Two emerging concepts for elite athletes: the short-term effects of testosterone and cortisol on the neuromuscular system and the dose-response training role of these endogenous hormones
Crewther, BT, Cook, C, Cardinale, M, Weatherby, RP & Lowe, T 2011, 'Two emerging concepts for elite athletes: the short-term effects of testosterone and cortisol on the neuromuscular system and the dose-response training role of these endogenous hormones', Sports Medicine, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 103-23.
Published article available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2165/11539170-000000000-00000
The aim of this review is to highlight two emerging concepts for the elite athlete using the resistance-training model: (i) the short-term effects of testosterone (T) and cortisol (C) on the neuromuscular system; and (ii) the dose-response training role of these endogenous hormones. Exogenous evidence confirms that T and C can regulate long-term changes in muscle growth and performance, especially with resistance training. This evidence also confirms that changes in T or C concentrations can moderate or support neuromuscular performance through various short-term mechanisms (e.g. second messengers, lipid/protein pathways, neuronal activity, behaviour, cognition, motor-system function, muscle properties and energy metabolism). The possibility of dual T and C effects on the neuromuscular system offers a new paradigm for understanding resistance-training performance and adaptations. Endogenous evidence supports the short-term T and C effects on human performance. Several factors (e.g. workout design, nutrition, genetics, training status and type) can acutely modify T and/or C concentrations and thereby potentially influence resistance-training performance and the adaptive outcomes. This novel short-term pathway appears to be more prominent in athletes (vs non-athletes), possibly due to the training of the neuromuscular and endocrine systems. However, the exact contribution of these endogenous hormones to the training process is still unclear. Research also confirms a dose-response training role for basal changes in endogenous T and C, again, especially for elite athletes. Although full proof within the physiological range is lacking, this athlete model reconciles a proposed permissive role for endogenous hormones in untrained individuals. It is also clear that the steroid receptors (cell bound) mediate target tissue effects by adapting to exercise and training, but the response patterns of the membrane-bound receptors remain highly speculative. This information provides a new perspective for examining, interpreting and utilizing T and C within the elite sporting environment. For example, individual hormonal data may be used to better prescribe resistance exercise and training programmes or to assess the trainability of elite athletes. Possible strategies for acutely modifying the hormonal milieu and, thereafter, the performance/training outcomes were also identified (see above). The limitations and challenges associated with the analysis and interpretation of hormonal research in sport (e.g. procedural issues, analytical methods, research design) were another discussion point. Finally, this review highlights the need for more experimental research on humans, in particular athletes, to specifically address the concept of dual steroid effects on the neuromuscular system.