Hormones Important In Female Athletic Competition

A new study has found that women athletes get far more pumped up before and during athletic competition than their male counterparts. Pre-event testosterone levels rise 9 percent, on avergae, in males whereas in females they increase by 24 percent. During the game itself women increase their testosterone production by 49 percent while in males, it increases on average 15 percent. The rise in testosterone that accompanies competition is thought to make the individual more willing to take risks, improves psychomotor function and coordination, and increase cognitive performance qualities that are very important in winning.From Penn State University:Hormones Are Important In Female Athletic Competition

November 13, 2002

University Park, Pa.– In female athletes, testosterone rises in anticipation of competition more in women than it does in men, researchers say.

The pre-event rise in males averages 9 percent whereas in females it increases by 24 percent. During the game itself women increase their testosterone production by 49 percent while in males, it increases on average 15 percent. The rise in testosterone that accompanies competition is thought to make the individual more willing to take risks, improves psychomotor function and coordination, and increase cognitive performance qualities that are very important in winning.

“We are not sure why women’s testosterone response to competition is so much greater than it is in men. It may be due to the fact that everyday levels of testosterone are four times greater in men than they are in women. To effectively meet the challenge, a higher production rate may be necessary,” explained co-author Dr. Alan Booth, distinguished professor of sociology, human development and family studies, and demography at Penn State. “It wasn’t because female rugby players have higher everyday testosterone levels than other women. We checked.”

Dr. Helen Bateup, Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University; Booth; Elizabeth Shirtcliff, graduate student in biobehavioral health; and Dr. Douglas Granger, associate professor of biobehavioral health and human development and family studies at Penn State, studied the levels of testosterone and cortisol in the saliva of 17 members of a major university women’s rugby team. They published their results in the article “Testosterone, Cortisol, and Women’s Competition” in a recent issue of Evolution and Human Behavior.

However, there are some important sex differences in hormone production at the end of the game. In female athletes, testosterone is unrelated to winning and losing whereas when male athletes win, their testosterone goes up and when they lose, it goes down. With respect to cortisol, another hormone that mobilizes resources for competition, female athletes experience lower cortisol levels when they win than they do when they lose, the researchers said.

“This supports the idea that the elation associated with winning and the dejection linked to losing entails different biological mechanisms in women and men,” Booth added. “Among women, pre-game testosterone increases were significantly correlated with reports of being focused just prior to the match, just as it is associated with arousal in men,”

“Unlike pre-game increases in men, the pre-game increase among women was unrelated to the perceptions of how easy or difficult the opponent was thought to be prior to the game. Men seem to adjust their pre-game rise to the perceived strength of the opponent,” he said.

Unlike male competitors, the more skilled female players did not have lower cortisol just before the game than their less skilled teammates.

“Low cortisol is thought to indicate good stress management skills which may be one of the reasons highly seeded male players with low cortisol do well in competition,” Booth added. “It is also possible that females may be more collective than individualistic in their management of stress. On the other hand, one of the roles of cortisol is to mobilize energy resources. Rugby is a physically demanding game and high cortisol among females would be beneficial to maximize available resources for the upcoming demands.”

The researchers also examined personal traits among the players that could affect pre-game increases in testosterone. “Aggressiveness had little direct relationship on the increase, but bonding did,” said Bateup. “Those who are motivated to play rugby because they enjoy having teammates and bonding experienced a much greater rise in pre-competition testosterone than those who were not motivated by bonding.”

Saliva samples were collected 24 hours before competition to establish a baseline, 15 minutes before and immediately after five league games.

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