Mental Fatigue Impairs Endurance Performance: A Physiological Explanation

Abstract

Mental fatigue reflects a change in psychobiological state, caused by prolonged periods of demanding cognitive activity. It has been well documented that mental fatigue impairs cognitive performance; however, more recently, it has been demonstrated that endurance performance is also impaired by mental fatigue. The mechanism behind the detrimental effect of mental fatigue on endurance performance is poorly understood. Variables traditionally believed to limit endurance performance, such as heart rate, lactate accumulation and neuromuscular function, are unaffected by mental fatigue. Rather, it has been suggested that the negative impact of mental fatigue on endurance performance is primarily mediated by the greater perception of effort experienced by mentally fatigued participants. Pageaux et al. (Eur J Appl Physiol 114(5):1095–1105, 2014) first proposed that prolonged performance of a demanding cognitive task increases cerebral adenosine accumulation and that this accumulation may lead to the higher perception of effort experienced during subsequent endurance performance. This theoretical review looks at evidence to support and extend this hypothesis.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the anonymous reviewers who contributed to earlier versions of this manuscript and improved both the quality and the content of the article.

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Kristy Martin, Romain Meeusen, Richard Keegan, Kevin G. Thompson and Ben Rattray declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.

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Martin, K., Meeusen, R., Thompson, K.G. et al. Mental Fatigue Impairs Endurance Performance: A Physiological Explanation. Sports Med 48, 2041–2051 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-018-0946-9

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