Introduction: Detecting the onset of functional overreaching (FOR) or nonfunctional overreaching in endurance athletes is of prior importance to ensure reactive amendment of the scheduled training program. The objective of this study was to assess photoplethysmography (PPG) in overloaded athletes and test whether 1) it would be affected differently in functional overreached (FOR) or nonoverreached acutely fatigued (AF) athletes and 2) specific PPG characteristics would allow for timely distinction of FOR and AF.
Methods: Fifteen athletes performed 2-wk baseline training followed by 3-wk overload (+45%; OVL) and 2-wk recovery (-20%). Three-thousand-meter time-trial running was used to assess performance at the end of baseline, OVL, and recovery and distinguish FOR and AF. PPG was recorded overnight using a wearable sensor, every third night. Overnight means and variances of systolic, diastolic, and dicrotic amplitudes and times as well as systolic and diastolic slopes were used to discriminate FOR and AF athletes.
Results: Performance was decreased in FOR and improved in AF at the end of OVL. Diastolic time was greater in AF than FOR, whereas systolic slope was smaller in AF than in FOR during OVL. The variances of systolic, diastolic, dicrotic amplitudes, systolic, diastolic slopes, and pulse areas were smaller in AF compared with FOR in the last week of OVL.
Conclusion: PPG is an efficient tool for the detection of overreaching because it distinguished FOR and AF athletes during OVL (prior performance decrement). This fast-responding method would therefore allow for adjusting the daily training content to prevent nonfunctional overreaching.