Background: Acute bouts of ultra-endurance exercise may cause an acute reduction in cardiac function, causing a physiological cascade which releases cardiac biomarkers. This study set out to determine the cardiac stress and recovery of participation in a three-day ultra-endurance mountain biking event of athletes using heart rate variability (HRV) as an outcome measure. Sixteen healthy participants (male and female) participating in a three-day ultra-endurance mountain biking event underwent a five-minute resting electrocardiography (ECG) recording in a supine position. Heart rate variability measurements were recorded two days before the race (baseline testing), after each race day, and at 24-hour post-event (recovery).
Results: Time-domain and frequency domain measures showed significant (p≤0.05) changes from baseline in HRV parameters after each race day. The significant changes in HRV parameters reflected an increase in sympathetic activity after each day of the event. Our data revealed that the mean HR and RR variability variables did not return to baseline value after 24-hours of recovery, reflecting autonomic nervous system dysfunction, and that changes persisted for at least 24-hours post-event.
Conclusion: Our study shows that competing in an ultra-endurance mountain bike event led to diminished vagal activity and a decrease in HRV throughout the event and persisted for at least 24-hours post-event. The body was under continuous sympathetic dominance during rest as well as during each day of racing, implying each race day can be considered a physiological stress. This may, in turn, cause a disturbance in homeostasis and an increase in autonomic nervous system dysfunction. This has implications for further research, including dysrhythmia risk, and monitoring of athletes in advising a return to strenuous activity.