Adaptation to heat and exercise performance under cooler conditions: a new hot topic

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Chronic exposure to a stressor elicits adaptations enhancing the tolerance to that stressor. These adaptive responses might also improve tolerance under less stressful conditions. For example, historically there has been much interest in the adaptive responses to high-altitude, or hypoxia, and their ergogenic potential under sea-level, or normoxic, conditions. In contrast, the influence of the adaptive responses to heat on exercise under cooler conditions has received relatively little interest. Heat acclimation/acclimatization (HA) is known to increase work capacity in hot environments. Yet, aerobic exercise performance can progressively deteriorate as ambient temperature increases beyond ~10 °C, indicating a thermal limitation even under relatively cool conditions. The improved thermoregulatory capability induced by HA might attenuate this thermal decrement in a manner similar to that seen when exposed to hotter temperatures. Moreover, the suite of adaptations elicited by HA has the potential to increase maximal oxygen uptake, lactate threshold and economy, and thus may be ergogenic even under conditions where performance is not thermally limited. Indeed, evidence is now emerging to support an ergogenic effect of HA but the number of studies is limited and in some instances lack appropriate control, are confounded by methodological limitations, or do not address the mechanisms of action. Nevertheless, these tantalising insights into the ergogenic potential of heat will likely generate considerable interest in this new 'hot topic'. Future research will need to employ well-designed studies to clarify the exercise conditions under which ergogenic effects of HA are apparent, to elucidate the precise mechanisms, and to optimise HA strategies for performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1323-1331
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number10
Early online date19 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2014


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