A pilot study comparing the metabolic profiles of elite-level athletes from different sporting disciplines

Sports Med Open. 2018 Jan 5;4(1):2. doi: 10.1186/s40798-017-0114-z.


Background: The outstanding performance of an elite athlete might be associated with changes in their blood metabolic profile. The aims of this study were to compare the blood metabolic profiles between moderate- and high-power and endurance elite athletes and to identify the potential metabolic pathways underlying these differences.

Methods: Metabolic profiling of serum samples from 191 elite athletes from different sports disciplines (121 high- and 70 moderate-endurance athletes, including 44 high- and 144 moderate-power athletes), who participated in national or international sports events and tested negative for doping abuse at anti-doping laboratories, was performed using non-targeted metabolomics-based mass spectroscopy combined with ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography. Multivariate analysis was conducted using orthogonal partial least squares discriminant analysis. Differences in metabolic levels between high- and moderate-power and endurance sports were assessed by univariate linear models.

Results: Out of 743 analyzed metabolites, gamma-glutamyl amino acids were significantly reduced in both high-power and high-endurance athletes compared to moderate counterparts, indicating active glutathione cycle. High-endurance athletes exhibited significant increases in the levels of several sex hormone steroids involved in testosterone and progesterone synthesis, but decreases in diacylglycerols and ecosanoids. High-power athletes had increased levels of phospholipids and xanthine metabolites compared to moderate-power counterparts.

Conclusions: This pilot data provides evidence that high-power and high-endurance athletes exhibit a distinct metabolic profile that reflects steroid biosynthesis, fatty acid metabolism, oxidative stress, and energy-related metabolites. Replication studies are warranted to confirm differences in the metabolic profiles associated with athletes' elite performance in independent data sets, aiming ultimately for deeper understanding of the underlying biochemical processes that could be utilized as biomarkers with potential therapeutic implications.

Keywords: Elite athletes; Endurance; Energy substrates; Metabolomics; Oxidative stress; Power; Steroids biosynthesis.