BackgroundOvertraining syndrome, caused by prolonged excessive stress, results in reduced performance and cortisol responsiveness in athletes. It is necessary to collect saliva samples sequentially within circadian rhythm for assessing exercise stress by measuring cortisol concentrations, and automated cortisol measurements using electrochemiluminescence immunoassay (ECLIA) may be useful for measuring a large number of saliva samples. In this study, we evaluated the appropriate use of cortisol-based exercise stress assessment within the circadian rhythm, which may diagnose and prevent overtraining syndrome in athletes.MethodsWe collected saliva and sera from 54 healthy participants and analyzed the correlation between salivary cortisol concentrations measured by ECLIA and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or serum cortisol analysis. We also collected saliva continuously from 12 female long-distance runners on 2 consecutive days involving different intensities and types of exercise early in the morning and in the afternoon and measured salivary cortisol concentrations using ECLIA. Each exercise intensity of runners was measured by running velocities, Borg Scale score, and rate of change in the pulse rate by exercise.ResultsECLIA-based salivary cortisol concentrations correlated positively with those detected by ELISA (ρ = 0.924, p < 0.001) and serum cortisol (ρ = 0.591, p = 0.001). In long-distance runners, circadian rhythm of salivary cortisol, including the peak after waking and the decrease promptly thereafter, were detected on both days by continuous saliva sampling. The rates of change in salivary cortisol concentrations were significantly lower after an early morning exercise than after an afternoon exercise on both days (day 1, p = 0.002, and day 2, p = 0.003). In the early morning exercise, the rate of change in salivary cortisol concentration was significantly higher on day 1 than on day 2 (p = 0.034), similar to a significant difference in running velocities (p = 0.001).ConclusionsOur results suggest that automated ECLIA-based salivary cortisol measurements are able to detect the athletes’ circadian rhythm and compare the exercise stress intensities at the same times on different days, even in the early morning, possibly leading to the prevention of overtraining syndrome.