European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 116, Issue 8, pp 1503–1509 | Cite as

Cortisol and testosterone dynamics following exhaustive endurance exercise

  • Travis AndersonEmail author
  • Amy R. Lane
  • Anthony C. Hackney
Original Article



Cortisol (C) and testosterone (T) are impacted significantly by prolonged endurance exercise with inverse responses. Increases in C are witnessed concurrently with decrements in T, possibly impacting recovery. This study was conducted to assess the dynamics of C and free T (fT) concentration and recovery time following an exhaustive endurance exercise session (EES).


12 endurance-trained males (X ± SD: VO2max 66.3±4.8 ml/kg/min, age 22.8 ± 3.1 years, body fat 11.0 ± 1.4 %, training 7.1 ± 3.2 years) completed a treadmill EES at ventilatory threshold (74.7 ± 4.6 % of VO2max; 96.9 ± 10.8 min). Basal blood C and fT were collected at baseline: −48, −24 h, and immediately before (0 h) the EES as well as immediately (+0 h), +24 h, +48 h, and +72 h after the EES. Blood glucose (G) was measured to confirm no undue influence on C. Statistically data were analyzed with repeated measures ANOVA (LSD post hoc).


C (nmol/L) increased significantly from −48 h (321 ± 59) to +0 h (701 ± 178) (p < 0.001), and displayed a baseline overshoot with +24 h (209 ± 67) being significantly lower than −48 and +0 h (p < 0.03). fT (pmol/L) decreased significantly from −48 h (161 ± 40) to +0 h (106 ± 38) (p < 0.01) and remained lower at +24 h (110 ± 33) and +48 h (129 ± 30) (p < 0.001). G remained stable throughout. A moderately negative correlation (r = −0.636, p < 0.026) was found between C and fT at +0 h.


EES recovery may require 48 h for C and 72 h for fT to return to baseline values. Furthermore, C and fT were only correlated immediately post-exercise. Future research should perform more frequent measurements throughout time course.


Stress Endocrine Recovery Overtraining 





Free testosterone


Gonadotropin releasing hormone





HPA axis

Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis


Luteinizing hormone


Repeated analysis of variance


Rate of perceived exertion


Maximal volume of oxygen uptake


Ventilatory threshold



The authors wish to thank the subjects for their time and efforts in this project. Additionally, the authors are grateful to Dr. Atko Viru, Tartu University, Estonia, for his valuable insight into the interpretation of the data.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and is later amendments or comparable ethics standards.


  1. ACSM (2013) ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, Lippincott Williams & WilkinsGoogle Scholar
  2. Bambino TH, Hsueh AJ (1981) Direct inhibitory effect of glucocorticoids upon testicular luteinizing hormone receptor and steroidogenesis in vivo and in vitro. Endocrinology 108(6):2142–2148CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Banfi G, Dolci A (2006) Free testosterone/cortisol ratio in soccer: usefulness of a categorization of values. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 46(4):611–616PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Brownlee KK, Moore AW, Hackney AC (2005) Relationship between circulating cortisol and testosterone: influence of physical exercise. J Sport Sci Med 4(1):76Google Scholar
  5. Cumming D, Quigley M, Yen S (1983) Acute suppression of circulating testosterone levels by cortisol in men. J Clin Endocr Metab 57(3):671–673CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Cunniffe B, Hore AJ, Whitcombe DM, Jones KP, Baker JS, Davies B (2010) Time course of changes in immuneoendocrine markers following an international rugby game. Eur J Appl Physiol 108(1):113–122CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Daly W, Seegers C, Timmerman S, Hackney A (2004) Peak cortisol response to exhausting exercise: effect of blood sampling schedule. Med Sport 8(1):17–20Google Scholar
  8. Daly W, Seegers CA, Rubin DA, Dobridge JD, Hackney AC (2005) Relationship between stress hormones and testosterone with prolonged endurance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol 93(4):375–380CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Dill D, Costill DL (1974) Calculation of percentage changes in volumes of blood, plasma, and red cells in dehydration. J Appl Physiol 37(2):247–248PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Doerr P, Pirke KM (1976) Cortisol-induced suppression of plasma testosterone in normal adult males. J Clin Endocr Metab 43(3):622–629CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Duclos M, Corcuff JB, Rashedi M, Fougere V, Manier G (1997) Trained versus untrained men: different immediate post-exercise responses of pituitary adrenal axis. A preliminary study. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 75(4):343–350CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Elloumi M, Maso F, Michaux O, Robert A, Lac G (2003) Behaviour of saliva cortisol [C], testosterone [T] and the T/C ratio during a rugby match and during the post-competition recovery days. Eur J Appl Physiol 90(1–2):23–28CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Few JD (1974) Effect of exercise on the secretion and metabolism of cortisol in man. J Endocrinol 62(2):341–353CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Hackney A, Dobridge J (2003) Exercise and male hypogonadism: testosterone, the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis, and physical exercise. In: Winters S (ed) Male hypogonadism: basic, clinical, and therapeutic principles. Humana Press, Totowa, pp 305–330Google Scholar
  15. Hellman L, Nakada F, Curti J, Weitzman ED, Kream J, Roffwarg H, Ellman S, Fukushima DK, Gallagher TF (1970) Cortisol is secreted episodically by normal man. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 30(4):411–422CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Hough JP, Papacosta E, Wraith E, Gleeson M (2011) Plasma and salivary steroid hormone responses of men to high-intensity cycling and resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res 25(1):23–31CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Ispirlidis I, Fatouros IG, Jamurtas AZ, Nikolaidis MG, Michailidis I, Douroudos I, Margonis K, Chatzinikolaou A, Kalistratos E, Katrabasas I, Alexiou V, Taxildaris K (2008) Time-course of changes in inflammatory and performance responses following a soccer game. Clin J Sport Med 18(5):423–431CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Kraemer WJ, Spiering BA, Volek JS, Martin GJ, Howard RL, Ratamess NA, Hatfield DL, Vingren JL, Ho JY, Fragala MS, Thomas GA, French DN, Anderson JM, Hakkinen K, Maresh CM (2009) Recovery from a national collegiate athletic association division I football game: muscle damage and hormonal status. J Strength Cond Res 23(1):2–10CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Kuhn J, Gay D, Lemercier J, Pugeat M, Legrand A, Wolf L (1986) Testicular function during prolonged corticotherapy. Presse Med (Paris, France: 1983) 15(12):559–562Google Scholar
  20. Kuoppasalmi K, Naveri H, Harkonen M, Adlercreutz H (1980) Plasma cortisol, androstenedione, testosterone and luteinizing hormone in running exercise of different intensities. Scand J Clin Lab Invest 40(5):403–409CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Lac G, Berthon P (2000) Changes in cortisol and testosterone levels and T/C ratio during an endurance competition and recovery. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 40(2):139–144PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Lane AR, Duke JW, Hackney AC (2010) Influence of dietary carbohydrate intake on the free testosterone: cortisol ratio responses to short-term intensive exercise training. Eur J Appl Physiol 108(6):1125–1131CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Moore A, Timmerman S, Brownlee K, Rubin D, Hackney A (2005) Strenuous, fatiguing exercise: relationship of cortisol to circulating thyroid hormones. Int J Endocrinol Metab 3(1, Winter):18–24Google Scholar
  24. Passelergue P, Lac G (1999) Saliva cortisol, testosterone and T/C ratio variations during a wrestling competition and during the post-competitive recovery period. Int J Sports Med 20(2):109–113CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Thorpe R, Sunderland C (2012) Muscle damage, endocrine, and immune marker response to a soccer match. J Strength Cond Res 26(10):2783–2790CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Tietz NW (1995) Clinical guide to laboratory tests. WB Saunders Co, PhiledelphiaGoogle Scholar
  27. Tremblay MS, Copeland JL, Van Helder W (2005) Influence of exercise duration on post-exercise steroid hormone responses in trained males. Eur J Appl Physiol 94(5–6):505–513CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Urhausen A, Kindermann W (1987) Behaviour of testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), and cortisol before and after a triathlon competition. Int J Sports Med 8(5):305–308CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Urhausen A, Gabriel H, Kindermann W (1995) Blood hormones as markers of training stress and overtraining. Sports Med 20(4):251–276CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Viru AA, Viru M (2001) Biochemical monitoring of sport training: Human KineticsGoogle Scholar
  31. Wasserman K (1984) The anaerobic threshold measurement in exercise testing. Clin Chest Med 5(1):77–88PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Yeh M, Gardner R, Adams T, Yanowitz F, Crapo R (1983) “ Anaerobic threshold”: problems of determination and validation. J Appl Physiol 55(4):1178–1186PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Zitzmann M, Nieschlag E (2001) Testosterone levels in healthy men and the relation to behavioural and physical characteristics: facts and constructs. Eur J Endocrinol 144(3):183–197CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Travis Anderson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amy R. Lane
    • 1
  • Anthony C. Hackney
    • 1
  1. 1.Endocrine Section, Applied Physiology Laboratory, Department of Exercise and Sport ScienceUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA

Personalised recommendations