Use of NIRS to assess effect of training on peripheral muscle oxygenation changes in elite rugby players performing repeated supramaximal cycling tests


In most team sports, intermittent high intensity sprint efforts combined with short recovery periods have been identified as a key factor of physical performance; the ability to repeat these efforts at a sustained level is of great importance. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has been proposed as a tool to monitor muscle oxygenation changes during such sprint efforts. The purpose of this study was to observe muscle reoxygenation rate (reoxy rate) (% s-1) between sprint efforts in a repeat sprint cycle test. A two wavelength spatially resolved NIR spectrometer (Portamon, Artinis Inc.) was used to assess reoxy rate changes in the vastus lateralis of the dominant leg before and after a training stimulus. Eight UK premiership academy level rugby players were assessed (age 20.6 ± 0.9) years; height 187 ± 0.6 cm; weight 109.5 ± 8.6 kg; quadriceps skin fold 16.6 ± 4.5 mm); the subjects completed ten repeated 10-s cycle sprints interspersed with 40 s recovery, upon a Wattbike Pro cycle. Hemoglobin variables ($Δ$HHb, $Δ$tHb, $Δ$O2Hb, $Δ$TSI %) during the sprint and the post-sprint reoxygenation rate (%TSI sˉ1) were measured. During both cycle tests all subjects experienced a drop in muscle oxygen saturation (Pre-$Δ$ − 12.39 ± 6.01%), Post-$Δ$ − 14.83 ± 3.88%). Post-training, there was an increase in the extent of desaturation (drop in TSI %) in the group means, both for the biggest single change and the average of all ten changes. Seven out of eight players showed an increase based on the maximum change and six based on the average of their ten tests. Additionally, seven out of eight players showed a significant increase in $Δ$HHb (Pre-$Δ$ + 76.80 ± 61.92, Post-$Δ$ + 121.28 ± 69.76) (p < 0.01) (including the one player who did not show a significant effect on the TSI measure). Players who exercised at the highest power tended to decrease their muscle oxygenation to a greater extent. The number of bike training sessions undertaken correlated with improvements in post-exercise recovery of oxygenation (R = 0.63). The simplest explanation for the increase in desaturation following training is an increase in muscle oxygen consumption due to an increase in mitochondrial content. This results in an increased extraction of delivered oxygen as confirmed by the HHb data. In conclusion, NIRS is able to measure positive training effects on muscle oxygen extraction, at the level of the individual elite athlete.

Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology