As an athlete, you work hard to improve your physical performance. But more training is not necessarily better training. Without enough rest and recovery, intense training regimens can actually backfire and compromise your ability to perform well. Exercise breaks down your muscles; rest stimulates growth and repair. The combination of too much exercise with too little recovery time can result in "overtraining syndrome."
Overtraining syndrome is described by in an article published in Sports Health by Kreher and Schwartz as "a maladapted response to excessive exercise without adequate rest, resulting in perturbations of multiple body systems (neurologic, endocrinologic, immunologic) coupled with mood changes." So, not only can overtraining syndrome impact performance, it also impacts mental health, hormonal health, and immune system functioning.
How can you tell if you are over-training? Indicators include a sudden drop in performance, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. But that's not all – research has shown that repeated intense exercise without adequate rest can cause a significant decrease in testosterone.
How much testosterone do you need?
Testosterone (T) is a steroid hormone that is present in the bodies of both men and women. A man’s T levels are highest in his late 30s, after which they then decrease by 1-2% each year. Testosterone is present at much lower amounts in women.
While testosterone levels vary depending on age, sex, and fitness, these are general guidelines:
- Men: 348-1197 ng/dL of total testosterone
- Women (18-49): 8-48 ng/dL
- Women (50+): 3-41 ng/dL
While your doctor identify whether your testosterone falls within these normal ranges, only InsideTracker takes your age, gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, and type and amount of athletic activity into consideration when determining your optimal T levels. If your testosterone is low, InsideTracker will recommend interventions to help you increase your levels, including lifestyle, training, and nutrition modifications.
Why is testosterone important for athletic performance?
Testosterone plays a key role in development and maintenance of both muscle mass and strength. Optimal levels of this hormone are necessary to create and preserve bone density; without enough testosterone, bones can become weak and more likely to fracture or break. It's also necessary for keeping your muscles in an anabolic state (muscle-building) rather than a catabolic (muscle-breakdown) one; when testosterone levels are too low and cortisol levels too high, your body compensates by breaking muscle down to use the proteins it contains for energy.
Testosterone also contributes to the body’s maintenance of energy levels, so this hormone can increase your energy during workouts and help improve your endurance. Finally, testosterone contributes to effective brain activity, including learning and memory skills, which is important for athletes who need to learn new plays and routines. So, if your testosterone levels are low, you might not be performing at your peak.
What are the symptoms of low testosterone?
In men, symptoms of testosterone deficiency include diminished sex drive, decreased muscle mass, decreased muscle strength, reduced bone mass (potentially leading to osteoporosis), and increased body fat.
While testosterone deficiency is typically considered to be a male problem, low levels can cause issues for women, too. Symptoms of low testosterone levels in women include hot flashes, irritability, loss of sex drive, and sleep disturbances. Women may also experience loss of muscle mass, decreased bone density, and loss of body hair.
In both sexes, low testosterone levels can have a profound impact on mood, so if you find it difficult to concentrate, and you’re tired and irritable, that might be the cause.
How can you improve your testosterone levels?
If your testosterone is low, there are natural ways to increase it. First, allow ample time for sleep and recovery. The length of your required recovery period depends on the intensity and duration of your workouts, so listen to your body and adjust your training regimen accordingly. Your body also needs enough good-quality sleep to repair the damage that normally occurs in training.
Second, pay attention to your diet, especially your pre-workout meals and post-workout foods.
In addition to testosterone, inflammation and creatine kinase are also indicators of over-training. One of the most valid and reliable methods for assessing muscular damage is to check for increase in blood serum levels of creatine kinase, the primary enzyme regulating the metabolism of the muscle. Creatine kinase (CK) is located inside healthy muscle cells, so even small amounts of CK in the blood mean that the muscle cells have been damaged. This can happen through strenuous exercise, so increases in blood levels of CK are one indicator of muscular trauma (read more about CK and overtraining in this blog).
Conversely, inflammation is your body’s way of removing damaged cells. Excessive exercise with inadequate amounts of rest can increase inflammation because your body has not properly healed between workouts.
If you suspect you are over-training, don’t keep pushing through it. Sign up for an InsideTracker blood analysis to measure your testosterone and prioritize sleep and recovery.