Cortisol and testosterone dynamics following exhaustive endurance exercise



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.

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Fig. 1
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Fig. 4





Free testosterone


Gonadotropin releasing hormone





HPA axis:

Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis


Luteinizing hormone


Repeated analysis of variance


Rate of perceived exertion

VO2max :

Maximal volume of oxygen uptake


Ventilatory threshold


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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.

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Correspondence to Travis Anderson.

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The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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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.

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Communicated by Fabio Fischetti.

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Anderson, T., Lane, A.R. & Hackney, A.C. Cortisol and testosterone dynamics following exhaustive endurance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol 116, 1503–1509 (2016).

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  • Stress
  • Endocrine
  • Recovery
  • Overtraining