A pill, a bath and a scientist are set to assist Australia’s Olympic prospects in Beijing.
Using an internal temperature monitor developed by NASA and swallowed like a pill, Darwin Institute of Sport’s Dr Matt Brearley was able to measure the performance of athletes in the Northern Territory’s tropical conditions and show how much a pre-game soak in a bath of cold water helps performance.
The four-year study measured the sweat rate and heart rate of hobby, state and elite motor racing drivers, cricketers, rugby union and AFL players in order find the most effective measures to encourage peak performance in those hot, humid conditions.
“We got an overall picture of the stress they were under,” said Brearley. “We have a pretty thorough understanding of how athletes respond in the heat.”
Brearley, 32, will travel to the Beijing Olympics in August to implement monitoring and cooling strategies for the Australian men’s and women’s hockey teams and expects the conditions to be similar.
His study found that spending time in either an ice jacket, an air-conditioned suit or a bath of cold water drops an athlete’s core temperature by as much as half a degree, leading to better, sharper and longer lasting performance.
Half a degree might not sound much, but the change can lead to about 20 minutes of heat stress-free competition – valuable time in the first half of a soccer match.
“Because they’re cool, they can go harder for longer,” he says.
“It means they start their warm up at a lower temperature than they’d otherwise be at.”
The benefits of pre-cooling have been known for years – and the hcokey teams have used ice jackets at previous Olympics – but, Dr Brearley says, researchers have been restricted to replicating peak performances in the lab.
By feeding information into a small, portable device, the NASA pill brought the research into the field for the first time.
“It prevents us from having to simulate conditions in a lab and monitor athletes with rectal probe or a probe down their throat,” he says.
“It’s been very well accepted.”
Dr Brearley won’t say exactly which methods he will use with the hockey teams at the Beijing Games.
“I’m not trying to be secretive,” he said. “We want to keep those things under wraps rather than give info to our competitors.”