Following a most successful Olympics for Team GB, I thought you might be interested to see the link between hormones and athletic performance.
Did you know that your endocrine system and the hormones which circulate around your body are not only key players supporting health, but also in determining sport performance in athletes?
So what have the endocrine system and hormone production got to do with athletes and sport performance?
Steroid hormones - which are produced naturally within the body - are important in many areas:
- They maintain energy stores
- They build muscles
- They increase oxygen capacity
- They decrease fatigue
- They reduce recovery time
- They even optimise hand-eye co-ordination
The main hormone for doing all this is testosterone which is found in both men and women.
Alongside testosterone, other hormones play their part in athletic performance:
- Oestradiol also keeps inflammation in check but also helps to break down the body’s fat to create fuel and reduces muscle damage
- Cortisol and aldosterone assist in the regulation of your metabolism, blood sugar and water/salt balance
- Oestrogen is considered to have the potential to enhance performance because of its positive effects on muscle building, the metabolism of carbohydrates and neuromuscular signalling.
- Progesterone has a central effect on control of thermo-regulation.
The dynamics of hormones
The level at which some hormones are secreted varies in the long term – that is across your lifetime; and in the short term – that is between day and night.
Hormones will also vary within defined control systems for example within the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis whereby the frequency and quantity of gonadotrophin releasing factor (GnRH) dictates the start of the menstrual cycle and the cyclical release of oestrogen and progesterone.
Outside factors will also have an effect on your hormones:
- Exercise stimulates growth hormone which in turn has a positive effect in terms of improved bone density, a reduction in body fat and an increase in lean mass.
- Cortisol levels will go up because exercise can stress the body which means rest periods are critical within any training programme
- Female athletes struggling with eating disorders, low body density and a cessation of periods can see their endocrine system go into energy saving mode because of the mismatch between energy intake and energy expenditure. This is referred to as RED-S which can lead to underperformance as well as ill health and potential for recurring injuries
- Current thinking also encourages female athletes and their coaches to monitor the individual athlete’s response to their menstrual cycles in physical performance. It is recognised that the variations in oestrogen and progesterone at this time have the potential to affect energy levels, body temperature, fluid retention, psychology and the risk of energy,
Overall then it is clear to see that the concentrations of our hormones and their ratio one to the other are not only key drivers of performance but can also indicate the functional status of an athlete.
I hope this has been helpful.