Novel insights of overtraining syndrome discovered from the EROS study

BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2019 Jun 20;5(1):e000542. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000542. eCollection 2019.


Background: Excessive training and inadequate recovery could cause 'overtraining syndrome' (OTS), which is characterised by underperformance and fatigue. The pathophysiology of OTS is unclear. We aimed to describe novel mechanisms and risk factors associated with OTS, and thereby facilitate its early identification and prevention, from a comprehensive joint qualitative analysis of the findings from all the four arms of the Endocrine and Metabolic Responses on Overtraining Syndrome (EROS) study.

Methods: We compared the types and proportions of behavioural patterns of 67 evaluated parameters of OTS from 51 participants-athletes with OTS (OTS, n=14), healthy athletes (n=25) and healthy non-physically active controls (n=12). We performed overall and pairwise comparisons for statistically significant differences between the three groups (p<0.05).

Results: A total of 44 (65.7%) markers exhibited significant differences between the three groups: 32 (72.7%) showed a loss of the conditioning effect of exercise ('deconditioning'), 7 (15.9%) showed changes exclusive to OTS, 3 (6.8%) maintained the exercise-induced conditioning effects and 2 (4.5%) revealed an exacerbation of the adaptive changes to exercises.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that OTS is likely triggered by multiple factors, not restricted to excessive training, resulted from a chronic energy deprivation, leading to multiple losses in the conditioning processes typically observed in healthy athletes, as a combination of 'paradoxical deconditioning' processes, which explains the gradual and marked loss of physical conditioning found in OTS. We, therefore, suggest that the term 'paradoxical deconditioning syndrome' better represents the features of this syndrome.

Keywords: fatigue; hormones; overtraining syndrome; paradoxical deconditioning syndrome; sports endocrinology; sports performance.