10th of December 2014

The female revision of the winner's hormone

Many scientific studies, as well as popular beliefs, link testosterone to winning. However a recent study conducted by Kathleen V. Casto and her colleagues at the Emory University indicate that testosterone can increase... racing sports, regardless of the athletes' finish time. Kathleen and her colleagues tested female cross country runners for the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the testosterone before and at the end of a race. Some competitors who crossed the finish line quite late had actually higher testosterone levels than their more successful counterparts.

Testosterone went up during the warm up and surged by the end of the race regardless of the finish time. This would mean that testosterone could be a 'race hormone' and not so much the 'winner's hormone' as we have thought (e.g. Coates 2012). "Surges in testosterone in competition may be indicators of psychological strength for competition, the drive to win," Casto says.

The level of the stress hormone cortisol was also increased as expected at the end of the race. Cortisol is a hormone that stimulates the burning of glucose and is released under stress. In race conditions, this is desirable and can be beneficial in the short term. However, chronic stress can be harmful. Therefore increasing your tolerance against stress by physical exercise can be beneficial in fighting everyday stressful situations.

For those who want to cultivate the winner's attitude, Casto's study brings good news. You don't need to win a race to get the winner's hormonal benefits. If you exercise regularly, go ahead and participate in a race. Even if you do not hit the winner's stage, the race spirit can boost your winner's drive and increase your tolerance against the stress of your daily job.


Author: Martin Lukan, PhD


Kathleen V. Casto, Christopher Elliott, David A. Edwards. Intercollegiate Cross Country Competition: Effects of Warm-up and Racing on Salivary Levels of Cortisol and Testosterone. International Journal of Exercise Science, Vol. 7: Iss. 4, Article 8

John Coates. The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk-Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind. Random House of Canada, 2012, 288 pp, ISBN:9780307359698