Testosterone and masters athletes – what does the research say?


Did you know moderate intensity training in males is useful in the prevention and treatment of sexual dysfunction? Howver, in young athletes, high intensity training, especially in endurance athletes, can reduce testosterone levels.

Low testosterone levels in young athletes has been shown to lead to reductions in both health and performance. Specifically, low levels of the hormone have been linked to overtraining, decreases in muscle mass, increased risk of bone fractures, cardiovascular accidents, and sports-related anemia, as well as stress-related diseases such as hypertension.

Critically for competitive athletes both young and old, testosterone deficiencies can also reduce muscle strength, reduce aggressiveness in competition, lower the regeneration of muscles after training, and lower the sex drive! Not good I say! Here is some Italian research I recently read that investigated the prevalance and symptoms of undiagnosed testosterone defeiciency in athletes between 50 and 80 years old.

The Research

183 caucasian male athletes >50 years were examined as part of pre-participation health screening by medical practitioners. The athletes were from different sports (tennis, swimming and track and field), were not taking supplements or drugs that affected results, had no previous diagnosis or awareness of testosterone deficiency. They had been training regularly for the last 10 years for an average of 8.1 hrs/week. Serum total testosterone was measured in the blood, and questionnaires administered as measures of erectile dysfunction (International Index of Erectile Dysfunction), depression levels (Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale) and  amount of physical activity (International Physical Activity Questionnaire). Hypogonadal athletes (mild or severe testosterone deficiency) were statistically compared with eugonadal (normal testosterone levels) athletes as controls.

The Results

Severe or mild testosterone deficiency was observed in 12% and 18%, respectively, of the athletes. The highest prevalence of testostreone deficiency was in athletes >70 years (27.5% – severe deficiciency and 25.0% – mild deficiency). Testosterone levels were not related to age, training duration, or questionnaire scores. No differences were observed for erectile dysfunction, levels of depression or chronic disease markers such as hypertension between normal and severely testosterone deficient athletes.

So What?

The results strongly suggest that many masters athletes over 50 years of age may be testosterone deficient and not know it. This would suggest that as part of our yearly check-up (yes guys get it done – and find a doctor with a small hand for that prostate test!), we might consider getting our testosterone levels checked. If deficient in that area, consider testosterone replacement therapy after discussion with your doctor. Talk over and contraindications to the therapy and ensure that if you compete you look at getting a therapeutic use exemption from your peak sporting body.

Source: Di Luigi, L. and others (2010).  Prevalence of Undiagnosed Testosterone Deficiency in Aging Athletes: Does Exercise Training Influence the Symptoms of Male Hypogonadism? Journal of Sexual Medicine. 7(7): 2591-2601.