health of athletes in competition. This has contributed to the development of the heat optimisation strategy, which provided preparatory procedures for the 2020–21 Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as resources and expertise for England Rugby during the Rugby World Cup event in Japan, based on Mark Hayes' research.