American marathoner Ryan Hall recently said that in the past year he has been dealing with bouts of low testosterone that affect his running – a malady he has concluded is a risk for men who train and run marathons. Hall noticed a sudden onset of fatigue that obviously affected his training and race preparation, and blood tests confirmed low testosterone levels.
Symptoms for men with low testosterone include fatigue, depression, irritability, and loss of sex drive. Commons causes include diabetes, liver disease, injury to the testicles, and obesity. Another risk associated with low testosterone is decreased bone density, which for runners could mean an increased risk of stress fractures.
So where does running fit into this?
According to a study from the University of North Carolina, “Endurance training may have significant effects on the male reproductive system. The evidence suggests endurance training significantly affects the major male reproductive hormone, testosterone. At rest, testosterone appears to be lower in the endurance-trained male than in the untrained male.”
How do you treat low testosterone?
Vigorous resistance training, like weight lifting, eating enough fat, and getting enough sleep can help elevate testosterone levels – as will decreasing the amount of running.
While you could also take synthetic testosterone or steroids prescribed by a doctor, this could cause two problems: (1) It may be considered an illegal performance enhancing drug depending on your sport; and (2) Taking synthetic testosterone interferes with your body’s natural production of testosterone. In addition, steroids or synthetic testosterone could cause an unwanted increase in muscle mass, which could be detrimental for runners.
If you suspect you may have low testosterone, go see your doctor, get a blood test, and – if needed – see an endocrinologist who has worked with athletes.
Written by Rob Haneisen.