How cold weather changes the game for football players
By Jennifer Fabiano, AccuWeather staff writer
Share this article:
Body temperature regulation is a topic often discussed in science classrooms, but it is not often discussed from the football stands or field. Regulation actually turns out to be very influential when it comes to athletic performance in varying weather conditions.
“In cold or hot temperatures, your body is trying to maintain homeostasis,” said Brendon McDermott, associate professor of the Graduate Athletic Training Program at the University of Arkansas.
A normal body temperature is around 98.6 F, according to the Mayo Clinic. In lower temperatures like those we see near the end of football season, the body will adopt certain mechanisms, such as shivering, in order to keep warm.
James Carter, director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, describes what happens to the body in the cold as “a fight over blood supply.” The active muscles need an increased blood supply, but in the cold, the blood flows away from the skin in order to protect the body’s core.
“You’ve got this shunting of blood flow away from the skin to the interior of the body,” Carter said. “So that essentially is increasing the energy requirements because the body is trying to keep warm and at the same time is providing increased energy for exercise.”
Other body processes, like hydration, are also disrupted by cold weather. While water loss from sweat is reduced, increased water loss comes from breathing. Athletes are also at risk for dehydration because thirst is blunted in the cold. Water is a factor in maintaining homeostasis, so dehydration is a risk factor for maintaining body temperature in cold environments.
“Hydration helps maintain our blood volume and we can sweat effectively and dissipate heat and still maintain performance in our working muscles,” McDermott said.
Exercising in the cold also means exercising under much more physiologically stressful conditions. These stressful conditions affect our bodies in various ways.
In general, colder muscles are less efficient muscles. Reactions in the body happen slower in the cold, and muscle contraction is a series of chemical reactions, according to Dr. Jonathan Finnoff, medical director of Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine.
Nerves that send signals from your brain to the rest of your body move slower when it is colder, which means that reaction time is slowed, Finoff said.
“Your muscles themselves become stiffer so they’re not as pliable and they can’t move as rapidly,” Finnoff said. “If you’re not delivering blood flow and nutrients to the area as quickly, then your muscles don’t have as much energy to do their work.”
Colder, stiffer muscles that aren’t working as efficiently are also more likely to tear, making strains more common in the cooler weather, according to Finnoff.
Experts from ESPN’s “Sport Science” have tested the effects of low temperatures on an athlete’s performance.
According to the video, there are various effects of low temperatures on an athlete’s performance.
First, low temperatures put a greater load on one’s metabolism and increased strain on one’s heart. In low temperatures, the body works harder to maintain a stable temperature. This increased effort requires more energy in order to generate more heat.
5 tips for football fans to brave the cold
How to prevent flare-ups of asthma triggered by cold weather
Skip the gym this season: Why exercising in cold weather is so beneficial for your health
While athletes' bodies are able to acclimatize to the heat, they cannot do the same as effectively with cold weather. Heat acclimatization is a practice in which athletes are gradually exposed to regular heat challenges in training over a period of 10 days. This practice allows athletes to perform better when forced to play in extreme heat.
Cold acclimatization has not proven as effective for preparing athlete’s bodies for playing in cold weather.
“You might shiver earlier, but you can’t shiver more or longer,” Carter said. “These adaptations are much less than the adaptations that can occur when you’re exercising in the heat.”
Carter said that there are ways to mitigate the effects of exposure to cold air during exercise.
Most importantly, athletes should not let their muscles get cold.
“Athletes should bear in mind that the halftime period, or any break, is an opportunity for the muscles to cool down,” Carter said. “Trying to keep active during these periods of downtime is going to be beneficial to keep the muscle temperature elevated before they go back on the field to play.”
Some teams go as far as to have exercise bikes on the sidelines for athletes who are not on the field. Other teams invest in warming technologies such as heated benches or “hot pants,” which are pants with built-in heating elements.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Live updates: Over 500 accidents reported in North Carolina as snowstorm produces hazardous travel conditions
Weather News - December 09, 2018, 8:36:52 PM EST
A major snowstorm, which has already buried parts of North Carolina with over a foot of snow, will continue to cause travel disruptions and power outages into Sunday evening.
Weather News - December 09, 2018, 4:41:09 PM EST
The northeastern U.S. is in the midst of a rare dry spell, though it is expected to come to a soaking end later this week.
Weather News - December 09, 2018, 11:23:50 AM EST
An area of disturbed weather in the Bay of Bengal may develop into a tropical cyclone later this week and could impact southern India around mid-month.
Weather News - December 09, 2018, 1:35:44 PM EST
A major, travel-disrupting storm is unleashing snow and ice from Tennessee to North Carolina and Virginia.
Weather News - December 09, 2018, 10:58:00 AM EST
Dry, milder weather is expected for clean-up efforts across the southern U.S. following a dose of heavy snow, ice and flooding rainfall.
Weather News - December 08, 2018, 10:47:23 AM EST
Bitter cold will continue to have a firm grip on eastern Asia through at least this weekend, forcing residents to bundle up and leading to snow opportunities.
Weather News - December 08, 2018, 10:33:40 AM EST
Extreme weather will continue across parts of Queensland into Sunday as record-breaking heat and bushfires are replaced by flooding rainfall and strong winds.
Weather News - December 08, 2018, 10:30:06 AM EST
Bouts of strong winds will raise the risk for local power outages, tree damage and travel disruptions across northern Europe into Sunday.