Is testosterone really the key to a female’s athletic performance?

This research project aims to discover whether testosterone, the major male hormone that is also found in females, is a direct determinant of muscle adaptation and athletic performance in females.

Associate Professor Severine Lamon said certain females naturally presenting ‘higher than normal’ testosterone concentrations were currently excluded from international competitions in certain disciplines.

“This is because there is an assumption that natural high testosterone levels provide them with an unfair advantage over other competitors. This assumption has however not been verified and we want to prove that assumption wrong,” she said.

The research, funded by the International Olympic Committee, seeks to prove the hypothesis that testosterone levels do not correlate with female muscle mass, strength and performance.

“This work fights for the right of naturally gifted female athletes to compete in their discipline of choice regardless of their natural testosterone level. This will make female sport fairer.”

Associate Professor Lamon will recruit 30 pre-menopausal females presenting a broad range of natural testosterone concentrations.

The participants will perform a 12-week resistance exercise program designed to maximize gains in muscle mass and strength. The research team will then determine the role of testosterone in this process and establish whether testosterone levels are a reliable predictor of their gains in muscle mass, strength and power.

The research aligns with Associate Professor Lamon’s focus on the lack of scientific research specifically in female physiology, despite females comprising 50 per cent of the population.

“This is fundamental research that will shed light on the very understudied area of female muscle physiology and will help our understanding of how the female muscle grows and adapts,” she said.

She added that the results would inform more applied research about how to best design interventions (exercise, nutritional, hormonal) to maintain muscle mass and function in health and disease conditions.

“Importantly, this research may have the very practical consequence to inform or change the female eligibility rules surrounding naturally high testosterone levels in athletics competitions,” Associate Professor Lamon said.