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The Expert Advices | How to combat the heat when one is on the track

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16 August 2019

One of the biggest worries for an athlete is the heat, a sudden sense of weakness, loss of energy and lack of concentration are the most frequent symptoms that something is wrong. To fight, or even prevent all of this is possible explains Dr. Ceccarelli, founder of Formula Medicine and primary physician they consult with for motorsport and many of its champions.

1 Let’s start from previous experiences, if we know we have to race in the heat, can we “better prepare for it” in some other way?

Sure! The human body possesses great adaptability. If we stimulate the acclimatization by performing training sessions during the hottest hours starting with a decreased amount of workload and gradually increasing the workload, our body, in parallel, will try to keep its performance unaltered by improving its “cooling” capabilities.

To simplify, we can make a comparison with a race car. During physical activity we consume energy to produce movement, but part of this energy is dissipated in the form of heat slowly overheating the driver from the internal organs of the body, as it happens to the engine of a car. Similarly to the engine, we too have a critical temperature threshold beyond which “breakages” may arise, especially at the level of the nervous system, our electronic control unit which is the first one to manifest signs of a malfunction.

Through the blood circulation the organism gives heat outside and keeps the temperature low

2 What is the critical temperature for humans?

The limit has been calculated between 39,5° and 40°. Yet in our many years of experience on the track, we have witnessed many episodes where this threshold has been abundantly surpassed. I remember a case which occurred during a GT FIA World Championship, where the temperature inside the closed cockpits could reach around 70°-80° C. A driver, overcome by heat, began to manifest serious visual issues and difficulties with concentration which led him, first, to lose 3 seconds per lap and then to stop at the pits where he collapsed on the ground. His temperature, measured at that time, was 40,8°! Consider that 42 degrees is a point that is incompatible with living.

3 How do you lower body temperature?

While a race car may be water-cooled, human beings have a blood system. It is this blood which becomes overheated from inside the body and goes to the surface and flows under the skin, cooling down. Our skin, in fact, is the coolest part of the body because, thanks to a physical mechanism, it cools down through the process of sweat evaporation. Through this “natural radiator” the blood releases heat and returns to the inside of the body to lower its temperature trying to keep it as close as possible to about 37°.
At this point it is clear why we have to consume lots of water in hotter weather

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