Soccer induces neuromuscular fatigue requiring several hours of recovery.
Purpose: The study aimed to determine the extent to which neuromuscular fatigue occurs in high-level professional players and its recovery after a match and to examine its relationship with central and peripheral fatigue indicators.
Methods: Maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), sprint and passing abilities, muscle soreness, maximal voluntary activation, EMG activity, and evocated quadriceps contractile properties (using different electrical stimulations) were determined before, immediately after, and at 24 and 48 h after the match in 20 male professional players.
Results: Immediately after a 90-min game, fatigue was evident by a reduction of MVC and sprint performance (-11%, P < 0.001 and -3%, P < 0.001, respectively) and increased muscle soreness (P < 0.001) compared with baseline, whereas short-passing ability was preserved. At the same time point, maximal voluntary activation and EMG activity were reduced by 8% (P < 0.001) and 12% (P = 0.001), respectively. M-wave characteristics were unchanged, whereas quadriceps mechanical responses to single and paired stimulations at 10 Hz resulted as significantly reduced (peak torque = -8%, P < 0.001 and -9%, P < 0.001). Despite the observation of a partial recovery 24 h after the game, all variables did not return to baseline values until 48 h after the match.
Conclusions: In high-level professional players, the fatigue induced by a soccer match occurs to a smaller extent than in lower level athletes and seems to be recovered in a faster fashion. Match-related fatigue is determined by a combination of central and peripheral factors. A relationship exists between central fatigue indicators and MVC and sprint performance decrements, whereas muscle soreness seems to be linked to peripheral fatigue indicators, particularly to mechanical responses at low-frequency stimulations.