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Purpose: Insufficient recovery can lead to a decrease in performance and increase the risk of injury and illness. The aim of this study was to evaluate salivary cortisol as a marker of recovery in elite rugby union players. Method: Over a 10-wk preseason training period, 19 male elite rugby union players provided saliva swabs biweekly (Monday and Friday mornings). Subjective markers of recovery were collected every morning of each training day. Session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE) was taken after every training session, and training load was calculated (sRPE × session duration). Results: Multilevel analysis found no significant association between salivary cortisol and training load or subjective markers of recovery (all P > .05) over the training period. Compared with baseline (wk 1), Monday salivary cortisol significantly increased in wk 4 (14.94 [7.73] ng/mL; P = .04), wk 8 (16.39 [9.53] ng/mL; P = .01), and wk 9 (15.41 [9.82] ng/mL; P = .02), and Friday salivary cortisol significantly increased in wk 5 (14.81 [8.74] ng/mL; P = .04) and wk 10 (15.36 [11.30] ng/mL; P = .03). Conclusions: The significant increase in salivary cortisol on certain Mondays may indicate that players did not physically recover from the previous week of training or match at the weekend. The increased Friday cortisol levels and subjective marker of perceived fatigue indicated increased physiological stress from that week’s training. Regular monitoring of salivary cortisol combined with appropriate planning of training load may allow sufficient recovery to optimize training performance.
Tiernan, Lyons, Comyns, and Warrington are with the Dept of Physical Education and Sport Sciences and the Health Research Inst, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland. Nevill is with the Faculty of Education Health and Wellbeing, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, United Kingdom.