Supercompensation and anabolic vs. catabolic balance of the body.

Supercompensation and anabolic vs. catabolic balance of the body.

The main goal of sports coaching and competitive sports is to develop athletes’ physical fitness. 

Therefore, the total training load of exercises and training sessions is regulated by intensity and volume. In coaching science, the optimal training rhythm delivers supercompensation (Viru 2002, Marrier et al., 2017, Issurin 2019). As a result, the athlete recovers from the training load just in time, and the next workout/training session is timed correctly while maintaining anabolic body condition (Figure 1. Supercompensation).

As early as 1956, Selye’s stress theory showed that too frequent stress stimuli often lead to overtraining and a catabolic state from which recovery takes a long time.

Figure 2. Supercompensation in military service after two weeks of strenuous exercise (Salonen et al., 2018). 

Figure 1. Supercompensation vs. Over-training

Salonen et al. (2018) showed a clear supercompensation in young (age 20 ± 1 yrs, n = 20) healthy and fit men (2,980 ± 267m of the 12-min running test) in a study, which compared military stress vs. recovery period (Figure 2.). In their study, the 12-day continuous military training in garrison and field conditions decreased serum hormone concentrations, but a 3-day recovery period seemed sufficient for a full recovery. Thus, in this study, the training load seemed adequate for overreaching vs. recovery, causing supercompensation. Overtraining syndrome is the untreated overreaching that produces long-term decreased hormonal response, performance, and impaired ability to train (McArdle et al. 2006).

How to study supercompensation in science?

In the scientific studies, two standard methods used to study physiological responses to stress are the measurement of the autonomic nervous system using heart rate variability and assessment of serum hormonal concentrations (Kirschbaum et al., 1995, Kunz-Ebrecht, Mohamed-Ali, Feldman, Kirschbaum, & Steptoe, 2003, Lucini, Norbiato, Clerici, & Pagani, 2002, Huovinen et al. 2009, Huovinen et al. 2011). When stress is present, heart rate variability can be used to detect very rapid changes in the autonomic nervous responses (Camm et al., 1996). In contrast, hormonal changes may take hours or days to be observed (Kyröläinen et al., 2008, Nindl et al., 2006).

A common way to assess the anabolic and catabolic balance of the body is to measure testosterone to the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio (Häkkinen, 1989, Häkkinen, Pakarinen, Alen, & Komi, 1985, Kraemer et al., 1991). Testosterone is one of the main anabolic hormones associated with protein synthesis and hypertrophy (Häkkinen et al., 1985, Kraemer et al., 1991). Conversely, high serum cortisol can inhibit the anabolic effects of testosterone (Doerr & Pirke, 1976). Furthermore, increased cortisol concentrations have been associated with protein catabolism (Kraemer & Ratamess, 2003, Seene & Viru, 1982). 

Previous studies have shown that changes in VO2max after a training intervention are associated with autonomic nervous system regulation in healthy individuals (Al-Aniet al, 1996, Hautala et al., 2003, Hedelin et al., 2001, Pagani et al., 1986, Tulppo et al., 2003). Cardiac autonomic regulation can be measured utilizing heart rate variability, a technique that offers a potential and practical tool for evaluating physiological adaptation during daily life and training syllabus. The reliability of commercial heart rate variability devices and biosensors has improved in recent years, especially when measuring sleep (Kinnunen et al., 2020, Stone et al., 2021). However, there are still considerable differences between different meters (Stone et al., 2021). RMSSD from time-domain methods has been standardized as the most used HRV parameter in commercial applications (Stone et al., 2021).


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