Managing fatigue in athletes is crucial for a variety of reasons. Excess fatigue can lead to injury. Injury sidelines a player who can no longer contribute during competitions and will likely lose fitness capacities during this time, prolonging the return to play. Excess fatigue can lead to illness which can give rise to the same issues listed with injury. In addition, excess fatigue can lead to performance decrements which can result in unfavorable competition results and personal confidence issues with the athlete. Frankly, fatigue management should not be an option, but a responsibility of all performance coaches to optimize the health and performance of their athletes.
A new study published ahead of print in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance aimed to determine practically measurable predictors of illness in elite team-sport athletes (Thornton et al., 2015). Thirty-two professional rugby league players were monitored throughout a 29 week season that included preparatory and competitive seasons. Internal training load was assessed after every training session via the session rating of perceived exertion method. From this data, weekly “strain” and “monotony” were calculated. Strain reflects intensified training with minimal recovery between sessions. Monotony reflects a lack of variation in training load. A wellness questionnaire was also utilized to survey athletes on their perceived sleep quality, soreness, nutrition adherence, and presence of predetermined illness symptoms (e.g., runny nose, sore throat, fever, cough).
The researchers performed a series of statistical procedures to model the relationship between the studied variables and incidence of illness. The researchers came up with threshold values for the training load parameters that when exceeded, were more likely to increase illness rates. Specifically, weekly training loads >2765 au, monotony >0.78 au and strain >2282 au all resulted in increased risk of illness. Overall well being ratings and perceived muscle soreness were also strong predictors of illness. The researchers highlight the importance of tracking these variables regularly so that training loads can be adjusted immediately when these thresholds are exceeded. Ultimately, coaches can minimize incidences of illness in their athletes if they monitor training loads effectively and make adjustments when necessary to prevent excess fatigue accumulation.
Thornton, H., Delaney, J., Duthie, G., Scott, B., Chivers, W., Sanctuary, C., & Dascombe, B. (2015). Predicting Self-Reported Illness for Professional Team-Sport Athletes. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.