BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Exercise in hot environments impairs endurance performance. Cooling interventions can attenuate the impact of heat stress on performance, but the influence of an exercise protocol on the magnitude of performance benefit remains unknown. This meta-analytical review compared the effects of pre- and per-cooling interventions on performance during self-paced and constant workload exercise in the heat.
METHODS: The study protocol was preregistered at the Open Science Framework ( https://osf.io/wqjb3 ). A systematic literature search was performed in PubMed, Web of Science, and MEDLINE from inception to 9 June, 2023. We included studies that examined the effects of pre- or per-cooling on exercise performance in male individuals under heat stress (> 30 °C) during self-paced or constant workload exercise in cross-over design studies. Risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool for randomized trials.
RESULTS: Fifty-nine studies (n = 563 athletes) were identified from 3300 records, of which 40 (n = 370 athletes) used a self-paced protocol and 19 (n = 193 athletes) used a constant workload protocol. Eighteen studies compared multiple cooling interventions and were included more than once (total n = 86 experiments and n = 832 paired measurements). Sixty-seven experiments used a pre-cooling intervention and 19 used a per-cooling intervention. Average ambient conditions were 34.0 °C [32.3-35.0 °C] and 50.0% [40.0-55.3%] relative humidity. Cooling interventions attenuated the performance decline in hot conditions and were more effective during a constant workload (effect size [ES] = 0.62, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.44-0.81) compared with self-paced exercise (ES = 0.30, 95% CI 0.18-0.42, p = 0.004). A difference in performance outcomes between protocols was only observed with pre-cooling (ES = 0.74, 95% CI 0.50-0.98 vs ES = 0.29, 95% CI 0.17-0.42, p = 0.001), but not per-cooling (ES = 0.45, 95% CI 0.16-0.74 vs ES = 0.35, 95% CI 0.01-0.70, p = 0.68).
CONCLUSIONS: Cooling interventions attenuated the decline in performance during exercise in the heat, but the magnitude of the effect is dependent on exercise protocol (self-paced vs constant workload) and cooling type (pre- vs per-cooling). Pre-cooling appears to be more effective in attenuating the decline in exercise performance during a constant workload compared with self-paced exercise protocols, whereas no differences were found in the effectiveness of per-cooling.