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Tip 139: The Best Body-Cooling Methods to Perform Better in the Heat

Friday, July 29, 2011 9:04 AM
Perform better in the heat by reducing thermal stress before, during, and after training. With high summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere and a heat wave across the United States, managing body temperature and avoiding hyperthermia is critical for peak performance. To avoid the dangers of heat stroke, while also making training gains, use a structured body-cooling plan. Research shows that ingesting cold beverages before training, along with other body-cooling methods, will allow you to recover faster and work out harder.

A new study compared nine body-cooling methods after intense weight training. The cooling methods included recovery in the shade, under a covered pavilion, under a tent, using ice towels, immersion in ice buckets, total-body immersion in ice water, a cooling fan, two different cooling vests, and a cold containment system—a cold bodysuit. The total-body immersion in cold water (head is out of the water) was most effective at cooling the core temperature and restoring cardiovascular capabilities to normal levels. Immersion in ice buckets and the cold containment system were also highly effective and are suggested alternatives, while the ice vests did not provide significant cooling, nor did cooling in any of the shaded areas (shade, tent, pavilion).

Another study of high-intensity cyclists training in the heat supports this data. Cold water immersion is more effective at reducing thermal strain than an active recovery without cooling. This method was tested on competitive cyclists who performed repeated bouts of exercise. After performing a 30-minute high-intensity time trial in the heat, participants who were immersed in cold water (CW) for fifteen minutes and then had 40-minutes of passive recovery performed better at another 30-minute time trial than a group that did active recovery with no cooling (NC-AR). Interestingly, total work was greater for the CW group than the NC-AR group, but the NC-AR group had lower blood lactate concentrations. Take note that reducing thermal strain was more important than lactate removal for subsequent high-intensity performance.

Another proven method for fast recovery from the heat is forearm immersion in cold water. A study of firefighters experiencing significant heat stress from intense exercise found that cooling the forearms in cold water for 60 minutes effectively lowered core temperature to near baseline. Cooling in 10° Celsius water was most effective, followed by using 20° C water. Be aware that it is necessary to immerse the whole forearm, not just the hands for the best body-cooling effect.

If you are unable to immerse yourself in cold water or use another body-cooling method such as ice packs, a literature review published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism notes that ingesting cold beverages can ease thermal stress and improve performance by as much as 10 percent. Cold beverages consumed before training have been shown to result in greater work capacity in the heat, while repeatedly drinking during and after exercise can further enhance recovery.

Biesbrecht, G., Jamieson, C., Cahill, F. Cooling Hyperthermic Firefighters by Immersing Forearms and Hands in 10 Degrees C and 20 Degrees C Water. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2007. 78(6), 561-567.

Vaile, J., Halson, S., Gill, N., Dawson, B. Effect of Cold Water Immersion on Repeat Cycling Performance and Thermoregulation in the Heat. Journal of Sports Science. 2008. 26(5), 431-440.

Burdon, C., O’Connor, H., Gifford, J., Shirreffs, S. Influence of Beverage Temperature on Exercise Performance in the Heat: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2010. 20(2), 166-174.

DeMartini, J., Ranalli, G., Casa, D., Lopez, R., Ganio, M., Stearns, R., McDermott, B., Armstrong, L., Maresh, C. Comparison of Body Cooling Methods on Physiological and Perceptual Measures of Mildly Hyperthermic Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 25(8), 2065-2074.

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