We used a short-term heat acclimation regime that has previously been successful with male participants. This involved using a state-of-art environmental chamber as part of a short-term (five-day) heat acclimation programme, which saw participants undertaking intermittent exercise in hot environments.
The participants underwent 90 minutes of heat exposure with no fluid intake for five consecutive days at 39.5℃ (60% humidity). Each acclimatisation session involved a roughly 30-minute cycling exercise, controlled by maintaining core body temperature at 38.5℃, measured using a rectal probe.
And we found that, by using oral contraceptive pills, the women in our study were able to adapt as effectively – and to the same magnitude – as male participants of a similar level of physical conditioning.
This may mean that female athletes who take the contraceptive pill are more likely to acclimatise better and quicker in hot conditions compared with female athletes who don’t take the pill. This is because taking the pill helps to control body temperature during the menstrual cycle.
That said, women who are less fit and don’t partake in regular exercise may not respond so effectively. This is because they are likely to have a lower aerobic capacity, less efficient sweat response and increased insulation due to higher amounts of body fat.
Healthy hormonal balance
There are of course, many elite competitors who will not want to use the oral contraceptive pill. So a “one size fits all” approach cannot be taken when female athletes are preparing for hot conditions. But our research may well have implications for the heat acclimation procedures used for female competitors preparing for future events.
Ultimately though, our findings show how tracking a woman’s menstrual cycle can be an important part of training and competition preparation, a strategy that has already been adopted by the US women’s football team. Of course, to women, this may sound like an obvious conclusion. But given that the sporting world is still largely dominated by men, perhaps it’s not surprising the research is still playing catch-up.
Andrew Garrett, Senior Lecturer in Exercise and Environmental Physiology, University of Hull
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.