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Early change in thermal perception is not a driver of anticipatory exercise pacing in the heat


Aim Initial power output declines significantly during exercise in hot conditions on attaining a rapid increase in skin temperature when exercise commences. It is unclear whether this initial reduced power is mediated consciously, through thermal perceptual cues, or is a subconscious process. The authors tested the hypothesis that improved thermal perception (feeling cooler and more comfortable) in the absence of a change in thermal state (ie, similar deep-body and skin temperatures between spray conditions) would alter pacing and 40 km cycling time trial (TT) performance.

Method Eleven trained participants (mean (SD): age 30 (8.1) years; height 1.78 (0.06) m; mass 76.0 (8.3) kg) completed three 40 km cycling TTs in standardised conditions (32°C, 50% RH) with thermal perception altered prior to exercise by application of cold-receptor-activating menthol spray (MENTHOL SPRAY), in contrast to a separate control spray (CONTROL SPRAY) and no spray control (CON). Thermal perception, perceived exertion, thermal responses and cycling TT performance were measured.

Results MENTHOL SPRAY induced feelings of coolness and improved thermal comfort before and during exercise. Skin temperature profile at the start of exercise was similar between sprays (CON-SPRAY 33.3 (1.1)°C and MENTHOL SPRAY 33.4 (0.4)°C, but different to CON 34.5 (0.5)°C), but there was no difference in the pacing strategy adopted. There was no performance benefit using MENTHOL SPRAY; cycling TT completion time for CON is 71.58 (6.21) min, for CON-SPRAY is 70.94 (6.06) min and for MENTHOL SPRAY is 71.04 (5.47) min.

Conclusion The hypothesis is rejected. Thermal perception is not a primary driver of early pacing during 40 km cycling TT in hot conditions in trained participants.

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