The Impact of Testosterone on Performance for Male and Female Athletes
Updated: May 6
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is part of our steroid pathway and hormone production system. It is the primary male sex hormone, an androgen. It is produced in the testes in men and its function is primarily in reproduction, muscle, and bone strength. Women also have testosterone, but as women age it is mostly converted to estrogen (or estradiol to be exact), whereas in men it remains as testosterone.
What does testosterone do for us?
In men, testosterone has an influence on many functions.
Sexual health - including sex drive, erections, and sperm production.
Hair production, both on the head and the body
Energy levels and consequently, fatigue levels
Our muscular and skeletal systems, namely muscle mass, body fat and bone density
Mood control and memory health
The normal range for men is at least 300 nanograms per deciliter of blood. This varies with age.
In women (yes women also have testosterone), it exists in much smaller quantities in the ovaries, and is essential for women’s overall and sexual health.
The normal range for women is 15 to 70 nanograms per deciliter of blood. This varies with age.
Why is testosterone important as an athlete?
Since testosterone is responsible for building and making muscle mass and strength, it can be said that higher levels could give you an athletic advantage and have an impact on several factors:
Physical performance factors - speed, power, and explosive movements
Mental performance factors - impact on motivation, desire to achieve, to win.
Prevent injury and stress fractures.
Since it is a growth hormone, it helps build muscles rather than break them down for energy. So for an athlete who is trying to burn fat, this is a key hormone.
So if your testosterone is low, what is the potential impact on performance?
Effects on your general wellbeing and health - loss of sex drive, hair loss, low mood and general negative impact on your drive to achieve basic daily tasks.
Effects for an athlete - loss of muscle mass, loss of bone density and strength, weight specifically fat gain, fatigue. And more, the inability to be motivated to meet targets during sessions.
Low testosterone is highly indicative of your overall health, so it is important to get to the root cause and understand why, in order to support your body back to full health.
If you are struggling with any of these symptoms it may be as a result of insufficient testosterone. After diagnosis from a doctor, a sports nutritionist can advise you on the way forward.
The impact of training types and potential ‘overtraining’, on testosterone levels
Stress and cortisol have a negative impact on testosterone. Endurance athletes often see lower levels of testosterone due to the increased levels of consistent stress that the body is put under. So by lowering the cortisol, we can support the adrenal glands to reverse this process.
Adding rest days and recovery weeks can help. Also adding weight or sprint training to your regimes, can raise testosterone levels. Combined, this can have a positive impact on your motivation to succeed and therefore your overall performance.
How can diet help raise testosterone?
By eating the right types and balance of food (see list below) and by speaking to your sports nutritionist, who can offer simple urine tests to decipher whether stress or sex hormones are impacting your performance.
Foods to boost testosterone
Vitamin D and Zinc are vital for testosterone production, so if you discover you are on the low side, focus on foods with these nutrients.
● Fatty fish, fish oil (tuna, salmon, mackerel)
● Leafy greens
● Beans and legumes