Effects of playing surface on physical, physiological and perceptual responses to a repeated sprint ability test: natural grass versus artificial turf

Purpose: The effect of playing surface on physical performance during a repeated sprint ability (RSA) test, and the mechanisms for any potential playing-surface-dependent effects on RSA performance, is equivocal. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of natural grass (NG) and artificial turf (AT) on physical performance, ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), feeling scale (FS) and blood biomarkers related to anaerobic contribution [lactate (Lac)], muscle damage [creatine kinase (CK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)], inflammation [c-reactive protein (CRP)] and immune function [neutrophils (NEU), lymphocytes (LYM) and monocytes (MON)] in response to a RSA test. Methods: Nine male professional football players from the same regional team completed two sessions of RSA testing (6 × 30 s interspersed by 35 s recovery) on NG and AT in a randomized order. During the RSA test, total (sum of distances) and peak (highest distance covered in a single repetition) distance covered were determined using a measuring tape and the decrement in sprinting performance from the first to the last repetition was calculated. Before and after the RSA test, RPE, FS, and blood [Lac], [CK], [LDH], [CRP], [NEU], [LYM] and [MON] were recorded in both NG and AT conditions. Results: Although physical performance declined during the RSA blocks on both surfaces (p=0.001), the distance covered declined more on NG (15%) compared to AT [11%; p=0.04, ES=-0.34, 95% CI (-1.21, 0.56)] with a higher total distance covered (+6 ± 2%) on AT [p=0.018, ES=1.15, 95% CI (0.16, 2.04)]. In addition, lower RPE [p=0.04, ES=-0.49, 95% CI (-1.36, 0.42)] and blood [Lac], [NEU] and [LYM] [p=0.03; ES=-0.80, 95% CI (-1.67, 0.14); ES=-0.16, 95% CI (-1.03, 0.72) and ES=-0.94, 95% CI (-1.82, 0.02), respectively)] and more positive feelings [p=0.02, ES=0.81, 95%CI (-0.13, 1.69)] were observed following the RSA test performed on AT compared to NG. No differences were observed in the remaining physical and blood markers. Conclusion: These findings suggest that RSA performance is enhanced on AT compared to NG. This effect was accompanied by lower fatigue perception and blood [Lac], [NEU] and [LYM], and a more pleasurable feeling. These observations might have implications for physical performance in intermittent team sports athletes who train and compete on different playing surfaces.