Optimising Health and Athletic Performance


In order to improve sports performance, athletes periodise their training, nutrition and recovery within the context of a training season. For those not in exercise training, these controllable lifestyle factors correspond to exercise, diet and sleep, which require modification during the lifespan. In old money, this was called preventative medicine. Taking this a step further, rather than preventing disease, this proactive, personalised approach optimises health. Health should be a positive combination of physical, mental and social well being, not simply an absence of illness.

Failure to balance these lifestyle factors in an integrated fashion leads to negative outcomes. An athlete may experience maladaptation, rather than the desired adaptations to exercise training. For non-athletes an adverse combination of lifestyle factors can lead to suboptimal health and a predisposition to developing chronic disease.

What are the fundamental pathophysiological mechanisms involved in the aetiology of the clinical spectrum of suboptimal health, suboptimal sports performance and chronic disease?

Inflammation A degree of systemic inflammation and oxidative stress induced by exercise training is required to drive desired adaptations to support improved sport performance. However, prolonged, elevated levels of inflammation have adverse effects on health and underpin many chronic disease states. For example, inflammation is a contributing pathophysiological factor in the development of atherosclerosis and atherothrombosis in cardiovascular disease. What drives this over-response of the inflammatory process? Any combination of adverse lifestyle factors. Adipose tissue has an Endocrine function, releasing a subgroup of cytokines: adipokines which have peripheral and central signalling roles in energy homeostasis and inflammation. In a study of Belgian children, pro-inflammatory energy related biomarkers (high leptin and low adiponectin) were associated with decreased heart rate variability and hence in the long term increased risk of cardiovascular disease. For those with a pre-existing chronic inflammatory condition, response to treatment can be optimised with personalised lifestyle interventions.

Metabolism Non-integrated lifestyle factors can disrupt signalling pathways involved in glucose regulation, which can result in hyperinsulinaeamia and insulin resistance. This is the underlying pathological process in the aetiology of metabolic syndrome and metabolic inflexibility. Non-pharmacological interventions such as exercise and nutrition, synchronised with endogenous circadian rhythms, can improve these signalling pathways associated with insulin sensitivity at the mitochondrial level.

Intriguingly, evidence is emerging of the interaction between osteocalcin and insulin, in other words an Endocrine feedback mechanism linking bone and metabolic health. This is reflected clinically with increased fracture risk found amongst type 2 diabetics (T2DM) with longer duration and higher HbA1C.

Hormone imbalance The hypothalamus is the neuroendocrine gatekeeper of the Endocrine system. Internal feedback and external stimuli are integrated by the hypothalamus to produce an appropriate Endocrine response from the pituitary gland. The pathogenesis of metabolic syndrome involves disruption to the neuroendocrine control of energy homeostasis with resistance to hormones secreted from adipose tissue (leptin) and the stomach (ghrelin). Further evidence for the important network effects between the Endocrine and metabolic systems comes from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Although women with this condition typically present to the Endocrine clinic, the underlying aetiology is metabolic dysfunction with insulin resistance disrupting the hypothamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. The same pathophysiology of disrupted metabolic signalling adversely impacting the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis also applies to males.

In athletes, the exact same signalling pathways and neuroendocrine systems are involved in the development of relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S) where the underlying aetiology is imbalance in the periodisation of training load, nutrition and recovery.

Gastrointestinal tract In addition to malabsorption issues such as coeliac disease and non-gluten wheat sensitivity, there is emerging evidence that the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota plays a significant role in health. The microbiome of professional athletes differs from sedentary people, especially at a functional metabolic level. Conversely, an adverse gut microbiome is implicated in the pathogenesis of metabolic dysfunction such as obesity and T2DM, via modulation of enteroendocrine hormones regulating appetite centrally and insulin secretion peripherally.

Circadian disregulation As previously discussed, it is not just a question of what but WHEN you eat, sleep and exercise. If there is conflict in the timing of these lifestyle activities with internal biological clocks, then this can disrupt metabolic and endocrine signally. For example, in children curtailed sleep can impact glucose control and insulin sensitivity, predisposing to risk of developing T2DM. Eating too close to the onset of melatonin release in the evening can cause adverse body composition, irrespective of what you eat and activity levels. In those with pre-existing metabolic dysfunction, such as PCOS, timing of meals has an effect on insulin levels and hence reproductive Endocrine function. The immune system displays circadian rhythmicity which integrated with external cues (for example when we eat/exercise/sleep) optimises our immune response. For athletes competing in high intensity races, this may be more favourable in terms of Endocrine and metabolic status in the evening.

Psychology Psychological stress impacts the key pathophysiological mechanisms outlined above: metabolic signalling, inflammation and neuroendocrine regulation, which contribute to Endocrine and metabolic dysfunction. Fortunately stress is a modifiable lifestyle risk factor. In the case of functional hypothalamic amenorrhoea (where nutrition/exercise/sleep are balanced), psychological intervention can reverse this situation.

Conclusion Putting this all together, if the modifiable lifestyle factors of exercise, nutrition, sleep are optimised in terms of composition and timing, this improves metabolic and Endocrine signalling pathways, including neuroendocrine regulation. Preventative Medicine going beyond preventing disease; it optimises health.

BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance



Athletic Fatigue: Part 2 Dr N. Keay

From population based norms to personalised medicine: Health, Fitness, Sports Performance Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

Endocrine system: balance and interplay in response to exercise training Dr N. Keay

Saturated fat does not clog the arteries: coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, the risk of which can be effectively reduced from healthy lifestyle interventions British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

Longitudinal Associations of Leptin and Adiponectin with Heart Rate Variability in Children Frontiers in Physiology 2017

A Proposal for a Study on Treatment Selection and Lifestyle Recommendations in Chronic Inflammatory Diseases: A Danish Multidisciplinary Collaboration on Prognostic Factors and Personalised Medicine Nutrients 2017

Assessment of Metabolic Flexibility by Means of Measuring Blood Lactate, Fat, and Carbohydrate Oxidation Responses to Exercise in Professional Endurance Athletes and Less-Fit Individuals Sports Medicine 2017

Skeletal muscle mitochondria as a target to prevent or treat type 2 diabetes mellitus Nature Reviews Endocrinology

Insulin and osteocalcin: further evidence for a mutual cross-talk Endocrine 2017

HbA1c levels, diabetes duration linked to fracture risk Endocrine Today 2017

The cellular and molecular bases of leptin and ghrelin resistance in obesity Nature Reviews Endocrinology 2017

Metabolic and Endocrine System Networks Dr N. Keay

Adiponectin and resistin: potential metabolic signals affecting hypothalamo-pituitary gonadal axis in females and males of different species Reproduction 2017

Optimal Health: For All Athletes! Part 4 – Mechanisms Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Ubiquitous Microbiome: impact on health, sport performance and disease Dr N. Keay

The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level Gut. BMJ

Interplay between gut microbiota, its metabolites and human metabolism: Dissecting cause from consequence Trends in Food Science & Technology 2016

Temporal considerations in Endocrine/Metabolic interactions Part 1 Dr N. Keay

Temporal considerations in Endocrine/Metabolic interactions Part 2 Dr N. Keay

Sleep Duration and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Paediatrics 2017

Later circadian timing of food intake is associated with increased body fat Am J Clin Nutr. 2017

Effects of caloric intake timing on insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism in lean women with polycystic ovary syndrome Clin Sci (London)

Immunity around the clock Science

Effect of Time of Day on Performance, Hormonal and Metabolic Response during a 1000-M Cycling Time Trial PLOS

Type 2 diabetes mellitus and psychological stress — a modifiable risk factor Nature Reviews Endocrinology 2017

Recovery of ovarian activity in women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea who were treated with cognitive behaviour therapy Fertil Steril


Athletic Fatigue: Part 2

A degree of athletic fatigue following a training session, as described in part 1, is required to set in motion mechanisms to drive beneficial adaptations to exercise. At what point does this process of functional over-reaching tip into non-functional over-reaching denoted by failure to improve sports performance? Or further still along the spectrum and time scale, the chronic situation of overtraining and decrease in performance? Is this a matter of time scale, or degree, or both?

Integrated Periodisation of Training Load, Nutrition and Recovery keeps an individual on the green plateau, avoiding descent into the red zone, due to an excess or deficiency

Determining the tipping point between these fatigue situations is important for health and performance. A first step is always to exclude underlying organic disease states, be these of Endocrine, systemic inflammatory or infective aetiologies. Thereafter the crucial step is to assess whether the periodisation of training, nutrition and recovery are integrated over a training block and in the longer term over a training season.

What about the application of Endocrine markers to monitor training load? Although the recent studies described below are more applicable to research scenarios, they give some interesting insights into the interactive networks effects of the Endocrine system and the multifactorial nature of fatigue amongst individual athletes.

In the short term, during a 2 day rowing competition, increases in wakening salivary cortisol were noted followed by return towards baseline in subsequent 2 day recovery. Despite individual variability with salivary cortisol measurement, this does at least offer a noninvasive way to adjust training loads around competition time for elite athletes.

Over an 11 day stimulated training camp and recovery during the sport specific preparatory phase of the training season, blood metabolic and Endocrine markers were measured. In the case of an endurance based training camp in cyclists, a significant increase in urea (due to protein breakdown associated with high energy demand training) and decrease in insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) from baseline were noted. Whereas for the strength-based athletes for ball sports, an increase in creatine kinase (CK) was seen, as a result of muscle damage. This study demonstrates how different markers of fatigue are specific to sport discipline and mode of training. Large inter-individual variability existed between the degree of change in markers and degree of fatigue.

In the longer term, for the case of overtraining syndrome potential Endocrine markers have been reviewed. Whilst basal levels of most measured hormones remained stable, a blunted submaximal exercise response of growth hormone (GH), prolactin and ACTH could be indicative of developing overtraining syndrome. Whilst this review is interesting, dynamic testing is not a practical approach and these findings are not specific to over training. Rather this blunted dynamic exercise response would indicate relative suppression of the neuroendocrine hypothalamic-pituitary axis which could potentially involve other stressors such as inadequate sleep or poor nutrition. Although basal levels may lie “within the normal range”, if both pituitary derived stimulating hormone and end endocrine gland hormone concentrations fall in the lower end of the normal ranges (eg low end of range TSH and T4) this is consistent with mild hypothalamic suppression observed over the range of training and fatigue conditions (functional/non-functional and overtraining) and/or Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (RED-S).

Although the studies above are of research interest, non invasive monitoring, specific to an athlete is more practical for monitoring the effects of training. Several useful easily measurable metrics can give clues: resting heart rate, heart rate variability, power output. Tools on Strava and Training Peaks provide practical insights in monitoring training effectiveness via these metrics. A range of mobile apps makes it ever easier to augment a personal training log to include these training metrics, along with feel, sleep and nutrition. Such a log provides feedback on health and fitness for the individual athlete, in order to personalise training plans. Certainly adding the results from any standard basal blood tests will also help add to the picture, along the lines of building a longitudinal personal biological passport. After all, “normal ranges” are based on the general population, of which top level athletes may represent a subgroup. The more personalised the metics recorded over a long time scale, the more sensitive and useful the process to guide improvement in sport performance.

Context is key when considering athletic fatigue: temporal considerations and individual variation. Certainly the interactive network effects of the Endocrine system are important in determining the degree of adaptation to exercise and therefore sports performance. However the Endocrine system acts in conjunction with many other systems (metabolic, immune and inflammatory), in determining the effectiveness of training in improving sports performance. So it is not surprising that one metric or marker in isolation is not predictive of fatigue status in individual athletes.

For more discussion on Health, Hormones and Human Performance come to the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine annual conference


Athletic Fatigue: Part 1

Endocrine system: balance and interplay in response to exercise training

Temporal considerations in Endocrine/Metabolic interactions Part 1

Fatigue, sport performance and hormones..more on the endocrine system Dr N Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

Sport Performance and RED-S, insights from recent Annual Sport and Exercise Medicine and Innovations in Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conferences Dr N Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

Capturing effort and recovery: reactive and recuperative cortisol responses to competition in well-trained rowers British Journal of Sports Medicine

Blood-Borne Markers of Fatigue in Competitive Athletes – Results from Simulated Training Camps Plos One

Hormonal aspects of overtraining syndrome: a systematic review BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation 2017

Clusters of Athletes – A follow on from RED-S blog series to put forward impact of RED-S on athlete underperformance Dr N Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Strava Fitness and Freshness Science4Performance 2017

From population based norms to personalised medicine: Health, Fitness, Sports Performance Dr N Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

Sports Endocrinology – what does it have to do with performance? Dr N Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

Athletic Fatigue: Part 1

Interpreting athletic fatigue is not easy. Consideration has to be given to context and time scale. What are the markers and metrics that can help identify where an athlete lies in the optimal balance between training, recovery and nutrition which support beneficial adaptations to exercise whilst avoiding the pitfalls of fatigue and maladaptation? This blog will discuss the mechanisms of athletic fatigue in the short term.

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Proposed causes of fatigue dependent on duration and intensity of training session

In the short term, during an endurance training session or race, the temporal sequence of athletic fatigue depends on duration and intensity. It is proposed that below lactate threshold (LT1), a central mechanism governs: increasing central motor drive is required to maintain skeletal muscular power output until neuromuscular fatigue cannot be overcome. From lactate threshold (LT1) to lactate turn point (LT2), a combination of central and peripheral factors (such as glycogen depletion) are thought to underpin fatigue. During high intensity efforts, above LT2 (which correspond to efforts at critical power), accumulation of peripheral metabolites and inability to restore homeostasis predominate in causing fatigue and ultimately inability to continue, leading to “task failure”. Of course there is a continuum and interaction of the mechanisms determining this power-duration relationship. As glycogen stores deplete this impacts muscle contractility by impairing release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum in skeletal muscle. Accumulation of metabolites could stimulate inhibitory afferent feedback to central motor drive for muscle contraction, combined with decrease in blood glucose impacting central nervous system (CNS) function.

Even if you are a keen athlete, it may not be possible to perform a lactate tolerance or VO2 max test under lab conditions. However a range of metrics, such as heart rate and power output, can be readily collected using personalised monitoring devices and then analysed. These metrics are related to physiological markers. For example heart rate and power output are surrogate markers of plasma lactate concentration and thus can be used to determine training zones.

A training session needs to provoke a degree of training stress, reflected by some short term fatigue, to set in motion adaptations to exercise. At a cellular level this includes oxidative stress and exerkines released by exercising tissues, backed up by Endocrine responses that continue to take effect after completing training during recovery and sleep. Repeated bouts of exercise training, followed by adequate recovery, result in a stepwise increase in fitness. Adequate periodised nutrition to match variations in demand from training also need to be factored in to prevent the Endocrine system dysfunction seen in Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (RED-S), which impairs Endocrine response to training and sports performance. Integrated periodisation of training/recovery/nutrition is essential to support beneficial multi-system adaptations to exercise on a day to day time scale, over successive training blocks and encompassing the whole training and competition season. Psychological aspects cannot be underestimated. At what point does motivation become obsession?

In Part 2 the causes of athletic fatigue over a longer time scale will be discussed, from training blocks to encompassing whole season.

For more discussion on Health, Hormones and Human Performance come to the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine annual conference


Endocrine system: balance and interplay in response to exercise training

Power–duration relationship: Physiology, fatigue, and the limits of human performance European Journal of Sport Science 2016

Strava Ride Statistics Science4Performance 2017

Sleep for health and sports performance Dr N Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (RED-S) Practical Considerations for Endurance Athletes

Sports Endocrinology – what does it have to do with performance? Dr N Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

Optimal Health: For All Athletes! Part 4 – Mechanisms Dr N Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Addiction to Exercise – what distinguishes a healthy level of commitment from exercise addiction? Dr N Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017



Temporal considerations in Endocrine/Metabolic interactions Part 2


As discussed in the first part of this blog series, the Endocrine system displays temporal variation in release of hormones. Amplitude and frequency of hormonal secretion display a variety of time-related patterns. Integrating external lifestyle factors with this internal, intrinsic temporal dimension is crucial for supporting metabolic and Endocrine health and sport performance.

Circadian misalignment and sedentary lifestyle has been implicated in the increased incidence of metabolic syndrome driven by insulin resistance and associated metabolic inflexibility and decrease in fat oxidation. However, a recent study of overweight individuals, found that increases in fat oxidation from lifestyle intervention, corresponded to different clinical outcomes. Both those who maintained weight loss and those who regained weight displayed increased fat oxidation compared to baseline. How could this be? Increased fat oxidation is only part of the equation in overall fat balance. What adaptations in the metabolic and Endocrine networks were occurring during rest periods? In the case of those that maintained weight loss, increased fat oxidation was reflected in biochemical and physiological adaptations to enable this process. Whereas for those that regained weight in the long term, increased fat oxidation was enabled by increased availability of lipids, indicating increased fat synthesis over degradation.

Clearly there is individual variation in long-term Endocrine and metabolic responses to external factors. Focusing on optimising a single aspect of metabolism in the short term, will not necessarily produce the expected, or desired clinical outcome over a sustained period of time. As previously discussed the single most effective lifestyle change that induces synchronised, beneficial sustained Endocrine and metabolic adaptations is exercise.

It will come as no surprise that focusing on maximising use of a single substrate in metabolism, without integration into a seasonal training plan and consideration of impacts on internal control networks, has not produced the desired outcome of improved performance amongst athletes. Theoretically, increasing fat oxidation will benefit endurance athletes by sparing glycogen use for high intensity efforts. Nutritional ketosis can be endogenous (carbohydrate restricted intake) or exogenous (ingestion of ketone esters and carbohydrate). Low carbohydrate/high fat diets have been shown in numerous studies to increase fat oxidation, however, this was at the expense of effective glucose metabolism required during high intensity efforts. Potentially there could be adverse effects of low carbohydrate intake on gut microbiota and immunity.

This effect was observed even in a study on a short timescale using a blinded, placebo-controlled exogenous ketogenic intervention during a bicycle test, where glycogen was available as a substrate. The proposed mechanism is that although ketogenic diets promote fat oxidation, this down-regulates glucose use, as a respiratory substrate. In addition, fat oxidation carries a higher oxygen demand for a lower yield of ATP, compared to glucose as a substrate in oxidative phosphorylation.

Metabolic flexibility the ability to use a range of substrates according to requirement, is key for health and sport performance. For example, during high intensity phases of an endurance race, carbohydrate will need to be taken on board, so rehearsing what types/timing of such nutrition works best for an individual athlete in some training sessions is important. Equally, some low intensity training sessions with low carbohydrate intake could encourage metabolic flexibility. However, in a recent study “training low” or periodised carbohydrate intake failed to confer a performance advantage. I would suggest that the four week study time frame, which was not integrated into the overall training season plan, is not conclusive as to whether favourable long term Endocrine and metabolic adaptations would occur. A review highlighted seasonal variations in male and female athletes in terms of energy requirements for different training loads and body composition required for phases of training blocks and cycles over a full training season.

Essentially an integrated periodisation of training, nutrition and recovery over a full training season will optimise the desired Endocrine and metabolic adaptations for improved sport-specific performance. The emphasis will vary over the lifespan of the individual. The intricately synchronised sequential Endocrine control of the female menstrual cycle is particularly sensitive to external perturbations of nutrition, exercise and recovery. Unfortunately the majority of research studies focus on male subjects.

In all scenarios, the same fundamental temporal mechanisms are in play. The body seeks to maintain homeostasis: status quo of the internal milieu is the rule. Any external lifestyle factors provoke short term internal responses, which are regulated by longer term Endocrine network responses to result in metabolic and physiological adaptations.

For further discussion on Health, Hormones and Human Performance, come to the BASEM annual conference


Temporal considerations in Endocrine/Metabolic interactions Part 1 Dr N. Keay

Sports Endocrinology – what does it have to do with performance? Dr N.Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

Sedentary behaviour is a key determinant of metabolic inflexibility Journal of Physiology 2017

Influence of maximal fat oxidation on long-term weight loss maintenance in humans Journal of Applied Physiology 2017

One road to Rome: Metabolic Syndrome, Athletes, Exercise Dr N.Keay 2017

Metabolic and Endocrine System NetworksDr N. Keay 2017

Nutritional ketone salts increase fat oxidation but impair high-intensity exercise performance in healthy adult males Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 2017

Endocrine system: balance and interplay in response to exercise training Dr N. Keay 2017

No Superior Adaptations to Carbohydrate Periodization in Elite Endurance Athletes Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2017

Total Energy Expenditure, Energy Intake, and Body Composition in Endurance Athletes Across the Training Season: A Systematic Review Sports Medicine – Open 2017

Successful Ageing Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Optimal Health: For All Athletes! Part 4 – Mechanisms Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017




Temporal considerations in Endocrine/Metabolic interactions Part 1


It is not a simple question of what, but when we eat, sleep and exercise.

The Endocrine system displays temporal variation in release of hormones. Integrating external lifestyle factors with this internal, intrinsic temporal dimension is crucial for supporting metabolic and Endocrine health.

Amplitude and frequency of hormonal secretion display a variety of temporal patterns:

  • Diurnal variation, synchronised with external light/dark. Orchestrated by a specific area of the hypothalamus, the neuroendocrine gatekeeper.
  • Circadian rhythm, roughly 24-25 hours which can vary with season according to duration of release of melatonin from the pineal gland.
  • Infradian rhythms longer than a day, for example lunar month seen in patterns of hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis hormone release during the menstrual cycle.
  • Further changes in these temporal release and feedback patterns occur over a longer timescale during the lifespan.

Hormones influence gene expression and hence protein synthesis over varying timescales outlined above. The control system for hormone release is based on interactive feedback loops. The hypothalamus is the neuroendocrine gatekeeper, which integrates external inputs and internal feedback.  The net result is to maintain intrinsic biological clocks, whilst orchestrating adaptations to internal perturbations stimulated by external factors such as sleep pattern, nutrition and exercise.

Circadian alignment refers to consistent temporal patterns of sleep, nutrition and physical activity. Circadian misalignment affects sleep-architecture and subsequently disturbs the interaction of metabolic and Endocrine health. This includes gut-peptides, glucose-insulin interaction, substrate oxidation, leptin & ghrelin concentrations and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal/gonadal-axes. The main stimuli for growth hormone release are sleep and exercise. Growth hormone is essential for supporting favourable body composition. These integrated patterns of environmental factors may have a more pronounced effect on those with a genetic predisposition or during crucial stages of lifespan. For example curtailed sleep during puberty can impact epigenetic factors such as telomere length and thus may predispose to metabolic disruption in later life. Regarding activity levels, there are strong relationships between time spent looking at screens and markers, such as insulin resistance, for risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus in children aged 9 to 10 years.

In addition to adverse metabolic effects set in motion by circadian misalignment, bone turnover has also shown to be impacted. Circadian disruption in young men resulted in uncoupling of bone turnover, with decreased formation and unchanged bone resorption as shown by monitoring bone markers. In other words a net negative effect on bone health, which was most pronounced in younger adult males compared with their older counterparts. These examples underline the importance of taking into account changes in endogenous temporal patterns during the lifespan and hence differing responses to external lifestyle changes.

For male and female athletes, integrated periodised training, nutrition and recovery has to be carefully planned over training seasons to support optimal adaptations in Endocrine and metabolic networks to improve performance. Training plans that do not balance these all these elements can result in underperformance, potentially relative energy deficiency in sport and consequences for health in both short and long term.

Part 2 will consider the longer term consequences and interactions of these temporal patterns of lifestyle factors, including seasonal training patterns in male and female athletes, on the intrinsic biochronometry controlling the Endocrine and metabolic networks during lifespan.

For further discussion on Health, Hormones and Human Performance, come to the BASEM annual conference


Sports Endocrinology – what does it have to do with performance? Dr N.Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

One road to Rome: Metabolic Syndrome, Athletes, Exercise Dr N. Keay

Metabolic and Endocrine System Networks Dr N. Keay

Endocrine system: balance and interplay in response to exercise training Dr N.Keay

Sleep for health and sports performance Dr N.Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017

Factors Impacting Bone Development Dr N. Keay

Sleep, circadian rhythm and body weight: parallel developments Proc Nutr Soc

Sleep Duration and Telomere Length in Children Journal of Paediatrics 2017

Screen time is associated with adiposity and insulin resistance in children Archives of Disease in Childhood

Circadian disruption may lead to bone loss in healthy men Endocrine today 2017

Successful Ageing Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Clusters of Athletes – A follow on from RED-S blog series to put forward impact of RED-S on athlete underperformance Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Optimal Health: For All Athletes! Part 4 – Mechanisms Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017





Sleep for Health and Sports Performance

“Sleep.. chief nourisher in life’s feast,” Macbeth.

In my blog for British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine, I described improving sport performance by balancing the adaptive changes induced by training together with the recovery strategies to facilitate this, both in the short and long term.  alec0120-12x17

A recovery strategy which is vital in supporting both health and sport performance, during all stages of the training cycle is sleep.

Sufficient sleep is especially important in young athletes for growth and development and in order to support adaptive changes stimulated by training and to prevent injury. Amongst teenage athletes, studies have shown that a lack of sleep is associated with higher incidence of injury. This may be partly due to impaired proprioception associated with reduced sleep. Sleep is vital for consolidating neurological function and protein synthesis, for example in skeletal muscle. Sleep and exercise are both stimuli for growth hormone release from the anterior pituitary, which mediates some of these adaptive effects.

Lack of sleep can also interfere with functioning of the immune system due to disruption of the circadian rhythm of secretion in key areas of the Endocrine system. Athletes in heavy training, with high “stress” loads and associated elevated cortisol can also experience functional immunosuppression. So a combination of high training load and insufficient sleep can compound to disrupt efficient functioning of the immune system and render athletes more susceptible to illness and so inability to train, adapt and recover effectively.  Lack of sleep disrupts carbohydrate metabolism and recently found to suppress expression of genes regulating cholesterol transport. In overreaching training, lack of sleep could be either a cause or a symptom of insufficient recovery. Certainly sleep deprivation impairs exercise performance capacity (especially aerobic exercise) although whether this is due to a psychological, physical or combination effect is not certain.

Sufficient sleep quality and quantity is required for cognitive function, motor learning, and memory consolidation. All skills that are important for sports performance, especially in young people where there is greater degree of neuroplasticity with potential to develop neuromuscular skills. In a fascinating recorded lecture delivered by Professor Jim Horne at the Royal Society of Medicine, the effects of prolonged wakefulness were described. Apart from slowing reaction time, the executive function of the prefrontal cortex involved in critical decision making is impaired. Important consequences not only for athletes, but for doctors, especially for those of us familiar with the on call system in hospitals back in the bad old days. Sleep pattern pre and post concussive events in teenage athletes is found to be related to degree and duration of concussive symptoms post injury. The explanation of how sleep deprivation can cause these functional effects on the brain has been suggested in a study where subtle changes in cerebral neuronal structural properties were recorded. It is not known whether these changes have long term effects.

So given that sleep is essential not only for health and fitness, but to support sports performance, what strategies to maximise this vital recovery process? Use of electronic devices shortly before bedtime suppresses secretion of melatonin (neurotransmitter and hormone), which is a situation not conducive for sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid precursor in the synthesis of melatonin and serotonin (neurotransmitter) both of which promote sleep. Recent research demonstrates that protein intake before bed can support skeletal and muscle adaptation from exercise and also recovery from tendon injury. Conversely there is recent report that low levels of serotonin synthesis may contribute to the pathogenesis of autoimmune inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis. This highlights the subtle balance between degree of change required for positive adaptation and a negative over-response, as in inflammatory conditions. This balance is different for each individual, depending on the clinical setting. So maybe time to revisit the warm milky drink before bed? Like any recovery strategy, sleep can also be periodised to support exercise training, with well structured napping during the day as described by Dr Hannah Macleod, member of gold winning Olympic Hockey team.

In conclusion, when you are planning your training cycle, don’t forget that periodised recovery to compliment your schedule should be factored in, with sleep a priority recovery and adaptation strategy.

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance


Balance of recovery and adaptation for sports performance Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Sleep, Injury and Performance

Keay N. The effects of growth hormone misuse/abuse. Use and abuse of hormonal agents: Sport 1999. Vol 7, no 3, 11-12.

Wallace J, Cuneo R, Keay N, Sonksen P. Responses of markers of bone and collagen turover to exercise, growth hormone (GH) administration and GH withdrawal in trained adult males. Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism 2000. 85 (1): 124-33.

Sleep and sporting performance

Young people: neuromuscular skills for sports performance

Prolonged sleep restriction induces changes in pathways involved in cholesterol metabolism and inflammatory responses

“Sleepiness and critical decision making”. Recorded lecture Professor Jim Horne, Royal Society of Medicine 16/11/16

What Does Sleep Deprivation Actually Do To The Brain?

Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise Training

Exercise and fitness in young people – what factors contribute to long term health? Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine

Serotonin Synthesis Enzyme Lack Linked With Rheumatoid Arthritis

“Science in Elite Sport” Dr Hannah Macleod, University of Roehampton, 6/12/16