We tend to hear that lifting weights and other forms of strength training are a good way to boost testosterone levels in the body, but the impact of endurable exercise on testosterone levels is less commonly discussed, at least in any sort of definitive way.
Some of the most burning questions are: Does running increase testosterone? Does running decrease testosterone? Are there sex differences?
In this guide, we will look at how the body’s testosterone levels are affected by running and endurance exercise in general, attempting to answer the question, “Does running boost testosterone levels?”
We will discuss in detail:
- What Is Testosterone?
- Testosterone and Exercise
- Does Running Increase Testosterone? Here Are The Facts
- Does Running Decrease Testosterone Levels?
- Four Tips For Boosting Testosterone With Running
Let’s get started!
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is commonly known as the primary male sex hormone, responsible for secondary sex characteristics like pubic hair, lowered voice, and facial hair, and for increasing libido and producing sperm.
However, although testosterone is considered the male sex hormone, both biological sexes produce testosterone to some degree. With that said, in the absence of hormonal problems, biological males have significantly higher testosterone levels than biological females.
In males, testosterone is primarily produced in the testes. In females, the adrenal glands produce testosterone, and it is converted to estradiol and other female sex hormones.
In both sexes, testosterone also influences body fat distribution, muscle mass, and muscle growth. It increases red blood cell production, bone mass, muscle strength, and libido.
Low testosterone levels have been associated with comorbid conditions that are known to increase the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke, etc.). Some of these conditions include metabolic syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Moreover, serum testosterone and the risk of overall mortality are inversely associated, such that low serum testosterone is associated with an increased risk of overall mortality.
Testosterone and Exercise
Testosterone has long been shown to cause increases in muscle mass and muscle strength and reductions in body fat, especially when combined with resistance training, which is why testosterone has been abused as a performance-enhancing or doping substance in sports for decades.
These benefits have also been extended to older men. As testosterone levels naturally peak around age 30 and drop significantly after age 50 or so, testosterone administration in older men has been shown to cause significant preservation in strength, muscle mass, and physical function relative to the natural time course of aging-related sarcopenia.
Lifting weights is well known to increase testosterone levels, as testosterone production seems to acutely increase in response to resistance training. These benefits seem to extend to chronic strength training as well.
Testosterone seems to increase most significantly when rest periods after sets are short, as long as the work sets are high intensity. But, does running increase testosterone?
Does Running Increase Testosterone? Here Are The Facts
While it’s more established that strength training boosts testosterone levels, the impact of running is more nuanced.
So, does running increase testosterone?
Research suggests that short, high-intensity sprints can increase testosterone levels.
Handball players ran 4 x 250 meters on a treadmill at 80% of their personal maximal speed with three minutes of rest in between each sprint. Testosterone levels increased significantly, as did the testosterone/cortisol ratio.
These results indicate that the sprint exercise induced an anabolic (muscle-building) state.
Evidence suggests that while both forms of running can increase testosterone levels, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) running workouts increase testosterone levels more than steady-state aerobic running.
The HIIT protocol involved intervals of 90 seconds at 100% of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) alternated with 90 seconds of recovery at 40% VO2max for 42-47 min, while the steady-state run was 45 min at 60-65% VO2max.
Does Running Decrease Testosterone Levels?
Now that we’ve answered does running increase testosterone levels, let’s see if it decreases its levels. Although high-intensity, sprint-type running can increase testosterone production, endurance exercise, including most distance running training, can decrease testosterone.
Studies have found that chronic endurance training has been observed to decrease resting total testosterone and increase cortisol levels in males.
Additionally, one study involving male endurance athletes found that a steady-state long run (97 minutes) on the treadmill at ventilatory threshold 75% of VO2 max, caused a significant decrease in free testosterone levels.
This drop persisted for 72 hours after the exercise bout, indicating that testosterone levels may take up to 72 hours or more to return to baseline after a long run.
Furthermore, low testosterone in male runners appears to be correlated with consistent and chronic training. In the first five years of consistent training, testosterone levels continued to drop until year five, when resting testosterone was about 30% lower than normal.
This reduction then seemed to plateau and remain in effect—but not worsen significantly—for runners who had been training for 5-15 years.
Low testosterone levels in endurance-trained male runners are thought to be an adaptive response to the physiological and psychological stress from endurance training. These stressors reset the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis to lower overall testosterone production.
Much like the female athlete triad or REDS, low testosterone in male endurance athletes, often called the “Exercise-Hypogonadal Male Condition” can be a result of the training stress coupled with low relative energy intake and low body fat.
Boosting Testosterone With Running
To date, most of the studies involving how running impacts testosterone levels have been conducted with biological males, so the advice for boosting testosterone through exercise here is largely geared towards men.
Even though endurance exercise and distance running seem to be associated with lower levels of testosterone, it is possible to train in a way that boosts testosterone or at least minimizes the potential changes in the HPG axis that lead to low testosterone.
Here are some tips for naturally increasing testosterone with exercise:
#1: Do HIIT Workouts
Instead of heading out the door and plodding through the same medium-hard intensity steady-state run every day, make sure your training program includes hard workouts and easy recovery days.
Some hard workouts should be HIIT-style speed workout intervals, with bits of 80-100% effort for up to 90 seconds or so followed by rest. This cyclical format of intensity can boost testosterone more than aerobic running.
#2: Don’t Forget Strides
Strides after a workout are a great way to trigger an acute rise in testosterone without having to do a full speed workout.
Running strides after a distance run won’t tax your body in the way that another HIIT workout would, but still can stimulate an anabolic state.
Focus on quick turnover, as if each footfall lands on hot coals. Pump your arms to drive your legs forward and propel you into the next step. Try to run each stride at 90-100% of max speed.
#3: Lift Weights
Runners are always hearing about the many benefits of strength training for runners. Here’s another one: lifting weights will boost testosterone, so it can help counter decreases in testosterone from running.
#4: Examine Your Diet
Make sure you’re eating enough calories to support your training, including protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Try to eat at least 200 calories within 30 minutes after running.
There you have it! So, have we answered your question, does running increase testosterone?
If you are looking for guidance in creating a healthy running diet, take a look at our nutrition resources:
The Complete Runner’s Diet: What To Eat For Top Performance
The Best Popular Diets For Runners: 3 Healthy Choices
Fuel Your Running On A Plant-Based Diet For Athletes + 3 Day Meal Plan