Sperm DNA fragmentation as a result of ultra-endurance exercise training in male athletes
Intensive sports practice seems to exert negative effects on semen parameters; in order to assess these effects, the objective of this study was to assess semen, including DNA fragmentation, and hormone parameters in elite triathletes. Twelve high-level triathletes preparing for a National Triathlon Championship participated in the study. The qualitative sperm parameters analysed were volume, sperm count, motility, morphology and DNA fragmentation; when needed, additional testing was performed. Assessed hormones were testosterone (T), cortisol (C) and testosterone–cortisol ratio (T/C). Maximum oxygen consumption and training characteristics were also assessed. Hormonal values and physical semen parameters were within normal ranges. DNA fragmentation showed high values (20.4 ± 6.1%). Round cells in semen were higher than normal (2.8 ± 1.5 million/ml), with the presence of macrophages. Correlations were found for several parameters: concentration of round cells positively correlated with progressive sperm motility (p = .01) and sperm morphology (p = .02); contrarily, the correlation found with DNA fragmentation was negative (p = .04). Sperm DNA fragmentation and the T/C ratio, however, were correlated in a positive manner (p = .03). As evidenced by the observed results, sperm DNA fragmentation is affected by high-level sports practice; therefore, high loads of endurance training could potentially interfere with the athlete's fertility potential.