Throughout the month of March, I participated in a research study at the University of Ottawa that looked at how gender, age, and diabetes affect the body’s ability to dissipate heat. It assessed how individuals respond to increasing levels of heat stress at rest and during physical activity. Here is an update on how it went!
Before the start of each lab, Sheila, the lead researcher, drew out three tubes of blood from my arm and measured my weight. Next, I was taped up to multiple devices that measure my sweat rate, heart rate, surface skin temperature, and inner body temperature. To measure my inner body temperature, Sheila and Martin (another researcher) had to stick a foot long temperature probe up my nose and down my throat!!! It took a few attempts because the probe tickled my nose and made me laugh. Once the probs was in, it was very uncomfortable and every time I swallowed it would slide up and down my throat and nose.
Then, we moved inside the whole body calorimeter where Sheila attached all the devices on my body to tubes and machines in the calorimeter. After placing the mask on my face, we were ready to go!
The exercise I had to do in the 40oC calorimeter was explained to me in the beginning as follows: 15 min base period, followed by a 30 min cycle on a recumbent bike + 15min rest. I would have to do this three times with increased intensity each time. During the total time of 2.5 hours in the calorie meter, I was not allowed to drink water, so Sheila would attentively be checking my body measurements on her computer through the devices I was hooked up to and often checked up on me through an intercom to make sure I was feeling okay.
By the end of the first round I was sweaty and hot, so you can probably imagine how thirsty I was by the second round. That was nothing compared to the third and most intense round. By the start of the third round all I wanted was to finish, chug a gallon of water, and get the temperature probe out of my nose and throat!! The last 15min base period was mentally the hardest because all I could do was sit there in the heat dehydrated, counting down the seconds…
Soon enough, it was over (phew!) and Sheila came to get me. She and her peers burst open the door, the cool air rushed in, and was greeted with big smiles and excited researchers. For a split second, my uncomfortableness was replaced with confusion since I don’t know why they are so happy about…I was tired and dehydrated. Apparently, as Sheila explained, it is difficult for women to reach 500 watts of body heat and plateau before that. Once I passed the 500 watt mark, she told me the researchers started placing bets to see when I would plateau. By the time I reached 550 watts they were all very impressed with the fact that I never actually reached a plateau and also because of how much I sweat! From taking part in this research, I learned that my body gets very hot and I sweat a lot (yes, I sweat. You do too! It’s what hard work looks like), therefore, in order to stay hydrated, I have to drink more water and electrolytes to replenish everything that I lose during the day.
After all the tape was off, Sheila weighed me again and sure enough I lost 4 pounds of water weight from sweat. This meant lot of fluids for me for the next few days!! Sheila took two more tubes of blood before handing me the cool, refreshing bottle of water. The whole process took about 4 hours and I did it three times during the month.
A week after all the tests were done, I received my full fitness report that included interesting and valuable information such as my body fat percentage, blood pressure, body composition, oxygen consumption, and most importantly my VO2max, aerobic threshold and anaerobic threshold.
My training this year has been different than last year. I get my workouts done but my mindset has been different. I hope to connect with more triathlon people around this city for next year. Training alone is not as much fun and has made me more distracted and inclined to hang out with friends.
The information I received from this study will help me re-focus because they added a training zone chart tailored specifically to me. This is very valuable because I am used to training with the watt meters provided by my high school. And when I didn’t have access to these watt meters I was left estimating and mostly training by effort. As I get ready for my first Multisport Series Race in Woodstock, I can rely on this chart to help me calculate my target heart rate goal specific to my fitness level for each workout and its intensity.
In addition, this study reminded me constantly about the importance of hydration and keeping my body hydrated with plenty of water AND electrolytes throughout the day as well as before, during, and post workouts! A great recovery drink is chocolate milk. Apart from its delicious chocolate taste, it contains all the essentials: fluids and electrolytes for hydration, protein for muscle repair, and carbohydrates to replenish energy stores that get you ready for your next workout!
I am really happy that I was able to participate in this study. I shared many laughs with the Masters and PhD students, I was able to give back to the academic community, and I gained a lot of information about my fitness that will help me with my training.