What makes an endurance athlete world-class? Not simply a physiological conundrum

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003 Sep;136(1):171-90. doi: 10.1016/s1095-6433(03)00220-4.


Inter-individual variation in endurance performance capacity is a characteristic, not only of the general population, but also in trained athletes. The ability of sport scientists to predict which athletes amongst an elite group will become world-class is limited. We do not fully understand the interactions between biological factors, training, recovery and competitive performance. Assessment methods and interpretation of results do not take into account the facts that most research is not done on elite athletes and performances of world-class endurance athletes cannot be attributed to aerobic capacity alone. Many lines of evidence suggest that there is a limit to adaptation in aerobic capacity. Recent advances in molecular biology and genetics should be harnessed by exercise biologists in conjunction with previously used physiological, histological and biochemical techniques to study elite athletes and their responses to different training and recovery regimens. Technological advances should be harnessed to study world-class athletes to determine optimal training and competition strategies. In summary, it is likely that multiple factors are essential contributors to world-class endurance performance and that it is only by using a multidisciplinary approach that we will come closer to solving the conundrum: 'What makes an endurance athlete world class?'

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Sports*