Metabolic markers in sports medicine

Adv Clin Chem. 2012:56:1-54. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-394317-0.00015-7.


Physical exercise induces adaptations in metabolism considered beneficial for health. Athletic performance is linked to adaptations, training, and correct nutrition in individuals with genetic traits that can facilitate such adaptations. Intense and continuous exercise, training, and competitions, however, can induce changes in the serum concentrations of numerous laboratory parameters. When these modifications, especially elevated laboratory levels, result outside the reference range, further examinations are ordered or participation in training and competition is discontinued or sports practice loses its appeal. In order to correctly interpret commonly used laboratory data, laboratory professionals and sport physicians need to know the behavior of laboratory parameters during and after practice and competition. We reviewed the literature on liver, kidney, muscle, heart, energy, and bone parameters in athletes with a view to increase the knowledge about clinical chemistry applied to sport and to stimulate studies in this field. In liver metabolism, the interpretation of serum aminotransferases concentration in athletes should consider the release of aspartate aminotransferase (AST) from muscle and of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) mainly from the liver, when bilirubin can be elevated because of continuous hemolysis, which is typical of exercise. Muscle metabolism parameters such as creatine kinase (CK) are typically increased after exercise. This parameter can be used to interpret the physiological release of CK from muscle, its altered release due to rhabdomyolysis, or incomplete recovery due to overreaching or trauma. Cardiac markers are released during exercise, and especially endurance training. Increases in these markers should not simply be interpreted as a signal of cardiac damage or wall stress but rather as a sign of regulation of myocardial adaptation. Renal function can be followed in athletes by measuring serum creatinine concentration, but it should be interpreted considering the athlete's body-mass index (BMI) and phase of the competitive season; use of cystatin C could be a reliable alternative to creatinine. Exercise and training induce adaptations in glucose metabolism which improve glucose utilization in athletes and are beneficial for reducing insulin insensitivity in nonathletes. Glucose metabolism differs slightly for different sports disciplines, as revealed in laboratory levels. Sport activities induce a blood lipid profile superior to that of sedentary subjects. There are few reports for a definitive conclusion, however. The differences between athletes and sedentary subjects are mainly due to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDLC) concentrations in physically active individuals, although some differences among sport disciplines exist. The effect of sports on serum and urinary markers for bone metabolism is not univocal; further studies are needed to establish the real and effective influence of sport on bone turnover and especially to establish its beneficial effect.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adult
  • Alanine Transaminase / blood
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases / blood
  • Athletes
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism
  • Creatine Kinase / blood
  • Creatinine / blood*
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / physiology
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / blood
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Physical Endurance
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Sports Medicine*


  • Biomarkers
  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Creatinine
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases
  • Alanine Transaminase
  • Creatine Kinase