Why do male and female athletes get low testosterone and what can they do about it?
The New York Times recently reported that America's fastest marathoner, Ryan Hall, is officially retiring from the sport due to chronically low testosterone levels and the extreme fatigue, loss of motivation and drop in performance that is associated with this crucial hormone.
Let's discover how both male and female athletes get low testosterone and what can be done about it.
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is a steroid hormone that helps you increase lean muscle mass and bone density—and beyond simply helping you have a nice body, it’s also crucial for good health! Low levels of testosterone, in both men and women, can lead to a number of serious health conditions, including increased risk of depression, low sex drive, obesity, and osteoporosis.
Men with low testosterone tend to have higher rates of heart disease, depression, and even dementia—and a decrease in testosterone levels in women can lead to a loss of muscle mass and weight gain (especially when paired with the rising levels of estrogen that you learn about in the episode on Hormonal Imbalances and Weight Gain).
While there are entire industries built up around herbal and pharmaceutical pills, capsules, lotions, injections, super foods, and other methods for increasing testosterone, athletes such as Ryan Hall need to be especially careful with these type of substances due to sport regulations and also due to the fact that you simply can't supplement or pill pop your way out of a training or diet program that doesn't support optimization of your hormone levels. In “Should You Take Testosterone To Get Fit?” I highlight many of the risks of using testosterone replacement therapy.
So how can you excel at sports or exercise as much as you need to for your goals without depleting your hormone levels? Here are a few tips.
1. Use HIIT Instead of Chronic Cardio
Long endurance sports such as cycling and running seem to lower testosterone in the same way that weight lifting and weight training seem to increase it. For example, one 2003 study found that testosterone levels were significantly lower in endurance cyclists than age-matched weightlifters, or even an untrained control group. Some researchers have even concluded that this type of low testosterone in endurance athletes is an adaptation that gives cyclists or runners a competitive advantage—since the extra muscle mass from testosterone would probably slow you down.
So if you’re trying to boost testosterone, avoid long jaunts on the treadmill, and instead do high intensity interval training, such as sprints. Multiple studies have shown that you can boost your testosterone levels by sprinting. In one study, testosterone levels increased significantly for people who performed a series of very short (but intense) six-second sprints—and testosterone levels remained high even after those people had fully recovered from the sprint workout.