Four ways to battle humidity in sport

England’s cricketers began their first post-Ashes 2015 tour knowing not only must they face up to Pakistan’s impressive bowling line up, but also deal with the dangers of stifling humidity.

The United Arab Emirates, which will host England over the next two months, is notoriously hot at this time of year with temperatures reaching just below 40 degrees in the shade. Couple that with humidity levels in excess of 60% and for cricketers more used to playing in England’s far cooler conditions, the challenges of coping with the heat will be essential if they are to improve on a dismal record against Pakistan who have played their ‘home’ games in UAE since 2010.

England’s players have already been seen wearing ice cold towels on the back of their necks while training as well as strapping sweat-absorbent wristbands to themselves in an effort to combat the effects of the burning heat but will this be enough?

High humidity leads to two major problems for anyone playing sport, namely increased core body temperature and dehydration. Increased body temperature, or hyperthermia, severely reduces the muscles’ ability to contract over long periods of time. High core temperatures also cause a shift in energy production from aerobic to anaerobic mechanism, which means the body has to use up its muscle energy stores more rapidly.

During a long event, like a five-day Test match, for example, adding energy through various drinks and gels, simply cannot keep up with the rate of losing energy when humidity levels are so high. Blood tends to pool in the limbs, preventing it from reaching the heart and being pumped back to the muscles. The dangers of dehydration are even more acute, with athletes losing as much as 2-8% of their body weight, with the body struggling to convert oxygen into energy.

So what can help those hot and humid English cricketers?

Acclimatisation

Medical experts estimate it takes generally 10-14 days to acclimatize to hot and humid conditions. England arrived in the UAE in plenty of time for this to happen but with only two two-day matches to prepare will they be undercooked? Only time will tell but all the training in the world cannot replace match practice.

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Conditioning

It’s in conditions like the ones England will experience in the UAE when all the hard work in the gym pays off.  Better-conditioned athletes suffer less performance loss in high heat and humidity because they have a higher blood volume, better VO2max, sweat rate and more efficient use/replacement of energy stores. Think about that when you’re pounding the treadmill.

Fluid replacement

This is absolutely critical for any athlete wanting to perform in humid conditions. Fluid replacement begins in the build up to an event, continues during it, and shouldn’t stop when the game is over. Health experts recommend drinking to thirst and keeping urine clear rather than dark yellow. Sports drinks help the body maintain acceptable body temperatures, preventing heat-related illness and ensure the heat acclimatisation adaptations are maintained by preventing dehydration.

The right clothes

Clothing worn while taking in part in sport becomes a layer of insulation that interferes with heat transfer from your skin to the environment. It can also prevent the evaporation of sweat, which is a vital way for the body to cool down when it’s hot. The players will need to minimize the amount of clothing they wear and make sure it poses the least amount of interference to evaporation. Wearing light-weight, light-coloured clothes of open-weave natural fibres help increase evaporation and cool the body. Best leave that cable-knit sweater at home!

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