1. Morphological Sciences Department, School of Medicine, University of Cordoba, Cordoba, Spain.
2. International Network on Physical Exercise and Fertility (INPEF), Cordoba, Spain.
3. Nutrir. Nutrición Médica y Ejercicio, Cordoba, Spain.
4. Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (MIND Institute) University of California, Irvine.
5. Physical Education Department, School of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canarias, Las Palmas, Spain.
Abstract: 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.