The Olympics flowing into Tokyo this week will have to face hottest games over the decades, temperatures of about 90 degrees Fahrenheit and suffocating humidity. Many athletes and sports physiologists have been monitoring Japanese summer temperatures for years and plan to help athletes adapt to the heat.
In the weeks leading up to the Games, women’s Olympics may have had to spend more time preparing for heat than their male counterparts. Some early studies show that it can take twice as long for female athletes to adapt than for male athletes. However, the data are limited because only a few years ago, most of the research to prepare to compete in hot environments was done only by male athletes.
“More attention needs to be paid to female athletes, and there will certainly be differences in their adaptation,” says Jessica Mee, who is studying performance in extreme conditions at the University of Worcester in the UK.
Athletes can use several strategies for warming up, such as training in layers of clothing, holding extra workouts to raise body temperature, or spending time in thermal chambers or saunas after a workout. Process Allows the body to dissipate heat more easily, lowers the internal temperature and resting heart rate and increases sweat – all of this allows someone to perform at high levels even in hot temperatures. Changes may take some time about a week after someone leaves a hot environment before starting to return to normal.
However, most of the studies describing this process were done on male athletes. “For a long time, the story has been about young, healthy men,” says Oliver Gibson, who studies physiological reactions to heat at Brunel University in London. “We’re only now getting to know the details of gender differences in thermal responses.” It is a common problem in sports medicine: female athletes are very underrepresented in sports science research, so most of our understanding of how the body responds to exercise and different conditions is based on male athletes.
Over the past few years, a few studies by Gibson, Meen, and others have helped to sketch the differences in how male and female athletes respond to heat. Both seem to react to being in a hot environment in the same way, Mee says. Differences increase around preparation in hot environments. His research and Other studies show that female athletes take longer to adapt to heat than male athletes.
In general, male athletes were able to adapt for about five days of heat adaptation, but female athletes took 10 days, Mee’s research found. “For women, it takes more than this short-term five-day approach, which is generally preferred because it has fewer trade-offs in their education,” she says. “They need to make sure they have enough time to implement these strategies.”
It’s not clear why it takes longer for women athletes to adjust, Gibson says. It may be that because men tend to have more muscle mass (which warms up faster), they are able to get their bodies to adapt to heat faster. Larger male hulls may also store more heat, so they get to that point earlier.
Gibson says he has been discussing the heat adaptation of athletes with the English Sports Institute, which supports the British Olympics, in recent years. It includes discussions of gender differences in heat adaptation. “From the beginning, we’ve said that for female athletes, you have to take this extra time load into account,” she says. “It’s definitely something I know that, at least in the UK, has been on the minds of those who are preparing.”
The British women’s soccer team worked with the English Sports Institute on heat adjustment programs, which included 90 minutes of daily riding on a stationary bike in a heated, damp tent for a week, Sporty reported. Other countries implement similar programs: Canadian women’s eight rowing teams trained in a heated sports domeAccording to the CBC, U.S. athletes received customized adjustment programs from Randy Wilber, a senior sports physiologist at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
“Athletes who prepare effectively for heat and moisture can beat many athletes who have more talent than they do, but who are not effectively prepared for heat and moisture,” Wilber said. Washington Post.
Understanding the differences in adaptation between male and female athletes can help top athletes prepare for the Olympics. But they also have implications outside of sport. Climate change is making the hottest days hotter around the world, and record-breaking heat waves occur at a steady frequency. Extreme heat is a dangerous health risk, and figuring out how to help people adapt to hot temperatures is an important public health issue.
Heat waves are a particular risk for people who work outdoors, such as farm workers. Male workers may adapt to the heat in a few days, but it can take longer for female workers. Recommendations on how people should adapt to and protect themselves from heat should be tailored to each individual, Gibson says. “If we say you should reduce your activity for four or five days, then you can gradually return to the level of activity before the heat wave, for women it may be four or five days insufficient,” she says. They may need more heat protection because their bodies may not adapt during a heat wave of a few days.
Athletes tend to be the starting point for a lot of physiology research because there is a clear application to learning, Mee says. “There’s a desire and interest to make more marginal profits,” he says. They are also often a healthy and solid group, and they are able to deal with the kind of stressors that researchers need to put into the body to learn how it reacts, Gibson says. Experts can then take this information and see what might apply to everyone else as well. “While what’s appropriate for an athlete may not work directly for a representative of the general public, we can learn some lessons there,” he says.