Hot Weather & Athlete Performance


In hot and humid environments, Equestrian sport can be very challenging for all human and equine athletes and their entourage as well as for Officials and staff working at events. For everyone to be safe and able to perform at the top of their game, it’s important to understand heat and humidity, and how they can affect us, especially in a sporting context. 
A "hot and humid environment" is a place where environmental factors significantly increase the body temperature to uncomfortable or even dangerous levels. Sweat, which usually cools the body by dissipating excessive heat, does not evaporate fast in the heat and humidity. As a result, body temperature rises more quickly, which in turn can pose a serious threat to your health if not properly managed. Heat stress is responsible for dehydration, fatigue & loss of strength, dizziness, headaches, cramps, longer reaction times, and poor judgment.
As an Athlete, Official or staff member, it's important to prepare yourself if you want to be at your best once in competition under hot and humid climates. You will need to master three essential tools: acclimatisation, hydration, and cooling.

For Para athletes the techniques explained below may need to be adapted to your specific condition based on your doctor’s recommendations. A Para athlete’s predisposition to thermal strain can be amplified by a number of factors, including the complexity of the impairment and classification of the athlete. For detailed information please refer to the article "Heat-related issues and practical applications for Paralympic athletes at Tokyo 2020" by Katy E. Griggs, Ben T. Stephenson, Michael J. Price & Victoria L. Goosey-Tolfrey (June 2019) (publishers: Taylor & Francis Ltd;  www.tandfonline.com).

Note: Before you begin with the heat and humidity management process described on this page, you should discuss with your doctor:
- The implications of heat and humidity on any existing condition and medical treatment,
- The acclimatisation process explained under section "Preparation" below,
- Your jet lag reduction strategy (see section "Travel Advice" below).  

PREPARATION
1. Acclimatisation
“Acclimatisation” is the action of getting your body used to a different environment and operate normally under it. It can take from 2 to 4 weeks to fully acclimatise and it's best to start the process at least 2 weeks before travel, to reduce and ease the on-site acclimatisation period. If you live in a hot and dry country, you still need to acclimatise to humidity, because it places considerable strain on the body.
How to acclimatise? Train every day for 1 to 1.5 hours in similar heat and humidity conditions to the competition country*, using one or a mix of the following options (NB: ​accurate information on the climate of any country or city can be obtained on websites such as Weather Underground):

  • Train during the hottest parts of the day and wear impermeable clothing for increased efficiency; 
  • Train in a professional environmental chamber, or create one at home in a room where boilers and heaters will be installed to reach appropriate levels of heat and humidity;
  • Plan to travel to the event country more than 2 weeks before the competition starts to perform full acclimatisation directly on location;
  • Go to a location nearby that would offer appropriate conditions for training.

In all cases, monitor your progress and adapt your strategy accordingly, consulting with your doctor if needed. If you usually don't exercise regularly, seek your doctor's advice before getting started and train gradually (fast walking, treadmill, cycling).
If it is logistically impossible for you to train in similar heat and humidity conditions to the competition country, keep in mind that even improved physical fitness alone helps in coping with the climate.

2. Hydration
Hydration is vital. Even a small degree of dehydration can affect negatively your physical and mental performance and your health. 
As soon as you start your acclimatisation process, implement the following:

  • Drink regularly throughout the day, especially before, during, and after training sessions
  • During training, take small and regular intakes of water to avoid risks of dehydration
  • To replace the electrolytes lost in sweat, such as sodium and potassium, use isotonic drinks
  • You can create your own drink by combining 200ml of ordinary fruit squash, 800ml of water, and a pinch of salt.
  • Monitor your hydration levels. Use a color chart to compare your urine against it. The darker the colour, the more dehydrated you are. Increase fluid intakes to ensure proper levels at the next check. 

 

 

 

 

 

  • ​Weigh yourself frequently: a 1% loss in body weight indicates early dehydration.
  • Do not over-drink; high volumes (750ml per hour for 4 hours) can lead to a fall in important electrolytes in the blood.
  • Athletes should not exceed their normal tea or coffee consumption when competing in a hot climate and should not use high caffeine content sports energy drinks as part of a hydration strategy.
  • Note that the sensation of dehydration may be reduced by some medical conditions and aging. A good hydration plan and regular checks are therefore essential.

3. Cooling techniques
It is imperative to learn and practice cooling techniques early so that they have become second nature for you before you arrive at the competition venue. 
Before exercise, stay cool for as long as possible:

  • Stay in the shade, and warm-up there if possible
  • Use external cooling devices: ice vests, cold towels & fans
  • Ingest cold drinks or ice slurry

After exercise, cool down as soon as possible:

  • Move to an air-conditioned room or shaded area.
  • Rehydrate
  • Use cold towels and fans if available.
  • Remove jackets, protections, helmets, and dark clothing; loosen clothing
  • Apply cold water on forearms or take a cold shower
  • Change to a dry outfit if possible


TRAVEL ADVICE
If it takes a long flight to reach your destination, these simple tips will help you mitigate travel fatigue:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothing
  • Hydrate frequently and regularly
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and large meals during the flight
  • Maximise relax and sleep time
  • Minimise screen time on electronic devices
  • Stretch and walk every hour or when awake
  • Adjust your watch to destination time


ARRIVAL BEST PRACTICE 
The first few days at your destination are crucial for your well-being. Recovering from jetlag, travel fatigue and adapting to local climatic conditions should be your priority.

  • Get some rest during the first 48 hours with stretching and mild exercising
  • Expose yourself to the local climate as soon as possible without training
  • Once you start training, Increase session length and intensity gradually together with climate exposure
  • Hydrate regularly as learned during the preparation phase
  • Avoid new foods and keep an appropriate diet
  • Protect yourself from the sun.  Sunburn and heat illness can impair your ability to cope with the heat for up to 4 weeks. Use adapted clothing, caps, and sunscreen
  • Don’t stay in the sun for longer than necessary and seek shade as much as possible.


COMPETITION TIME
1. Apply the pre and post-competition cooling strategies you have fine-tuned during the preparation phase at home:

  • Before competing, stay cool as long as possible
  • After competing, cool down as soon as possible

Note: during competition time, ice vests are not particularly useful if the performance is short. They are however accepted (worn under the jacket) in the following disciplines:
- Jumping
- Dressage
- Eventing (except during the Cross-country test, as ice vests are incompatible with body protectors)
- Para Dressage
- Driving (except in the Marathon phase, as ice vests are incompatible with body protectors)
- Endurance.

2. Minimise unnecessary heat and sun exposure and protect yourself at all times with:

  • UV Sunglasses and hat/cap
  • Sunscreen
  • Adapted and light-coloured clothing
  • Ice vest

3. Hydrate properly
Drink regularly and throughout the day. Complement if necessary with an isotonic drink after competition or intense exercise.

4. Make sure you comply with the heat management rules and policies which may apply at the event.

PRECAUTIONS AND HEAT-RELATED EMERGENCIES
Some medical conditions can be seriously affected by heat. If an athlete is on medication or has a chronic medical condition, medical advice must be sought before final selection/entry. Even minor viral illnesses should be discussed with a team doctor or local physician.

Know how to identify the signs and symptoms of heat illness and respond to an emergency. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling suddenly tired, weak, faint, or experiencing dizziness
  • Headaches & muscle cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Heavy sweating
  • Intense thirst
  • Fast pulse
  • Erratic behaviour or speech
  • Loss of consciousness and convulsions.

If you or anyone around you is experiencing these symptoms, it might well be heat distress or a heat stroke. Call for medical assistance and start the first-help procedure below:

  • Bring the person to a cool area or in the shade if possible
  • Lay the person down and elevate the feet
  • Loosen clothing and/or remove unnecessary layers
  • Start cooling the person immediately with what is available to you. Fan, cold vest, cold patches
  • Give water or isotonic fluids
  • Keep talking to the person and wait for help

After a heat-related illness, even a slight one, consult with your doctor and adapt protection, cooling, and hydration strategies accordingly. It might take up to 4 weeks to recover so stay vigilant at all times and follow the recommendations.