Sex hormones, including estrogen and testosterone, play an important role in physical fitness and exercise capabilities. Fluctuations in these hormones that occur during puberty, over the menstrual cycle, with use of hormonal contraceptives, during pregnancy, and due to aging can impact everything from muscle building to injury rates in both recreational exercisers and competitive athletes.
Understanding the effects these hormones have on the body can help individuals maximize their workout potential. This article will discuss five ways that estrogen and testosterone influence fitness and athletic performance.
Estrogen And Bone Health
Estrogen is crucial for maintaining healthy bone density, especially as women age. Post menopause, estrogen levels drop dramatically, causing women to lose significant bone mass rapidly. As high as 20% of bone density could be lost in just 5-7 years post-menopause. Without healthy bones, women are at higher risk for stress fractures and osteoporosis, which can limit participation in weight-bearing and high-impact exercise. Weight training and possibly short-term estrogen replacement therapy under medical supervision can help support bone health to keep women active and exercising safely long-term.
Testosterone, Muscle Building, And Fat Burning
Testosterone helps build lean muscle mass by increasing muscle protein synthesis. It signals the body to repair and strengthen muscles after intense resistance or strength training sessions. Without adequate testosterone, it becomes harder to build strength and muscle size. Some athletes and bodybuilders misuse anabolic steroids or testosterone supplements to maximize muscle growth. However, these supplements carry health risks and should only be used therapeutically under medical supervision. Higher testosterone levels also promote fat burning, while estrogen signals fat storage, particularly around the hips and thighs.
Estrogen And Soft Tissue Injury Risk
Although it’s true that taking an estrogen blocker can help you to lose weight, estrogen does have some benefits. Estrogen helps support ligament and tendon strength and flexibility, which can reduce some injury risks. ACL tears occur up to 8 times more frequently among female athletes, especially women with irregular or absent periods indicating hormone imbalances. Optimizing and balancing estrogen levels reduce the likelihood of soft tissue and joint injuries. However, drastic drops in estrogen during menopause also impair the muscle’s ability to recover post-workout, making overuse injuries more likely. Timing strength training when hormone levels are elevated can improve performance capability and recovery.
Testosterone, Energy Levels, And Endurance
Adequate testosterone plays an integral role in maintaining physical energy levels and mental focus, which are crucial during demanding athletic training and events. Testosterone enhances the production of red blood cells, which improve oxygen circulation and muscle endurance. Low testosterone has been associated with diminished endurance capacity and aerobic potential, as well as increased fatigue during intense training. Hormonal imbalances causing low testosterone can undermine an athlete’s ability to sustain power and stamina for competitions. Optimizing testosterone under medical supervision may help boost energy and physical resilience.
Estrogen And Post-Exercise Recovery
While moderate estrogen levels help strengthen bones and connective tissue, excessive drops can impair muscle repair after intense training sessions, especially during menopause. Low estrogen means slower recovery times post-workout, which hinders the ability to benefit from exercise training adaptations. Supporting hormonal balance as women age can help them continue actively exercising by improving exercise recovery and reducing the risk of overload injuries that accumulate due to inadequate muscle rebuilding. This involves tracking bone density for osteoporosis risk and consulting trained hormonal and gynecological health experts.
Closely monitoring changing estrogen and testosterone levels throughout life provides valuable insight into maximizing workout potential and reaching fitness goals safely. Individualized plans should assess hormone balance through bloodwork and strategic estrogen or testosterone support under medical supervision where appropriate.