Environmental Considerations

Critical question 3: What role do preventative actions play in enhancing the wellbeing of the athlete?
Environmental Considerations

Environment factors, such as temperature, humidity and wind, can present a number of hazards for athletes. Planning can minimise the risk, however a climatic change can catch an athlete off guard if they are participating in outdoor events.

Temperature Regulation

A person’s normal core body temperature is between 36° and 37° Celsius. If this drops below 36°, the body begins to shiver; anything over 38° is classified as a fever. These responses are triggered by the hypothalamus, the body’s thermostat. The body has different processes to deal with heat loss or gain: convection, conduction, radiation and evaporation.

Convection occurs when fluid, in the water or air, draws heat away from the skin as it passes over. For example, when an athlete is running, the air that they move through draws heat away from the skin and cools the body. On cold days, athletes will wear tighter clothing to trap heat in. For example, cold players will wear a long sleeve jersey in soccer or AFL.

Conduction describes the process when heat from an athlete’s skin or body is transferred onto another object. A cyclist transfers heat onto the seat of their bicycle, while a baseball player will transfer heat from their hand to the catching mit.

Radiation occurs naturally when the body becomes warm and radiates heat into the atmosphere. For example, if you stand near a person who has been working hard, it is possible feel the heat coming off them.

Evaporation occurs when the body sweats; when water evaporates on the skin it cools the body. This is the most effective way for an athlete to cool down, particularly in hot temperatures. During this process it is important to keep up hydration to counteract the fluid being lost. Athletes should also wear clothing that ‘breathes’ to help with the process, drawing sweat away from the body, as this can help prevent dehydration


Climatic Conditions

Climatic conditions, including temperature, wind, rain, humidity, altitude and pollution, can have an impact on the performance and health of an athlete. Changing conditions can have a negative and harmful effect on an athlete. It is important that athletes are fully prepared when training to compete in different climatic conditions.


When an athlete competes or performs in the 15-25 degree Celsius temperature range, there is little risk to the body. However, when the competition occurs in conditions which are warmer or cooler than these temperatures, there is need for concern.

It is important that when the temperature rises above this range that there are adequate rest and fluid breaks for athletes. Athletes risk dehydration, as a result sweating and insufficient fluid intake, along with heat stroke when exercising in hot or humid conditions. Wearing light, loose clothing can help players regulate their temperature.

Hypothermia occurs when the players rapidly lose body heat. To avoid the onset of conditions like this, athletes should prepare and wear appropriate clothing when exercising in extreme, cold environments.


When the level of humidity is high, exercising becomes more dangerous. Humid conditions make it difficult for the body to rid itself of heat through the natural process of evaporation. When the temperature is high, above 25 degrees, and the humidity level is also high, 75 percent or higher, athletes should exercise with extreme caution.


When athletes exercise or compete in windy conditions, it can increase the convection. This can be quite dangerous in cold conditions, as the body cools quite quickly. Athletes will often refer to this as wind chill. Strong winds can cause burning sensations against the skin. Protective wear, like wetsuits, can help athletes to mitigate the effects of wind chill.


Rain can make playing surfaces slippery and dangerous, negatively impacting of the safety of athletes. Examples of high risk situations include an athlete playing soccer on a wet field without the right studs on their shoes, or a cyclist in the Tour de France having their vision limited by the rain. When rain is coupled with wind, it can increase the likelihood of hypothermia occurring.


Athletes who compete at a higher altitude (above 1500m) will experience lower oxygen levels, which can have an impact on their health and ability to perform aerobic activities. The body can adapt to this scenario, but this takes time. Physiological adaptations, for example increased red blood cells and lung capacity, are possible, however, the athlete will need to acclimatise to this condition before competing.


Pollution is a safety hazard. It can be dangerous to train around city areas as polluted air contains irritants, which can effect breathing. Carbon monoxide, which is a common element of polluted air, is particularly dangerous. This pollutant can bind to haemoglobin in the blood, which negatively effects the body’s ability to deliver sufficient oxygen to working muscles.


Guidelines for Fluid Intake

The body can lose a great deal of fluid through sweat (evaporation), which needs to be replaced. Water in the body is needed for thermoregulation (temperature regulation). Water is also required for blood plasma. Any reduction in the water level can cause blood pressure to decrease, meaning that there is less blood being made available to the working muscles.

Thirst is not a good indicator of when you should take on fluid because the body will need water before you feel a desire for fluid. As you dehydrate you will continue to fatigue, which can lead to heat stress on your body, heat stroke or, in severe circumstances, death.

It is important to consciously and regularly drink water throughout exercise before thirst kicks in to maintain safe hydration levels. A simple way to assess hydration is to monitor urine. If it is clear or pale, hydration levels are sufficient. Yellow or darker urine indicates dehydration and the need for more fluids.



It is important that athletes identify the different environmental conditions that they will be competing in as they will need to prepare and adapt their bodies so that they are able perform in unfamiliar climates.

The term acclimatisation describes this process of adapting to new climate conditions and may involve training in extreme temperatures (hot and cold), high levels of humidity, wind chill and high altitudes. As a result of this training, the athlete will experience physiological changes to help them cope with the new conditions. This process can take up to 3 weeks.

Long distance athletes will often train in places of high altitude before competition to develop the body’s ability to produce red blood cells so that when they compete, their body has already adapted to this. However, there are now machines used in sport laboratories, like hyperbaric chambers, which can simulate different altitudes so that athletes no longer have to travel overseas to prepare themselves for competition.