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Preparing for competition requires physical and mental training, proper nutrition, and recovery. It is also essential to understand your competition and how each athlete fits within the team dynamics. These factors, for the most part, are all factors that can be controlled. Then there are factors such as the temperature, allergens, pollution and altitude that cannot be controlled and can have serious effects on human performance.

Environmental factors such as temperature during competition can hinder performance if not taken seriously. The average body temperature is 37°C (98.6°F). In cool and warm weather, wearing the appropriate gear to be able to perform at a high level is necessary. For example, when playing soccer during the month of November in Canada, there is a good chance it will be cold. To reduce the risk of injury and poor performance, athletes have to do a proper warm up, wear the appropriate clothing and stay properly hydrated. In very hot and or humid temperatures, hydrating becomes extremely important. For athletes, cooling off using wet sponges, and wearing breathable clothing can minimize overheating.

Athletes with allergies or those who have respiratory issues can see a decrease in performance due to environmental factors such as high pollen count or poor air quality. Understanding the air quality and pollen count of the competition and training venues is important as this can enable athletes to limit their exposure by training when the counts are low, or taking the proper precautions during mandatory field times.

High altitude can create disadvantages for athletes who are not acclimatized to the higher elevation. For endurance athletes, high altitude can create limitations to training due to their inability to train as intensely as they would at sea level. At such high elevations, the air is thinner, meaning that there is less oxygen. There is also the likelihood of loss of appetite, which could lead to weight loss and compromised recovery times.

Environmental factors, if not anticipated, can give rise to:

  • Dehydration, heat stroke, hyperthermia and frostbite due to changes in temperature
  • Difficulty breathing in places with high pollen counts and poor air quality.
  • Altitude sickness, weight loss, loss of appetite at high altitude.

Regardless of the environmental factors, and unless told otherwise, most athletes will train and compete under most conditions. One factor to help mitigate poor performance is acclimatization. Getting your athletes used to the environmental conditions they will compete in can be advantageous since they can adapt to the conditions and as such, these conditions will not be a surprise to the athletes. Both the player and coaching staff have to understand and prepare for the adverse environmental factors that might hinder an athlete’s ability to perform at peak shape. Having a proper plan to anticipate environmental conditions is an advantage to the athletes and team performance. Though many environmental factors cannot be controlled, doing your homework beforehand can help limit the potentially negative effect on performance. Having proper equipment and gear, acclimatizing to the conditions by training in comparable conditions, and understanding how the environment will effect the athletes provide a crucial advantage to athletes hoping to compete at their best.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Borresen J. Environmental considerations for athletic performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. International Sportmed Journal. June 2008;9(2):44-55. 
2.  Igor R, Vladimir I, Milos M, Goran B. New tendencies in the application of altitude training in sport preparation. Journal Of Physical Education & Sport / Citius Altius Fortius. June 2011;11(2):200-204. 
3. Lane A, Terry P, Stevens M, Barney S, Dinsdale S. Mood responses to athletic performance in extreme environments. Journal Of Sports Sciences. October 2004;22(10):886-897. 
4. Nimmo M. The application of research to athletic performance in the cold. International Sportmed Journal. December 2005;6(4):224-235. 
5. Moss D. Training & Competing in Smoggy Conditions. Tricks Of The Trade For Middle Distance, Distance & Cross-Country Running. June 2004;:71-75. 
6. Rundell K. Effect of air pollution on athlete health and performance. British Journal Of Sports Medicine. May 2012;46(6):407-412. 7. 
Singh R. Hydration strategies for exercise performance in hot environment. British Journal Of Sports Medicine. September 2, 2010;44:i40. 
8. Wilber R. Current trends in altitude training. / Les tendances actuelles de l’entrainement en altitude. Sports Medicine. 2001;31(4):249-265.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.