Zorn J; Vollrath S; Matits L; Schönfelder M; Schulz SVW; Jerg A; Steinacker JM; Bizjak DA;
PloS one [PLoS One] 2023 May 15; Vol. 18 (5), pp. e0285845.
Date of Electronic Publication: 2023 May 15 (Print Publication: 2023).
Introduction: COVID-19 is a multi-systemic disease which can target the lungs and the cardiovascular system and can also affect parts of the brain for prolonged periods of time. Even healthy athletes without comorbidities can be psychologically affected long-term by COVID-19.
Objective: This study aimed to investigate athletes’ perceived mental stress and recovery levels in daily life, and their maximal aerobic power, at three different time points, post COVID-19.
Methods: In total, 99 athletes (62.6% male), who had been infected by COVID-19, filled out the Recovery Stress Questionnaire for Athletes (REST-Q-Sport) and completed cardiopulmonary exercise testing (endpoint maximal aerobic power output (Pmax)) at the initial screening (t1: 4 months after infection). Follow-up assessments occurred three (t2, n = 37) and seven months after t1 (t3, n = 19).
Results: Subgroup means from the Recovery category were significantly below the reference value of four at all three time points, except “General Recovery” (3.76 (± 0.96), p = 0.275, d = 0.968) at t3.”Overtiredness” (2.34 (± 1.27), p = 0.020, r = 0.224) was significantly above the reference value of two at t1, while all other Stress subgroups were not significantly different from the reference value or were significantly below the maximum threshold of two at t1, t2 and t3. Spearman’s ρ revealed a negative association between Pmax and the subcategories of stress (ρ = -0.54 to ρ = -0.11, p < 0.050), and positive correlations between Pmax and “Somatic Recovery” (ρ = 0.43, p < 0.001) and “General Recovery” (ρ = 0.23, p = 0.040) at t1. Pmax (t1: 3.83 (± 0.99), t2: 3.78 (± 1.14), β = 0.06, p < 0.003) increased significantly from t1 to t2. In addition, REST-Q-Sport indicated a decrease in “Sleep” (t2 = 2.35 (± 0.62), t3 = 2.28(± 0.61), β = -0.18, p < 0.023) at t3, when compared to t2.
Conclusion: The perceived recovery seems to be negatively affected in post COVID-19 athletes. Physical performance post COVID-19 correlates with both “Emotional and Somatic Stress” and “Somatic and General Recovery”, indicating potential mental and physical benefits of exercise. While it is evident that COVID-19, like other viral infections, may have an influence on physical performance, monitoring stress and recovery perceptions of athletes is critical to facilitate their return-to-sports, while minimizing long-term COVID-19 induced negative effects like the athletic objective and subjective perceived recovery and stress levels.