Are your testosterone levels low? You may be overtraining

Learn how overtraining connects with testosterone deficiency in athletes and how to improve your testosterone levels.

Perrin Braun
By Perrin Braun
Lucia Gcingca
Edited by Lucia Gcingca

Published March 6, 2024.

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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."

What is overtraining syndrome?

Overtraining syndrome is described 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." [1]

Did you know?

Overtraining syndrome goes beyond affecting performance; it also takes a toll on mental health, hormonal balance, and immune system function.

How to tell if you're 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. [2]

» Uncover the science behind testosterone biomarkers

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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 in 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 [3]

» Discover science-backed ways to naturally increase testosterone

Tailored approach to optimal T levels

Unlike traditional methods that assess testosterone within the standard ranges above, InsideTracker offers a more personalized approach. We tailor recommendations for your optimal T levels by considering various factors, such as your age, gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, type and amount of athletic activity.

If your testosterone is low, InsideTracker recommends tailor-made interventions to help you increase your levels, including lifestyle, training, and nutrition modifications.

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Why testosterone is important for athletic performance

Testosterone is crucial for athletic performance due to its multifaceted roles in the body. Here's how T impacts your athletic performance:

Bone and muscle health

Testosterone plays a key role in the development and maintenance of both muscle mass and strength. [4] 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.

Muscle state and hormonal balance

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.

Energy levels and endurance

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. [5]

Cognitive Function and performance

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. [6] So, if your testosterone levels are low, you might not be performing at your peak.

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Testosterone Recovery Myth

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. [7]

Lower testosterone in women

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. [8]

Women may also experience loss of muscle mass, decreased bone density, and loss of body hair.

Note: Low testosterone levels can have a profound impact on mood in both sexes, so if you find it difficult to concentrate and you’re tired and irritable, that might be the cause.

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How to improve your testosterone levels

If your testosterone is low, there are natural ways to increase it, such as:

  • Allowing ample time for sleep and recovery: The length of your recovery period is linked to the intensity and length of your workouts. Listen to your body and tweak your training accordingly. Get sufficient high-quality sleep to aid in the repair of training-induced damage. [9]
  • Paying attention to your diet: Your diet can also affect your T levels, so keep an eye on what you eat, especially your pre-workout meals and post-workout foods. 

Other signs of overtraining

In addition to testosterone, inflammation and creatine kinase (CK) are also indicators of over-training. [10, 11] One of the most valid and reliable methods for assessing muscular damage is to check for an increase in blood serum levels of creatine kinase, the primary enzyme regulating the metabolism of the muscle.

 CK is located inside healthy muscle cells, so even small amounts of CK in the blood mean 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.

» Want to learn more about CK and overtraining? Find out if you are overtraining

Note: 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.