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.

Never Stop Training – Here’s Another Reason!


Between the ages of 40 and 50 years we can lose up to 8% of our muscle mass. Once we hit 75 years of age, this loss of speed- and power-generating muscle accelerates to a loss of greater than 15% per decade. This loss can result in a significant decline in both sport performance and day-to-day functioning. However, most of the research into age-related functional decline has been undertaken in a sedentary older population. While exercise is known to alter the age-related decline in lean muscle mass and subsequent loss of functional performance, here is some research suggesting that staying involved with masters sport may limit or prevent the loss of muscle mass that happens in active older people.

 Where is the evidence?

A study recently published in the Physician and Sportsmedicine looked at whether the regular exercise undertaken by a group of masters athletes (runners, track and field athletes, cyclists and swimmers) was responsible for preventing the age-related loss of muscle. Forty (20 males and 20 females) healthy and uninjured ‘recreational’ masters athletes aged 40 – 81 years who trained 4 – 5 times weekly underwent tests of body composition (% body fat), muscle strength, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the quadriceps (thigh) muscle. The MRI allowed researchers to compare lean muscle mass, adipose tissue and intramuscular fat levels across ten year age groups 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, and > 70 years. The results showed that, in contrast to previous results from sedentary populations, masters athletes who train regularly preserved their lean muscle mass across the four age groups, and had no age-related increase in intramuscular fat stores. Unlike sedentary populations there was no significant loss of muscle strength until the 6th decade and this was then preserved into the 7th decade. However, there was an age-related increase in %body fat with age in both genders. Pleasingly, there was no age-related decrease in quadriceps strength per unit of quadriceps muscle area.

 What do we do now?

This study is not alone in its findings and adds more weight to the argument for lifelong exercise. Preservation of muscle mass and lack of intramuscular fatty infiltration is likely to not only preserve functional capacity but also reduce chronic disease and disability into older age. The health care and social costs of loss of lean muscle mass, weakness, and senior disability are staggering. In 2000, U.S reports suggest more than $18.5 billion in health care costs were directly attributable to sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass). This accounts for approximately 1.5% of all health care expenditure and equates to between $800 to $900 per sarcopenic person. With an aging population, these costs will only increase. Harnessing the benefits of weight training intervention and/or regular aerobic exercise to maintain and build muscle mass and strength, thus preventing loss of independent function and disability, is not only logical but is becoming a social imperative. A reduction of 10% in the prevalence of sarcopenia would result in savings of $1.1 billion per year in health care costs. The message is clear. Not only should we Just Do It! We should Keep Doing It! Exercise that is!

For more on the importance of exercise (in particular weight training) for maintaining health and performance in masters athletes, see Chapter 7 (Strength and power training for the masters athlete) of Peter Reaburn’s book The Masters Athlete.

Source: Wroblewski, A et al; (2011). Chronic exercise preserves lean muscle mass in masters athletes. Physician and Sportsmedicine. 39(3): 172-178.

Thanks to Rob Stanton MHMSc for contributing the above article. Rob is an Exercise Physiologist and Level 2 Strength and Conditioning Coach. He is a co-founder and Director of Vector Health. Rob has over 15 years experience in the assessment and prescription of exercise for athletes, rehabilitation and in the management of chronic disease. He is a former coach of Australian Powerlifting teams, Queensland Academy of Sport regional Strength and Conditioning supervisor and has worked with athletes from grass roots to Olympic level. He’s also a great guy! Rob can be contacted by email at rob@vectorhealth.com.au if you are looking for help with training programs, particularly weight training programs.

Body weight and the knee joint

The IntroductionKnee Joint

Obesity and overweightness have long been known as risk factors for knee osteoarthritis and knee pain in general. Sadly as we age, even in masters athletes, the amount of body fat increases. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between body composition (e.g. fat mass, muscle mass) and knee structure, including knee cartilage volume, cartilage defects and bone marrow damage. This study showed that fat mass was associated with increased cartilage defects and bone marrow lesions which are features of early knee osteoarthritis. In contrast, skeletal muscle mass was positively associated with cartilage volume, a great thing for healthy knees.

Read More »

Keep up the weight training if you want to perform into older age

The Introductiongym - old

This study examined the effect of strength training and short-term detraining on maximum force and rate of force development in previously sedentary, healthy older men. It highlights the great changes that occur in strength and power with weight training and equally what happens when you stop weight training.

Read More »

Yet another argument for strength training in all masters athletes training program!

The IntroductionLifting barbells

We’ve known for years that weight training helps hold on to muscle mass into older age. Given how important muscle mass is for strength, power and endurance performance in older athletes, weight training should become a must for older athletes and the older the athlete, the more important it should become. A recent research review paper published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports has highlighted that strength training also helps maintain nervous system function in older non-exercisers and masters athletes.

Read More »