Britain’s Tiffany Porter finished second in the 60m hurdles at the European Indoor Championships in Torun, Poland, last weekend, ahead of Belgium’s Anne Zagre. Did your mouth mask cost number one?
“Purely physiologically, there can be very little effect,” says Jean Bourgeois, professor of exercise physiology at Ghent University. “60m hurdles is a short track. That’s only a six to seven second effort. Then oxygen consumption doesn’t determine performance.
What could play a role is the psychological impact. Feeling depressed can negatively affect your performance, but thinking that you are doing something well can actually help you’, believes Professor Bourgeois. Porter is used to training with a mouth mask. She says she feels comfortable with her. And although she has said in interviews that she doesn’t want to make anyone feel bad, she herself fully supports the wearing of masks as a measure against the virus.
Not for endurance sports
Will other athletes follow? Professor Bourgeois does not believe. For example, a mouth mask has a tremendous effect on endurance numbers. The reason is that you have to work harder with a mouth mask to breathe air, and therefore oxygen. Performance there largely depends on oxygen consumption, the professor explains.
Oxygen consumption is important to continue supplying energy to the muscles. On short tracks such as the 60m hurdles, the athlete gets his energy from the fuel phosphocreatine. You don’t need oxygen for that, Bourgeois explains.
Athletes on the longer tracks are seen exercising with their mouths open. They gasp for air. With the mask on, the breathing muscles have to work harder to inhale enough air. Because these muscles also need oxygen, there is no more working muscles.
Another disadvantage of masking your nose and mouth during a long song is that your body cannot cool off due to the water vapor you exhale. Bourgeois adds that he heats up more during the race.