Biochemical aspects of overtraining in endurance sports : the metabolism alteration process syndrome

Sports Med. 2003;33(2):83-94. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200333020-00001.


Recent studies have shown that endurance overtraining could result from successive and cumulative alterations in metabolism, which become chronic during training. The onset of this process is a biochemical alteration in carbohydrate (saccharide) metabolism. During endurance exercises, the amount of saccharide chains from two blood glycoproteins (alpha(2)-macroglobulin and alpha(1)-acid glycoprotein) was found to have decreased, i.e. concentrations of these proteins remained unchanged but their quality changed. These saccharide chains were probably used for burning liver glycogen stores during exercise. This step was followed by alterations in lipid metabolism. The most relevant aspect of this step was that the mean chain length of blood fatty acids decreased, i.e. the same amount of fatty acids were found within the blood, but overtrained individuals presented shorter fatty acids than well-trained individuals. This suggests that alterations appeared in the liver synthesis of long-chain fatty acids or that higher peroxidation of blood lipoparticles occurred. For the final step of this overtraining process, it was found that these dysfunctions in carbohydrate/lipid metabolism led to the higher use of amino acids, which probably resulted from protein catabolism. The evolution of three protein concentrations (alpha(1)-acid glycoprotein, alpha(2)-macroglobulin and IgG(3)) correlated with this amino acid concentration increase, suggesting a specific catabolism of these proteins. At this time only, overtraining was clinically diagnosed through conventional symptoms. Therefore, this process described successive alterations in exercise metabolism that shifted from the main energetic stores of exercise (carbohydrates and lipids) towards molecular pools (proteins) normally not substantially used for the energetic supply of skeletal muscles. Now, a general biochemical model of the overtraining process may be proposed which includes most of the previously identified metabolic hypotheses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biochemical Phenomena*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Sports / education*
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Syndrome