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Heat preparations for elite sporting events

An international research collaboration including world-leading experts from Loughborough University has explored hydration and cooling in elite athletes competing in hot and humid conditions.

The project was conducted at the 2019 IAAF (now World Athletics) World Championships in Doha, Qatar. It involved researchers and practitioners from over ten countries including Loughborough University’s Dr Lee Taylor and Chris Esh (PhD student) Professor George Havenith and Dr Alex Lloyd and attracted global attention.

A world-first at such an event, the project measured athletes’ core body temperatures through an ingestible telemetric thermometer and skin temperatures using an infrared camera. Additionally, cooling and hydration strategies used by the road-race athletes were surveyed (male and female 20 km and 50km race-walks and marathons).

These races were, for the first time, started at approximately midnight in a bid to provide the most temperate environmental conditions for athletes. Despite these efforts, conditions were challenging for all races, with air temperature exceeding 29°C for all races.

Take home messages from this data include:

  • Athletes who did not finish their events had higher pre-race skin temperatures than those that did. Lower pre-race skin temperatures were moderately associated with a faster race completion.
  • Pre-cooling prior to races, usually using an ice vest, was common as was mid race cooling using a variety of approaches. This data suggests pre-race body temperature management is important for prolonged endurance exercise in hot-humid conditions.
  • It has been advised that event organisers should carefully consider the logistical facilities required to facilitate ice vest use and body cooling interventions in general such as access to freezers and ice.

Upon project completion, and not officially connected, the unprecedented move of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Road Races from Tokyo to Sapporo was sanctioned in order to provide cooler race conditions for athletes.

The initial results from this project are available for free to anyone across the globe and the research team are hopeful the data will guide and inform practice for future sporting events held in warm climates. Furthermore, it is hoped that the data will be used to enhance the student experience at Loughborough and elsewhere across the globe.

Part of this data has now been published Open Access in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Last updated November 2021