Water breaks to attenuate heat stress

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held in Qatar. Leaving aside all scandals that have plagued it, it is the first World Cup not to be held in May, June, or July. Instead, it is scheduled from November 21 until December 18. The reason for the change of dates is the excessive heat the players will face. (The reduced timeframe is probably due to the fact that the new dates interfere with all national soccer leagues and the longer the duration, the more problems will be created.) Even with the change of dates, Qatar, in its bid, promised to improve and deliver cooling technology during the tournament.

Soccer is a highly demanding game and soccer players under extreme heat conditions are susceptible to heat illness. In professional soccer, extreme heat cannot be avoided since scheduling is based on commercial needs; in earlier levels it cannot be avoided since soccer fields are in continuous use and game scheduling has no flexibility. Hence, players of all levels are in danger of heat illness.

Photo by Samad Deldar on Pexels.com

In order to reduce the risk of the players playing in extreme heat conditions, FIFA has introduced heat breaks after 30 minutes of game play. The 30-minute mark was chosen based on research showing that player core temperature reaches its peak around that moment.

Studies investigating best strategies to reduce heat stress for soccer players continue with the latest one published this month. (See https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2019.04.009)

In this study, participants completed four simulated football matches at an ambient temperature of 35° C (95° F) , relative humidity of 55% and wet bulb globe temperature of 30° C (86° F). Each game had different cooling breaks: (a) Normal rules (i.e. no cooling breaks and a half time break of 15 minutes). (b) An extended half time break of 20 minutes total but no additional cooling breaks. (c) A 3-minute cooling break in each half where participants consumed chilled water. (d) A 3-minute cooling break in each half where they consumed chilled water and also applied an ice towel around the neck.

The study concluded that all three cooling strategies reduced the core temperature of the athletes and, hence, reduced the risk of heat illness. However, it was not able to establish that one of the three cooling strategies had a higher efficacy.

Unfortunately, the study has some serious limitations: The sample of the participants was too small (just twelve participants) and the games were simulated in a laboratory. Hence, overall, the study was able only to reinforce the known fact that cooling strategies help to keep players safe by reducing their core temperature.

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