Want to reach a higher level of athletic performance? You can do exactly that by striking the right balance between your training volume and intensity and your recovery time. Finding that ideal balance is the tricky part.
Fortunately, you can make that a little easier by regularly tracking your body’s levels of various “muscle hormones.” These are hormones like testosterone that play key roles in muscle function and muscle protein synthesis. They can thus give you fairly precise insights into how your balance of training and recovery affects your muscles – and, ultimately, your overall level of performance. Tracking these hormones is easy with the Everlywell Men's Health Test – which a male hormone test that lets you check in on your "muscle hormone" levels from the convenience of home.
Let’s discuss these muscle hormones in more depth – starting with testosterone.
Your body builds muscles out of protein, and testosterone – a natural steroid hormone – tells your body to make more protein. Testosterone thus contributes to muscle growth in a very direct way  – making it an ideal hormone to track if you’re looking to boost your athletic performance.
Your body builds muscles out of protein, and testosterone – a natural steroid hormone – tells your body to make more protein.
What to look out for when tracking your testosterone levels?
Look for a drop in your testosterone levels – along with a drop in energy or muscle strength (or overall performance) – because this is a sign that your training volume might be too high .
Related: Low testosterone symptoms
Temporarily cutting back on your training volume might make the most sense in this situation, as this may act as a natural testosterone booster. Then, once your energy and strength – and testosterone levels – are back up, you can dial up your training volume without hurting your long-term performance.
In a way, cortisol (nicknamed the “stress hormone”) is the polar opposite of testosterone because it stops the body’s production of protein . One way cortisol does this is by – quite literally – blocking the activity of testosterone molecules. This prevents testosterone from telling your body to make more protein – which means you won’t have the raw material you need to build muscle tissue and muscle fibers.
Because cortisol affects testosterone in this way, chronically high levels of cortisol is one of the last things you want as an athlete. And that’s why monitoring your cortisol levels is a very good idea: by detecting chronically elevated cortisol levels early enough, you can make training adjustments before your athletic performance abilities take a serious nosedive.
Specifically, chronically elevated cortisol levels can indicate that you’re overreaching: your training volume and/or intensity is too high, taxing your body’s ability to recover (check for elevated cortisol levels with a cortisol test Everlywell offers). Overreaching can decrease you aerobic fitness level (in terms of maximum oxygen uptake, or VO2 max) , but the good news is that you can typically recover from overreaching in just a few days .
Chronically elevated cortisol levels can indicate that you’re overreaching: your training volume and/or intensity is too high, taxing your body’s ability to recover.
Also note that if you have a cortisol hormonal imbalance and your cortisol levels are constantly too high, you might find it difficult to increase – or maintain – your lean muscle mass . Plus, it might be harder for your body to recover after various kinds of training, such as resistance training.
You can gain good training insights by tracking your testosterone and cortisol levels separately. Putting them together, though, gives you a testosterone:cortisol ratio – or T:C ratio – which can help you gauge your training routine in a pretty precise way. This is due to the fact that T:C ratio is quite sensitive to the effects of physical training .
A persistent drop in T:C ratio throughout your training season is often a surefire sign that you need to make changes to your training routine. Research shows that a 30% or more drop in T:C ratio – relative to your previous T:C ratio – means that you probably aren’t recovering as much as you need to after intensive training , which can put you at risk of overtraining. (It can take weeks or months to completely bounce back from overtraining.)
Research shows that a 30% or more drop in T:C ratio – relative to your previous T:C ratio – means that you probably aren’t recovering as much as you need to after intensive training.
By the way, this research on T:C ratios is based on free testosterone levels as opposed to total testosterone. So if you’re going to track your T:C ratio for training purposes, make sure you use a hormone test that measures free testosterone. (Here’s a breakdown of the difference between free and total testosterone.)
Also, an important note: cortisol levels change on a daily basis, peaking in the morning before gradually falling as night draws closer – so your morning and evening T:C ratio will always be different. Thus, if you want to make a fair comparison between your current and past T:C ratio, be sure you consistently test your cortisol levels at the same time of day.
There’s an easy, effective way you can track your testosterone and cortisol levels (and your T:C ratio): the Everlywell Men's Health Test, which also measures DHEA and estradiol – both of which are involved in muscle function. You can take the test from the comfort and convenience of your home, and all it requires is a saliva sample.
So if you’d like to get key insights into your training program and athletic performance, try the Men’s Health Test – and discover what your “muscle hormone” levels are like.