Purpose: We investigated the effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on plasma volume (PV) expansion and whether such responses can be tracked by changes in heart rate (HR)-based measures.
Methods: Seven, well-trained male cyclists were monitored for 35 consecutive days (17 days baseline training, 10 days training plus sauna, 8 days training). Sauna exposure consisted of 30 min (87 °C, 11 % relative humidity) immediately following normal training. Capillary blood samples were collected while resting seated to assess PV changes. HR (HRwake) and vagal-related HR variability (natural logarithm of square root mean squared differences of successive R-R intervals, ln rMSSDwake) were assessed daily upon waking. A sub-maximal cycle test (5 min at 125 W) was performed on days 1, 8, 15, 22, 25, 29, and 35 and HR recovery (HRR60s) and ln rMSSDpostex were assessed post-exercise. Effects were examined using magnitude-based inferences.
Results: Compared with baseline, sauna resulted in: (1) peak PV expansion after four exposures with a likely large increase [+17.8 % (90 % confidence limits, 7.4; 29.2)]; (2) reduction of HRwake by a trivial-to-moderate amount [-10.2 % (-15.9; -4.0)]; (3) trivial-to-small changes for ln rMSSDwake [4.3 % (1.9; 6.8)] and ln rMSSDpostex [-2.4 % (-9.1; 4.9)]; and (4) a likely moderate decrease in HRR60s [-15.6 % (-30.9; 3.0)]. Correlations between individual changes in PV and HR measures were all unclear.
Conclusions: Sauna bathing following normal training largely expanded PV in well-trained cyclists after just four exposures. The utility of HR and HRV indices for tracking changes in PV was uncertain. Future studies will clarify mechanisms and performance benefits of post-training sauna bathing.