The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of an official taekwondo competition (three 1-min rounds with a 1-min recovery in-between) on heart rate (HR), salivary alpha-amylase (sAA), and salivary-free cortisol (sC) in children. Parental consent was obtained for 12 young (10.4 ± 0.2 years) male taekwondo athletes. Saliva sample were collected 15 min before and 1 min after an official taekwondo competition, and at 30, 60, and 90 min of the recovery period. To evaluate the exercise intensity during the competition, HR was measured and expressed as a percentage of individuals HR peak. Athletes spent 78% of the time working at HR > 90% HR max, with significant increases from round 1 to round 2 and 3. Peak sAA observed at the end of the match (169.6 ± 47.0 U/mL) was different (P = 0.0001) from the other samplings (pre-competition 55.0 ± 14.0 U/mL, 30-min recovery 80.4 ± 17.7 U/mL, 60-min recovery 50.5 ± 7.6 U/ml; 90-min recovery 53.2 ± 9.6 U/mL). Peak sC values observed at 30-min recovery (17.9 ± 3.5 nmol/L) were different (P < 0.0001) from pre-competition (5.6 ± 0.9 nmol/L), post-competition (9.0 ± 2.0 nmol/L), 60-min recovery (10.3 ± 2.6 nmol/L) and 90-min recovery (4.2 ± 0.8 nmol/L) values. These findings confirm that taekwondo competitions pose a high stress on young athletes. The different sAA and sC reactions in response to the physical stressor mirror the faster reactivity of the sympathetic-adrenomedullary system relatively to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical system, respectively. This experimental paradigm might represent a useful model for further research on the effects of various stressors (i.e., training and competition) in taekwondo athletes.
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