Fitness-related differences in the rate of whole-body evaporative heat loss in exercising men are heat-load dependent.Exp Physiol 2018; 103(1):101-110EP
What is the central question of this study? Aerobic fitness modulates heat loss, but the heat-load threshold at which fitness-related differences in heat loss occur in young healthy men remains unclear. What is the main finding and its importance? We demonstrate using direct calorimetry that aerobic fitness modulates heat loss in a heat-load-dependent manner, with fitness-related differences occurring between young men who have low and high fitness when the heat load is ∼≥500 W. Although aerobic fitness has been known for some time to modulate heat loss, our findings define the precise heat-load threshold at which fitness-related differences occur. The effect of aerobic fitness (defined as rate of peak oxygen consumption) on heat loss during exercise is thought to be related to the level of heat stress. However, it remains unclear at what combined exercise and environmental (net) heat-load threshold these fitness-related differences occur. To identify this, we assessed whole-body heat exchange (dry and evaporative) by direct calorimetry in young (22 ± 3 years) men matched for physical characteristics with low (Low-fit; 39.8 ± 2.5 ml O2 kg-1 min-1), moderate (Mod-fit; 50.9 ± 1.2 ml O2 kg-1 min-1) and high aerobic fitness (High-fit; 62.0 ± 4.4 ml O2 kg-1 min-1 ; each n = 8), during three 30 min bouts of cycling in dry heat (40°C, 12% relative humidity) at increasing rates of metabolic heat production of 300 (Ex1), 400 (Ex2) and 500 W (Ex3), each followed by a 15 min recovery period. Each group was exposed to a similar net heat load (metabolic plus ∼100 W dry heat gain; P = 0.83) during each exercise bout [∼400 (Ex1), ∼500 (Ex2) and ∼600 W (Ex3); P < 0.01]. Although evaporative heat loss was similar between groups during Ex1 (P = 0.33), evaporative heat loss was greater in the High-fit (Ex2, 466 ± 21 W; Ex3, 557 ± 26 W) compared with the Low-fit group (Ex2, 439 ± 22 W; Ex3, 511 ± 20 W) during Ex2 and Ex3 (P ≤ 0.03). Conversely, evaporative heat loss for the Mod-fit group did not differ from either the High-fit or Low-fit group during all exercise bouts (P ≥ 0.09). We demonstrate that aerobic fitness modulates heat loss in a heat-load-dependent manner, such that young, highly fit men display greater heat-loss capacity only at heat loads ∼≥500 W compared with their lesser trained counterparts.