Objectives: Diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DTI) and T2 mapping enable the detection of exercise-induced changes in the skeletal muscle microenvironment. This study prospectively quantified DTI metrics and T2 relaxation times of thigh muscles in competitive triathletes at rest and following a triathlon race in comparison with sedentary controls. Methods: Twenty-two triathletes (males N = 16, females N = 6) and twenty-three controls (males N = 16, females N = 7) underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on a 3 T system at baseline (time point 1; 72 h at rest). Twelve triathletes (males N = 8, females N = 4) underwent a second scan (time point 2; 3 h of completing a triathlon race). The tensor eigenvalues (λ1, λ2, λ3), mean diffusivity (MD), fractional anisotropy (FA), and T2 times were compared between controls and triathletes at time point 1 and triathletes at time points 1 and 2 using independent and paired t tests. Results: In comparison with the controls at time point 1, the T2 times of rectus femoris (RF, p < 0.02), adductor magnus (AM, p = 0.02), biceps femoris (BF, p < 0.001), semitendinosus (ST, p = 0.005), and semimembranosus (SM, p = 0.003) muscles were significantly increased in triathletes. At time point 2 in triathletes, the average tensor metrics (MD, λ3/ λ1) of BF, ST, and SM muscles increased (p < 0.05) and FA values in ST and SM muscles decreased (p < 0.03). T2 times were not significantly changed between both time points in triathletes. Conclusion: Our results indicate that this multiparametric MRI protocol allows detection and quantification of changes in the skeletal muscle microenvironment caused by endurance training and acute strenuous exercise. Key Points: • Endurance training results in changes to the skeletal microstructure, which can be quantified using MRI-based diffusion tensor imaging. • The combined application of MRI diffusion tensor imaging and T2 mapping allows the differentiation of microstructural changes caused by active exercise or endurance training. • Environmental adaptations of the skeletal muscle caused by physical training are influenced by gender.
- Diffusion tensor imaging
- Endurance training
- Magnetic resonance imaging
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging