Drive in Sports: How Mental Fatigue Affects Endurance Performance?

Do you know that mental fatigue and your sports performance are related? Here you’ll find details on how mental fatigue affects endurance performance!

Drive in sports means factors that push athletes to make efforts during exercise or any training. Mental fatigue affects performance by increasing or decreasing an athlete's drive. The way your brain feels can visibly impact how you'll perform during the workout or any endurance sport. This detailed post will explain the relationship between mental fatigue and endurance performance and how coaches can help athletes increase their performance and decrease mental fatigue. So, keep reading!

Relationship Between Mental Fatigue and Endurance Performance

When you try to understand drive in terms of neurophysiology and psychology, it can be described as the intensity, direction, and consistency in behavior. You'll see the terms "drive" and "motivation" being used alternatively. Endurance performance for both cognitive and physical tasks will be compromised if an athlete is mentally exhausted (1). When an athlete suffers from mental fatigue, his drive or motivation to exercise will decrease.

Although mental fatigue and endurance performance are closely related, the topic isn't well-studied yet. These factors are studied alone, but as they impact endurance performance together, they should be studied comprehensively by relating them to each other. Drive or motivation refers to both internal and external factors that affect a person to do or leave a behavior or effort. All these factors come together to encourage a person into action by improving his drive.

A Brief Overview of Mental Fatigue

When the cognitive performance reduces due to long-term and stressful cognitive activity (2), a person experiences mental fatigue. It occurs after mentally fatiguing tasks such as the "Stroop task." This task and other demanding tasks will eventually reduce cognitive performance and efficacy, leading to mental fatigue. Duration of the strenuous tasks is crucial because tasks of short duration (less than 30 minutes) which not exert a prominent effect on the exercise performance. However, cognitive performance will be impaired in short-term tasks too.

Consequences of Mental Fatigue

There are a lot of side-effects of mental fatigue (3), including:

  • Lack of energy

  • Increased fatigability

  • Decreased motivation and alertness

  • Changes in perception and mood

  • Feelings of lassitude

Studies say that you have to face dual consequences of mental fatigue. It can decrease the endurance performance in the following two ways:

  1. Increasing the feelings of tiredness, you'll feel that you can't do a task because you're fatigued.

  2. Decreasing the value of success, you'll feel that the task isn't worth your effort.

Athletes' drive is affected by the perception of the effort or a task and the perceived importance of the reward or success.

Mental Fatigue and Perception of Effort in Endurance Sports

Mental fatigue decreases endurance performance by promoting feelings of self-doubt. You feel incapable of performing a task due to the activation of the inhibition system in the brain. When you're mentally fatigued, changes occur in your brain and neurotransmitters, increasing perceived exertion and decreasing your drive to exercise.

With prolonged periods of mentally fatiguing tasks, adenosine and serotonin (4) concentrations can affect the perceived exertion. Additionally, it was found that the neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine can control the feelings of motivation and demotivation in athletes. The levels of these neurotransmitters decrease, which leads to negative thoughts, fear of failure, and decreased drive to excel in tasks.

Mental Fatigue and Perception of Reward in Endurance Sports

Endurance performance is impacted when an athlete has decreased motivation (5). When studied from the psychological perspective, it was found that motivation towards long-term and short-term goals is the ultimate parameter for boosting drive and performance. Successful athletes are more committed and motivated towards their goals than demotivated athletes whose lack of motivation negatively affects their performance. Sports psychology theories say that the drive and motivation of athletes are directly associated with the athletes’ selection of goals and consistency towards them.

The neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in increasing reward perception is dopamine. It can activate some brain regions to make the reward seem more valuable and increase an athlete's motivation to exercise. The increased dopamine levels keep the athletes motivated not to give up even if the circumstances are challenging. This neurotransmitter can shift their focus toward the reward of the effort and not the struggle.

Advice for Coaches

Coaches can play a significant role in improving athletes’ endurance performance and drive. Here is how they can help athletes achieve this task:

  • Increasing drive and decreasing mental fatigue

  • Enhancing athletes’ intrinsic motivation

  • Increasing the value of reward by changing brain neurotransmitter concentrations


Now you understand that mental fatigue and drive affect athletes' endurance performance. If you're mentally exhausted, your motivation will be low, which will decrease your performance during exercise. So, to improve your performance, work on improving your drive and reduce mental fatigue.