Salivary Hormones, IgA, and Performance During Intense Training and Tapering in Judo Athletes : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research

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Salivary Hormones, IgA, and Performance During Intense Training and Tapering in Judo Athletes

Papacosta, Elena1; Gleeson, Michael1; Nassis, George P.2

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Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27(9):p 2569-2580, September 2013. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827fd85c
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The sport of judo is a physically demanding combat sport consisting of short duration, dynamic high-intensity, and intermittent exercise lasting from several seconds to a total duration of 5 minutes per match. Judo training includes dynamic, high-intensity attacks, and defenses through a variety of throwing and choking grips, which involve full use of the entire body. To optimize performance, the need for tapering periods during judo periodization is essential. Tapering is a gradual reduction in the training load, which allows the recovery of physiological capacities that were impaired by the previous training phase; this in turn should restore the tolerance to training resulting in further training-induced adaptations along with competition performance enhancements (23).

A successful taper requires careful planning and monitoring, which aims to optimize training-induced adaptations, including performance capacity, cardiorespiratory, hormonal, hematological, biochemical, immunological, and psychological markers. Performance optimization during tapering periods is not the result of additional training-induced fitness gains; rather, it results from significant reductions in the accumulated levels of fatigue (23). In general, the improvements in performance range from 0.5 to 6.0% (23), which can often make a substantial difference to the outcome of competition performance. Tapers usually involve an increase in anabolism and a reduction in catabolism, manifested by increases in circulating testosterone (T) concentrations along with decreases in cortisol (C) (6–8,28). Furthermore, tapers are often associated with reduced muscle damage, evidenced by decreased plasma creatine kinase activity (6,7).

Intense training, usually performed before tapering, is often associated with suppression of several aspects of immunity, and during this time, athletes are more susceptible to infections (12). Strenuous long-term training is associated with chronic suppression of mucosal immunity lasting 7 days or more (1), and it is during this “open window” period of depressed mucosal immunity that athletes are more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections, which can in turn negatively affect training and performance (27). Engaging in long-term strenuous training has been reported to result in decreased salivary levels of secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA) in trained athletes (10,14,25). These studies examined the responses of SIgA concentrations and/or secretion rate during intensive training, but very few studies have examined SIgA responses during tapering after an intensive training period (26). To our knowledge only 1 study has reported some nonsignificant recovery of SIgA concentrations to baseline after 2 weeks of reduced training load after an intensive training period (16). However, no strict control of tapering was evident in this study.

Mood state has also been observed to be negatively affected by excessive training-induced stress and fatigue (15), whereas during tapering, the levels of mental fatigue decrease, usually manifested by enhancements in global mood state (28,31). Therefore, tapers aim to restore immunity and mental and physical performance to keep the athletes illness-free and in an optimum state for successful competition performance.

It seems that physiological responses during tapering in judo have not been studied extensively. Thus, the main objective of this study was to identify the time course of change of selected salivary hormonal and immunological markers, mood state, and performance capacity related to judo during a 2-week taper in judo athletes. A secondary aim was to examine diurnal variation in salivary testosterone, cortisol, and IgA in the morning and evening during a period of normal training, more intensive training, and subsequent tapering.


Experimental Approach to the Problem

This study examined the salivary responses of cortisol, testosterone, and IgA; saliva flow rate; mood state; muscle soreness; and performance changes of trained judo athletes during their normal training, more intensive training, and subsequent tapering, as to identify the time needed to maximize hormonal responses and performance indices. Subsequently, the time frame needed for tapering can therefore be identified by coaches to plan their periodization and to be used by judo athletes before a competition. The experimental approach of this study was a repeated measures design, where all athletes engaged in 5 weeks of training, with modifications of training load across weeks. The study took place between the months February and March during preseason preparations, and all athletes trained together in the same dojo under the supervision of the same coach. Subjects were initially reported to the laboratory for the determination of their V[Combining Dot Above]O2max, body mass, fat, and height. After at least 1 week, subjects began their programmed training routine. The training for each individual was controlled and monitored for 5 weeks in total. During week 1, subjects trained moderately 4–5 times per week completing their normal volume and type of training (NORM). Subjects had been engaging in this level of training for at least 4 weeks beforehand. The preseason training programs of judo athletes comprise technical judo (techniques and strategies) and anaerobic training. The training load and training programs followed in this study were based on usual training of previous weeks. During weeks 2 and 3, subjects trained intensively 6 times per week while training volume doubled (INT). During weeks 4 and 5, subjects followed a fast decay exponential taper where the training volume was progressively reduced to the half of NORM (TAPER). The study design is illustrated in Figure 1. During the total study period, athletes performed 5 anthropometric measurements, 5 vertical and horizontal jump tests, 5 handgrip strength tests, 5 Special Judo Fitness Tests (SJFT), 5 multistage fitness tests (MSFT), and five 3 × 300-m run tests. The tests were performed every week on the same day, same time of day, and same testing area and under similar experimental conditions. All subjects were instructed to consume a high-carbohydrate diet and remain euhydrated throughout the study period. Subjects have had their last meal at least 3 hours before testing and were instructed to avoid beverages with caffeine and high-carbohydrate content at least 3 hours before testing. Saliva samples were collected frequently during the study for the determination of saliva flow rate, salivary cortisol (sC), and salivary testosterone (sT) concentrations, as well as SIgA concentrations and secretion rate. Furthermore, during the study, the athletes completed questionnaires for assessment of mood state and muscle soreness.

Figure 1:
Schematic representation of experimental study design. J, jumps; GR, grip strength; SJFT, Special Judo Fitness Test; MSFT, multistage fitness test; BMS, body mass and skinfold measurements; 300, 3 × 300-m; Q, questionnaires; NORM, normal training; INT, intensified training; TAPER, tapering; W1, week 1; W2, week 2; W3, week 3; W4, week 4; W5, week 5. Gray cells indicate saliva collection. Each block represents a day.


Eleven male competitive judo athletes volunteered to participate in the current study. Participants under the age of 18 received parental consent. All athletes had competed in judo for at least 4 years and trained for a minimum of 4 times per week, were nonsmokers, and were not taking any form of medication. They refrained from alcohol consumption and remained illness-free for the total study duration. No overt signs of overtraining were evident in the subjects before commencing the study. After having the aims and procedures of the study explained to them, each subject signed an informed consent and completed a medical health questionnaire. The mean (±SD) characteristics of the participants were as follows: age 20 (±6) years, height 172 (±4) cm, body mass 74.9 (±12.1) kg, V[Combining Dot Above]O2max 57.2 (±7.2) ml·kg−1·min−1, maximal heart rate (HRmax) 190 (±5) b·min−1, body fat 8.1% (±1.9%), and training experience 8.5 (±4.7) years. The Cyprus National Bioethics Committee approved all procedures undertaken.


Training Quantification

Judo training session durations were on average 1.5–2.0 hours during NORM, 2.0–2.5 hours during INT, and 0.5–1.0 hours during TAPER. On average, the athletes’ usual training consisted of sets of 3 × 5 minutes of standing Randori (simulated combat) and 2 × 3 minutes of ground Randori interspersed by 5-minute rest in addition to several judo-specific skills and drills and mat work. The same training volume and type of training were kept for NORM. To double the training volume during INT, Randoris were increased in number of sets and duration to 5 × 8-minute standing Randori and 3 × 5-minute ground Randori, whereas rest time between sets was decreased to 2 minutes. The number of judo skills and drills and mat work increased in volume and intensity. Training volume fell exponentially by half during TAPER: during week 4, numbers of Randori fell to 3 × 3 minutes and 2 × 3 minutes of standing and ground Randori, respectively, with 5-minute rest intervals in addition to judo-specific skills and drills and mat training; during week 5, subjects performed only the aforementioned bouts of standing and ground Randori with 2 days of complete rest (Figure 2). A training diary was kept to record the duration of training sessions and type of exercises performed (number of Randori sets and intervals). To quantify training intensity, each subject wore a Polar heart rate (HR) monitor (Polar Electro, Oy, Kempele, Finland) during every training session for the total study duration. Records of HR for each training session were then downloaded to a computer using Polar Team System (Polar Electro) and information, like % HRmax, average HR, and time spend in each training zone, were then individually calculated based on each subjects' HRmax (Figure 2). Furthermore, exercise intensity was quantified by ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) using the Borg's 6–20 scale (2), recorded 30 minutes after each training session. Training and taper regimens were individualized based on each athlete's usual volume of training. The training volume was calculated by multiplying the time spent in each training zone by heart rate as a percentage of HRmax (time × % HRmax). Training load was calculated as suggested by Foster et al. (11) by multiplying session RPE × duration.

Figure 2:
Changes in training volume as time spent in each heart rate zone during normal training (NORM), intensified training (INT), and tapering (TAPER). *Maximal (MAX) and Moderate-High (MHI) intensities during INT were significantly different from NORM and TAPER.

Maximal Oxygen Uptake Assessment

At least 1 week before the beginning of the study, each participant performed a V[Combining Dot Above]O2max assessment. After a short warm-up (5–10 minutes) at a low speed (6–8 km·h−1), subjects began running on a motorized treadmill at a constant speed of 10 km·h−1. The treadmill inclination was increased by 1% every 2 minutes, until volitional fatigue. At the end of each 2-minute stage, RPE and HR (Polar Beat; Polar Electro) were recorded. Oxygen consumption was monitored breath by breath continuously throughout the test (Quark b2; Cosmed SRL, Rome, Italy). Immediately after the V[Combining Dot Above]O2max test, a fingertip blood sample was taken to measure blood lactate concentration (Dr Lange, Miniphotometer plus LP20; Hach Lange GmbH, Berlin, Germany). The V[Combining Dot Above]O2max test was completed within 9–15 minutes for all subjects, as recommended by Cooke (5). To confirm that subjects reached their V[Combining Dot Above]O2max, it was ensured that the following criteria were assessed and met: subjects reached within 10 b·min−1 of age-predicted HRmax, postexercise blood lactate concentration was >9 mM, respiratory exchange ratio was >1.15, and RPE was >19.

Anthropometric Measurements

Before commencing the study, preliminary 3-site skinfold measurements (Harpenden; Baty Intl, West Sussex, United Kingdom) to estimate body fat, body height (Teraoka DI-28B; Digi, Digi Eurpoe Ltd, Haverhill, UK), and body mass (Seca 703; Vogel & Halke, Hamburg, Germany) measurements were made. Body mass and skinfold measurement were also assessed once per week in the dojo at the start of the training week. Body mass was recorded before training in shorts. Percentage of body fat was calculated using the equation of Jackson and Pollock (18).

Jumps and Handgrip Strength

For the measurement of the horizontal jump distance, subjects performed a jump forwards 2 times using a free countermovement jump protocol. The best of the 2 jumps was recorded. The assessment of the vertical jump height was assessed using a specially designed platform to calculate time of flight (MuscleLab; Ergotest Innovation, Porsgrunn, Norway); each subject performed 3 countermovement jumps, and the best of 3 was recorded. Handgrip strength of both hands was measured once using an analogue handgrip dynamometer (Jamar; Sammons Preston, IL, USA). Nine of the 11 subjects were right handed. Both jump tests and grip strength were assessed indoors in the dojo at the first day of each training week. Relative humidity and temperature (mean ± SD) during these tests were 59 ± 3% and 22 ± 2° C, respectively.

Special Judo Fitness Test

The SJFT was conducted after the jumps in the dojo, as described by Strerkowitz (29). The test was conducted in series of 3 bouts lasting 15-, 30-, and 30-second interspersed by 10-second intervals. During the test, the judoka throws the 2 opponents as many times as possible using the ippon-seoi-nage technique. Heart rate was measured immediately at the end of the test and after 1 minute using a HR monitor to calculate the performance index as:

A lower SJFT index indicates better performance. Relative humidity and temperature (mean ± SD) during this test were 59 ± 3% and 22 ± 2° C, respectively.

Multistage Fitness Test

The MSFT was performed 1 day after the jumps and the SJFT on an indoors parquet basketball court (20). Briefly, all athletes at the same time ran continuously, back and forth in a 20-m court keeping in track of the audio signals of a recorded disk. The running speed progressively increased until subjects were volitionally fatigued or could not keep up. The total distance covered before failing to keep up with the increasing speed was recorded as the final score of the test. Relative humidity and temperature (mean ± SD) during the test were 53 ± 4% and 20 ± 2° C, respectively.

3 × 300-m Running Test

The 3 × 300-m bouts were performed 2 days after the MSFT on a 400-m outdoor track. Runs were separated by 3 minutes of active rest. Each run was timed individually for each subject with a stopwatch, and the mean of the 3 runs was then calculated. Relative humidity and temperature (mean ± SD) during the test were 48 ± 3% and 18 ± 3° C, respectively. No rain or strong wind was evident during the test in either week.


At the end of each training week (weeks 1–3) and twice per week during the taper weeks (weeks 4–5), subjects completed the Profile of Mood States short form questionnaire (POMS-27), a Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) for general fatigue, and a delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) questionnaire. Subjects completed these questionnaires at the same time of day before training. Using the VAS for general fatigue, subjects rated their subjective feeling of accumulated fatigue on a scale of 1 (not tired) to 10 (extremely tired). Delayed onset muscle soreness was rated on a scale of 1 (not sore) to 10 (extremely sore) for overall body soreness, soreness on front thigh muscles, and soreness of upper-body muscles (arms, chest, and trapezoids). Subjects rated their subjective feeling of soreness while lightly palpating their muscles in a standing position.

Saliva Collection and Analysis

Resting saliva samples were collected at the end of each week during training (weeks 1–3) and almost every day during the taper (weeks 4–5). Subjects provided 2 saliva samples each time; 1 in the morning at ∼0700 within 20 minutes after waking up and 1 in the evening at ∼1900 before training. Each saliva collection was performed on the same time of day each time. Subjects were instructed to swallow to empty their mouth before an unstimulated saliva sample was collected. Saliva collections were made with the subject seated, head leaning slightly forward with eyes open, and making minimal orofacial movement while passively dribbling into a sterile vial (Sterilin, Caerphilly, United Kingdom). The collection time was 2 minutes at least or until an adequate volume of saliva (∼1.5 ml) had been collected. Saliva was then stored in the same vials at −30° C and were transported frozen to the Loughborough University laboratories for analysis. Concentrations of sC, sT, and SIgA were determined in duplicate using commercially available enzyme-linked immunoassay kits (Salimetrics, State College, PA, USA). High and low controls were run with every assay. The sensitivity of the kits were 0.08 nmol·L−1 for sC, <3.46 pmol·L−1 for sT, and 0.25 μg·ml−1 for SIgA. Mean (±SD) intra-assay coefficients of variation were 2.9% (±0.4%), 2.4% (±0.4) %, and 1.5% (±0.6%) for salivary cortisol, testosterone, and IgA, respectively.

Saliva volume was estimated by weighing the vial immediately after collection and assuming that saliva density was 1.00 g·ml−1 (4). Saliva flow rate was then calculated by dividing the total saliva volume collected in each sample (in ml) by the time taken to produce the sample (in min). The SIgA secretion rate (in μg·min−1) was calculated by multiplying the absolute SIgA concentration (in μg·ml−1) by the saliva flow rate (in ml·min−1).

Statistical Analyses

For statistical analysis, the values of sC, sT, and SIgA across the 2-week taper were divided in 5 distinct phases; days 1–2 consisted phase 1 (TAP1), days 3–4 consisted phase 2 (TAP2), days 5–6 consisted phase 3 (TAP3), days 8–10 consisted phase 4 (TAP4), and days 11–13 consisted phase 5 (TAP5) (Figure 1). Data were checked for normality, homogeneity of variance, and sphericity before statistical analysis. If Mauchly's test indicated that assumption of sphericity was violated, the degrees of freedom were corrected using Greenhouse-Geisser estimates. Reliability of the tests was analyzed using intraclass correlation coefficients (r). One-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures with Fisher's least significant differences (LSD) comparisons was used to assess any differences across time points in all measures except for saliva. Differences across time between morning and evening saliva values were tested with a 2-way ANOVA for repeated measures followed by LSD comparisons. The 95% confidence intervals (CI) for relative differences and size effects (ES) from simple planned contrasts were calculated to confirm significant differences. Statistical significance was set at P ≤ 0.05. All data are presented as mean ± SD. Data were analyzed using SPSS (SPSS for Windows version 9.0; SPSS, Inc, Chicago, IL, USA).


Training Load, Ratings of Perceived Exertion, Body Mass, and Body Fat

Training load doubled during INT mainly by increasing the time spent in high-intensity training (Figure 2) and then fell below baseline during tapering (p < 0.01; Table 1). Ratings of perceived exertion also significantly increased during INT and fell during TAPER (p < 0.01; Table 1). Body mass did not change across weeks. However, body fat was significantly lower at week 3 compared with NORM and TAPER (p < 0.05; Table 1).

Table 1:
Changes in training load, RPE, body mass, body fat, and performance tests over the course of the study period.*

Jumps and Handgrip Strength

Intraclass correlations were r = 0.85 and r = 0.71 for horizontal and vertical jump tests, respectively. Performance on the horizontal jump significantly declined by 4.3% during week 2 (95% CI, −25 to −173%; ES, 0.68; p < 0.05) and returned to baseline levels during TAPER (95% CI, 40–48%; ES, 0.85; p < 0.05). Vertical jump performance showed a nonsignificant decline during week 3 and was enhanced by 6.9% at the end of TAPER (95% CI, 15–185%; ES, 0.64; p < 0.05). Reliability of the grip strength test was r = 0.85 for the right hand and r = 0.77 for the left hand. Grip strength on the right hand (R) did not change across weeks; however, the grip strength of the left hand (L) increased from baseline to reach the strength levels of the right hand (95% CI, 19–181%; ES, 0.57; p < 0.05; Table 1).

3 × 300-m Performance

Reliability for the 3 × 300-m test was high, with r = 0.71. The mean time for the 3 × 300-m running improved during TAPER (p < 0.01; Table 1). Although the 3 × 300-m performance did not significantly decline during INT, it was significantly enhanced by ∼5% during week 4 (95% CI, 47–153%; ES, 0.82) and by ∼7% during week 5 (95% CI, 28–172%; ES, 0.73), nearly in all subjects (Figure 3).

Figure 3:
Percentage change in 3 × 300-m mean time over the course of the study period. *Significantly different from NORM; #significantly different from INT.

Special Judo Fitness Tests and Multistage Fitness Tests

Intraclass correlations were r = 0.67 and r = 0.68 for the SJFT and MSFT, respectively.

Performance on the SJFT index tended to improve by 5.9% on week 4 (95% CI, −16 to 217%; ES, 0.52; p = 0.08) and by 7.4% on week 5 (95% CI, −6 to 206%; ES, 0.55; p = 0.06) compared with NORM training values. By the end of TAPER, 6 of 11 subjects improved their performance on the SJFT (Table 1).

Performance on MSFT tended to improve by 11% by week 4 compared with week 1 (95% CI, −42 to 242%; ES, 0.62; p = 0.08). By week 4, 9 of 11 subjects increased their distance covered (Table 1).


Profile of Mood States

Total mood disturbance scores were significantly decreased at week 4 of the TAPER compared with NORM (95% CI, 40–160%; ES, 0.79) and INT (95% CI, 45–155%; ES, 0.81) and remained low until week 5 (p < 0.01). From this questionnaire, the subscales of tension, aggression, confusion, fatigue, and depression also significantly declined during TAPER compared with both NORM and INT (p < 0.05). Subscales of vigor remained unchanged throughout the study period (Table 2).

Table 2:
Changes in questionnaire scores regarding general fatigue, delayed onset muscle soreness, and profile of mood states over the course of the study period.*

Visual Analogue Scale for General Fatigue

Subjective ratings for accumulated fatigue increased from baseline during INT (95% CI, 55–202%; ES, 0.61; p < 0.01) and then fell from INT levels during TAPER at week 4 (95% CI, −41 to −141%; ES, 0.79; p < 0.01) and remained low until week 5 (95% CI, −58 to −142%; ES, 0.86; p < 0.05). Data are shown in Table 2.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Ratings for general DOMS significantly decreased during the TAPER compared with NORM (p < 0.01; week 4: 95% CI, −32 to −168%; ES, 0.72; week 5: 95% CI, −119 to −188%; ES, 0.62) and INT (p < 0.05; week 4: 95% CI, −44 to 156%; ES, 0.78; week 5: 95% CI, −18 to 182%; ES, 0.78). Muscle soreness was mainly located on the upper part of the body, whereas ratings of upper-body soreness displayed a similar trend to general soreness (p < 0.05). Front thigh muscle soreness did not change (Table 2).

Salivary Hormones

Mean sT concentrations were significantly higher in the morning than in the evening (p < 0.01). Morning sT concentrations exhibited a biphasic increase during tapering. The first peak was observed at the beginning of the taper compared with INT values (95% CI, 31–169%; ES, 0.58; p < 0.05), followed by a progressive increase until the end of tapering (all p < 0.01) compared with all previous time points (NORM: 95% CI, 60–140%; ES, 0.78; INT 95% CI, 69–116%; ES, 0.89; TAP1: 95% CI, 42–158%; ES, 0.65; TAP3: 95% CI, 43–157%; ES, 0.66). No differences were found in the evening sT concentrations across time (Figure 4A).

Figure 4:
A) Salivary testosterone responses over the course of the study period (mean ± SD). B, Significantly different from W2; c, significantly different from W3; *significantly different from all; #significant difference from morning to evening (gray columns present morning responses and black columns present evening responses). B) Salivary cortisol responses over the course of the study period (mean ± SD). a, Significantly different from W1; c, significantly different from W3; d, significantly different from TAP1; e, significantly different from TAP2; f, significantly different from TAP3; g, significantly different from TAP4; #significant difference from morning to evening (gray columns present morning responses and black columns present evening responses). C) Salivary testosterone/cortisol ratio responses over the course of the study period (mean ± SD). a, Significantly different from W1; b, significantly different from W2; d, significantly different from TAP1; e, significantly different from TAP2; f, significantly different from TAP3; g, significantly different from TAP4; #significant difference from morning to evening (gray columns present morning responses and black columns present evening responses).

Mean sC concentrations were higher in the morning than in the evening (p < 0.01). Evening sC fell below baseline during TAP1-3 (95% CI, −39 to −161%; ES, 0.67; p < 0.01), where it returned to baseline levels by the end of the taper (p < 0.05; Figure 4B).

Higher mean sT/C ratio was observed in the evening than in the morning (p < 0.01). The evening sT/C ratio increased significantly from baseline during week 2 (95% CI, 13–187%; ES, 0.49; p < 0.05), remained high during TAP1-4 (95% CI, 32–168%; ES, 0.59; p < 0.01) until it returned to baseline levels in TAP5 (p < 0.05; Figure 4C).

Salivary IgA

Higher values were observed in both mean SIgA absolute concentrations and SIgA secretion rates in the morning (both p < 0.01).

SIgA absolute concentrations fluctuated in the morning samples with elevations during INT (95% CI, 61–139%; ES, 0.86; p < 0.01), TAP3 (95% CI, 48–152%; ES, 0.79; p < 0.01), and TAP5 (95% CI, 49–151%; ES, 0.79; p < 0.01) compared with baseline. The evening concentrations of SIgA remained unchanged until a small increase during the last phase of TAPER compared with all previous time points (p < 0.01; Figure 5A).

Figure 5:
A) Salivary IgA absolute concentrations over the course of the study period (mean ± SD). a, Significantly different from W1; b, significantly different from W2; d, significantly different from TAP1; g, significantly different from TAP4; *significantly different from all; #significant difference from morning to evening (gray columns present morning responses and black columns present evening responses). B) Salivary IgA secretion rate responses over the course of the study period (mean ± SD). a, Significantly different from W1; b, significantly different from W2; c, significantly different from W3; d, significantly different from TAP1; *significantly different from all; #significant difference from morning to evening (gray columns present morning responses and black columns present evening responses). C) Saliva flow rate responses over the course of the study period (mean ± SD). a, Significantly different from W1; b, significantly different from W2; c, significantly different from W3; d, significantly different from TAP1. *Significantly different from all; #significant difference morning to evening (gray columns present morning responses and black columns present evening responses).

Secretion rate of SIgA was found to increase during TAPER in a similar manner in both morning and evening samples. Morning SIgA secretion rate increased (all p < 0.01) at TAP3 compared with baseline (95% CI, 83–117%; ES, 0.94), intensive training (95% CI, 51–149%; ES, 0.69), and the early phase of tapering (95% CI, 52–148%; ES, 0.69). Morning rates of SIgA secretion remained elevated until TAP5 compared with baseline (95% CI, 34–166%; ES, 0.75), intensive training (95% CI, 32–168%; ES, 0.75), and the early phase of tapering (95% CI, 20–180%; ES, 0.69).

SIgA secretion rates in the evening increased in a similar manner, with elevations at TAP3 compared with baseline (95% CI, 83–117%; ES, 0.94), intensive training (95% CI, 51–149%; ES, 0.69), and the early phase of tapering (95% CI, 52–148%; ES, 0.69). SIgA secretion rate remained elevated until TAP5 compared with all previous time points (NORM: 95% CI, 82–118%; ES, 0.93; INT: 95% CI, 73–127%; ES, 0.86; TAP1: 95% CI, 77–123%; ES, 0.90; TAP3: 95% CI, 54–146%; ES, 0.71) (Figure 5B).

Saliva Flow Rate

Mean rates of saliva flow were higher in the evening than in the morning (p < 0.01). The morning saliva flow rate was similar across time. The evening saliva flow rate increased during TAPER (all p < 0.01), with the highest rates of saliva flow at TAP4 compared with baseline (95% CI, 74–126%; ES, 0.85), intensive training (95% CI, 73–157%; ES, 0.77) and the early phase of tapering (95% CI, 62–138%; ES, 0.74) (Figure 5C).


This study illustrated that a 2-week taper after 2 weeks of intensified training resulted in significant performance enhancements in the 3 × 300-m run test and countermovement jump without significant changes in the SJFT and MSFT in male judo athletes. The improvements in performance were accompanied by increased sT/C ratio, morning and evening SIgA secretion rate, lower muscle soreness, and enhanced mood state. The time course of change for the abovementioned variables was not consistent in this study, whereas changes in sT, sC, muscle soreness, and mood states precede performance and mucosal immunity enhancements. Furthermore, it was shown that salivary hormones and both SIgA concentrations and secretion rate were higher in the morning than in the evening.

The main goal of the taper was to enhance pre-competition performance. In this group of judoists, performance was significantly enhanced in the multiple 300-m run test, which indicates an improvement in anaerobic capacity. Callister et al. (3) aimed to induce deliberate overreaching in trained male judoists; running performance of 3 × 300-m declined during a period of heavy training, whereas vertical jump and 5 × 50-m performance did not change. Thus, these authors concluded that selection of specific performance variables for monitoring overreaching (and possibly subsequent recovery) should be used, as some variables may be more sensitive to the type of sport than others. In our study, 300-m performance did not decrease during INT but improved significantly during tapering, which may be attributed to the large quantity of high-intensity training. Significant enhancements were also observed in the vertical jump by the second taper week, which is in disagreement with the work of Callister et al. (3) that vertical jump performance may not be a sensitive-enough marker for overreaching and recovery in judo. A study by Izquierdo et al. (17) showed that tapering can result in further improvements in muscle strength but not maximal power in strength-trained athletes. This contradicts the findings of the present study, where significant improvements were found in the power of lower extremities during tapering. Furthermore, study by Kraemer et al. (19) indicated that muscle power is very sensitive to detraining and that a minimal maintenance strength training program is recommended to avoid losses in muscle power. Consequently, the significant improvement in the countermovement vertical jump in the present study indicates that the intensive training followed by a 2-week exponential tapering not only maintained but improved power and strength capacity of the lower limbs.

Performance in the SJFT and the MSFT presented a tendency to improve; however, this was not statistically significant and improvements were not observed in all subjects. The nonsignificant change in the MSFT cannot fully support the results of Coutts et al. (6,7) who found significant 5% enhancements in the MSFT during tapering in rugby league players. This discrepancy could be explained by differences in the type of sport or variations in the training load during the intensive training period. The SJFT improved nonsignificantly by the end of the taper. This is the first study to examine the performance in the SJFT during a period of intense training and tapering. However, half of the athletes presented improvements in that test, which could indicate that athletes with lower technical skills may be more responsive to improvements in the SJFT than athletes with a high technical level. Therefore, it seems that the intense training and the subsequent 2-week taper enhanced anaerobic capacity and power of lower extremities. However, this was not translated into judo-specific test and aerobic capacity improvements.

TAPER also resulted in increases in morning sT and declines in evening sC, which were evident at the beginning of the taper. Furthermore, an increase in the evening sT/C ratio was also observed at the same time. Our results show the changes in hormones precede performance enhancements during tapering in these judo athletes. The results agree with Zehsaz et al. (31) who reported increased plasma total T concentrations and T/C ratio and reductions in C at rest, which coincided with improvements in performance capacity after a 1- and 3-week taper in cyclists. Similarly, our findings are comparable with the results of Izquierdo et al. (17) reporting increased anabolic activity during tapering. This study supports the use of T/C ratio to assess training stress and recovery and was in contrast with studies reporting unchanged T/C ratio levels in response to tapering (17,22).

SIgA concentrations and secretion rate increased during tapering in this study, which disagrees with the findings of Moreira et al. (21) reporting no changes in SIgA concentrations during a reduced training period in futsal athletes. Absolute concentrations and secretion rate of SIgA were higher in the morning than in the evening, which is in agreement with previous studies (9,13). The responses of absolute SIgA concentration to training and tapering were not consistent between morning and evening, as no changes were evident in the evening values. It could be argued that morning assessments of SIgA concentrations may be more sensitive to training stress than evening responses. However, a large variability existed in the morning values, hence monitoring SIgA absolute concentrations in the morning should be assessed individually and with caution. However, SIgA secretion rate responses to training and tapering seem fairly similar in the morning and evening despite the larger variability in the morning values, showing that the levels of available SIgA for defense in the mucosal surfaces increased in a similar manner in the morning and evening during TAPER.

In this study, saliva flow rate was significantly lower in the morning than in the evening, which was possibly attributable to the effect of mild dehydration after a night's sleep. Therefore, the similar increase in SIgA secretion rates in morning and evening could be explained by 2 reasons: the increase in SIgA concentrations in the morning may have occurred to compensate the lower flow of morning saliva; similarly, the higher rate of saliva flow in the evening may have compensated for the lower SIgA concentrations at that time, and thus, the evening SIgA secretion rate responses may have just reflected the responses of saliva flow rate.

Judo is a sport that incorporates a variety of movements, such as eccentric muscle contractions, and high impact forces, thus inducing a high degree of muscle damage. In this study, muscle soreness significantly decreased during tapering, indicating that muscle damage, manifested by the perception of aching muscles, decreased with reduced training. Similar results were found in cyclists (15) and rugby league players (7) with reductions in muscle damage during tapers, manifested by decreases in plasma CK activity. Therefore, assessing muscle soreness and responses to training and tapering in such sports can be a useful means for assessing muscle-related fatigue. Furthermore, the decrease in perception of muscle soreness was similar to the decrease in the perception of general fatigue in this study, indicating that the general perception of fatigue is comparable with the feelings of muscle soreness for this group of athletes.

The positive psychological effects associated with taper include enhancements in mood state and reduced perception of fatigue (24). The results of the present study are in line with Zehsaz et al. (31) reporting enhanced global mood scores during 1- and 3-week tapers in cyclists. Interestingly, vigor scores did not show differences across the study period, probably because the training load during INT was not monotonous enough to negatively affect drive in these judo athletes. Previous studies have recommended a period of tapering during periodization, as to avoid overreaching that subsequently leads to excessive mental fatigue and injury (30). Performance in judo depends highly on the mental state of the athletes; therefore, from these results, it is evident that tapering can enhance mood state of judo athletes, which may subsequently be related to better competition performance.

In conclusion, the time course of change showed that increases in sT/C ratio, enhancements in mood state, and lower muscle soreness precede improvements in performance and mucosal immunity. In this study, the changes in salivary hormones, lower muscle soreness, and enhanced mood state were observed within the first days of TAPER, followed by improvements in performance and enhanced mucosal immunity. Regarding mucosal immune status, enhancements were evident after the middle of tapering, which may suggest that training stress needs to be low for mucosal immunity enhancements. Thus, it can be estimated that in these judo athletes, the optimal training-induced adaptations are likely to occur within 7–12 days of tapering.

Practical Applications

This study has identified that 2 weeks of intensive judo training followed by a 2-week exponential taper enhanced anaerobic performance and power of lower extremities in trained judo athletes, within the first 7 days of tapering. Enhancements were concomitant with enhanced mucosal immunity, increased morning sT responses and evening sT/C ratio, decreased evening sC responses, decreased muscle soreness, and enhancements in mood state. The time course of change for the abovementioned variables was not consistent in this study, whereas changes in sT, sC, muscle soreness, and mood states precede performance and mucosal immunity enhancements. The enhancements in salivary hormonal responses as well as mood state and muscle soreness were evident during the early phases of tapering and it seems that these markers can be used to predict performance improvements in judo athletes. Performance improvements needed longer to emerge during tapering; therefore, coaches should plan their training programs accordingly that the athletes taper for at least a week before a judo competition, so that all aspects of conditioning (i.e., hormones, mood state, muscle soreness, and mucosal immunity) are optimized. Finally, this study showed that responses of sT, sC, and SIgA absolute concentrations and secretion rate display a diurnal variation with higher values in the morning than in the evening. Therefore, taking this into account, saliva monitoring should be made at the same times to control for diurnal variation.


The authors wish to thank the Cyprus Judo/Taekwondo Federation for funding this study. The authors gratefully acknowledge Mr. Christos Christodoulides for his valuable assistance for conducting the study and the judo athletes and coaches for their cooperation and participation. Financially supported by the Cyprus Judo/Taekwondo Federation.


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mucosal immunity; cortisol; testosterone; diurnal variation; recovery; Special Judo Fitness Test

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