Endocrine profiles in 693 elite athletes in the postcompetition setting

Authors


  • This paper is dedicated to the memory of Dr Elizabeth Ferris (19/11/1940–12/4/2012).

    She was an Olympic Bronze medallist in 1960 in Rome in the 3m Springboard event and was also a Bronze and Silver medallist in the Commonwealth Games. She was a Founder member of the Olympians movement and has been a strong voice for women in sport. In 1980 she received the IOC Olympic Order and in 2011 she was the first person to receive the British Olympic Association Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in the Olympic Movement.

    She worked throughout her life to promote the equality of women in sport. She was successful in persuading the IOC to drop gender testing and was strongly opposed to the current rule of the IOC and IAAF defining a ‘normal woman’ on the basis of a serum testosterone. She worked with our team and presented the testosterone data from this study to the IOC/IAAF expert group emphasising the overlap between the male and female ranges but rather sadly, to no effect.

Summary

Objective

To measure a profile of hormones in a group of elite athletes. Increasing awareness of the widespread use of hormones as performance-enhancing agents focusses attention on what may be considered as normal in this unusual group.

Design

Blood samples were obtained from 813 volunteer elite athletes from a cross-section of 15 sporting categories. An endocrine profile was measured on a subset of 693.

Participants

Volunteer elite athletes. Samples were drawn within two hours of an event at a major national or international competition.

Measurements

Demographics and hormone profiles were obtained on 454 male and 239 female elite athletes.

Results

Hormone profiles showed significant differences in 19 of the 24 measured variables between sexes and between all of the 15 sporting disciplines in men and 11 out of 24 in women. 16·5% of men had low testosterone levels, whereas 13·7% of women had high levels with complete overlap between the sexes. Women had a lean body mass 85% that of men – sufficient to account for sex differences in performance. There were highly significant correlations between many of the measured hormones.

Conclusions

Hormone profiles from elite athletes differ from usual reference ranges. Individual results are dependent on a number of factors including age, gender and physique. Differences in profiles between sports suggest that an individual's profile may contribute to his/her proficiency in a particular sport. The IOC definition of a woman as one who has a ‘normal’ testosterone level is untenable.

Ancillary