Certain types of physical exercise, especially those of high intensity and short duration, can promote an increase in testosterone secretion. However, excessive exercise can have a negative impact on the production of this hormone. In recent years, some studies have reported that, similar to what occurs in the so-called Female Athlete Syndrome, men are also affected by overtraining (overtraining). So much so that it is currently recognized that excessive physical training is one of the causes that impair the production of testosterone in men, which can even lead to a deficiency of the hormone, called exercise-related hypogonadism. But, after all, how can this type of disorder lead to worse sports performance and a series of harmful organic changes?
+ Overtraining: know what happens when you overdo your exercises
Overtraining can promote a reduction in testosterone levels in men — Photo: iStock Getty Images
Below, endocrinologists Ricardo Oliveira and Roberto Zagury explain this relationship and the treatment of the problem and give tips on care to be taken by athletes.
exercise and testosterone
Different types of training can have different impacts on testosterone production. Ricardo Oliveira explains that if on the one hand high intensity and short duration exercises promote increased testosterone synthesis, on the other hand long and exhausting training may promote the opposite: a hormone deficiency. Some types of exercises that generate a greater production of testosterone are those of high intensity, explosion and weight training, especially those that involve large muscle groups and considerable intensity.
So that there is no overproduction or low production of the hormone, the ideal is to maintain the balance between training and rest, being necessary a correct dosage of both. Regarding overtraining, when we approach this topic, there is a natural tendency to associate overtraining more with the female universe due to the famous Female Athlete Triad, currently called Female Athlete Syndrome, which can generate eating and hormonal disorders (amenorrhea ) and bone (osteopenia/ osteoporosis). However, excessive training also brings harm to the male universe.
– In the same way that women can present the so-called Female Athlete Syndrome due to overtraining and an inadequate diet (usually more restrictive), the same can occur with men. Today, we know the so-called REDS (Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome), in which the energy expenditure through exercise ends up being much higher than the caloric consumption of the diet. Testosterone deficiency in men is just one of the consequences of REDS. Impaired immunity, sleep problems, chronic fatigue and irritability are some other examples of signs of the disease in men – Oliveira points out.
Low testosterone production is among the harms of overtraining — Photo: Reproduction/Internet
According to Roberto Zagury, much more than producing a decrease in testosterone levels, overtraining in men also brings harm in the affective sphere. In the psycho-affective scope, the person may have more irritability and impaired sleep, for example. In the immunological scope, there is an imbalance, deregulating with the exaggeration of training and, thus, the person is more prone to infections, especially in the upper airways.
– In addition, there may be a loss in bone mass, both in the quality and quantity of bone tissue; and thus, the very famous stress fractures end up appearing. Therefore, we understand today that the impact of overtraining is not just hormonal, but multimodal and multifactorial, involving a wide range of sectors of the male health body – explains the doctor.
According to Ricardo Oliveira, male hypogonadism is characterized by a deficiency in the production of testosterone and/or sperm in men. Excessive exercise, especially in a context of limited caloric intake, is one of the causes of this entity recently described as “exercise-linked hypogonadism”.
Among the symptoms are:
- libido drop
- depressive symptoms
- Worsening of concentration
- Loss of muscle strength and power
Most of these symptoms can have a direct or indirect impact on the athlete’s performance, impairing sport performance.
– Currently, we coined a term, understanding that it was appropriate to have specific terminology to point to this condition: exercise-related hypogonadism, which is a functional form of hypogonadism. That is, there is no organic disease, an anatomical process that is identifiable with imaging exams, for example, but there is a functional process, a deregulation of the functioning of our body that starts up there, in the hypothalamus, which is a region of the our specialized brain capable of controlling a very important gland which is the pituitary gland, which is also in the brain. In turn, the pituitary gland controls several glands in our body and, among them, the testicles, in the case of men. Which are the testosterone production site. In exercise-related hypogonadism, there is a decrease in testosterone production due to a functional change in the hypothalamus and pituitary – explains Roberto Zagury.
Worsening of sports performance
Overtraining worsens sports performance in the short term — Photo: Istock Getty Images
Exercise-related hypogonadism can impair sports performance, as it causes changes such as lower muscle strength and endurance and a worsening of muscle recovery in affected individuals, in addition to a series of harmful organic changes. This is because the practitioner of physical activity, in order to improve their performance, ends up training more and more, entering a vicious cycle of seeking perfection. Thus, it increases more the weekly volume and intensity of training and reduces rest periods, which are essential for the body to recover.
– If you don’t give the body time, it’s no use training at high intensity, the person won’t become more capable, on the contrary. When the athlete only trains more and more and goes beyond the point, this hypogonadism (decrease in testosterone) dialogues with the excess of classic training, also going through a stage before overtraining, which is called overreaching, which consists of an increase in training volume and/or intensity. After this phase, the individual enters into overtraining and, instead of improving their sports performance, it worsens in a short term – points out Zagury.
Readjustment of diet and training is the main form of treatment for low testosterone — Photo: Istock Getty Images
In cases of testosterone deficiency caused by excessive physical exercise, Ricardo Oliveira points out that the main measure to be adopted is a diet and training adequacy. According to the endocrinologist and sports doctor, the individual must:
- Reduce the training volume (generally 20-30% of the weekly volume), avoiding longer workouts, especially those that last between one and two hours;
- A dietary control is also essential, requiring an increase in caloric intake, including the amount of carbohydrates and fats, often neglected and demonized by athletes;
- In cases where such adjustments are not enough to reverse the entire process, hormone replacement with testosterone or the use of so-called selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) may be necessary.
Roberto Zagury also reinforces that the basis of treatment in these cases is detraining, that is, moving in the opposite direction. After all, if what produced that functional deficiency in testosterone production was overtraining, the treatment is to give the person a rest schedule so that it can undo what has been built up by overtraining.
– Another important ingredient of the treatment is patience, although it is very difficult to ask a person in this situation to give it time. Sometimes the situation reverts quickly, but not always, it may take three months, six months or even a year to reverse the situation. So, the person who finds himself in this situation ends up being insecure and anxious, but in medicine sometimes time is part of the great treatment, as in this case – highlights the doctor.
In addition to treating the condition, it is important for the athlete to take some precautions, and it is important to remember that the Testosterone derived products are considered doping, that is, belonging to the list of prohibited substances by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Therefore, it is essential that the medical team is aware and, if this type of therapy is in fact necessary, an authorization for therapeutic use (AUT) must be requested before the start of the competition. The regulatory agency in each country will assess the case and decide whether or not to authorize it. In Brazil, this function is performed by the Brazilian Agency for Doping Control (ABCD).
- Build a training program in such a way that the athlete finds a balance between training intensity and volume and rest. A physical education professional will do this better than anyone else, who will set up a periodized workout, with moments of greater intensity, but also with moments of lesser intensity and others of rest. Training monotony is a major problem that pushes the individual towards hypogonadism;
- Pay attention to personal matters: financial, affective and family problems influence sports performance. It is important not to overlook these extra-sport factors, which often require the support of a psychologist, for example.
– Finally, it is important to highlight that endurance athletes, especially long races (marathons, ultramarathons, cycling), water sports (in which one trains for hours a day), among others, are aware of the possibility of testosterone deficiency. In the face of suspicion, the recommendation is to seek the medical team. In many cases, an endocrinologist should be consulted for a thorough evaluation of the case – concludes Ricardo Oliveira.
Ricardo de Andrade Oliveira he is an endocrinologist and sports doctor, former professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and coordinator of the Department of Associated Diseases of the Brazilian Association for the Study of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome (Abeso).
Roberto Zagury he is an endocrinologist and coordinator of the Department of Diabetes, Exercise and Sport of the Brazilian Society of Diabetes.