We gather dynamic hormonal data over a two-week period, in accordance with a specific protocol of ours, and combine that data with load calculations based on data pulled from heart rate monitors, the results of periodic fitness test results and relevant contextual data about the training program, single bouts of training, meal timing and the travel schedule.
Most important anabolic and catabolic hormones - testosterone and cortisol, provide the best information and thereby the precise means to evaluate the body’s response to training and recovery, as their activity combines external stimuli and the cell-level response into a fundamental, integrated datapoint.
Heart rate monitors and sports computers, when used alone, are capable of measuring load only, and they are largely blind to multiple, key performance-related bodily functions. Some hr monitors provide HRV calculations as an estimate of the recovery status of the nervous system, but this is not equal to looking at the underlying, hormone-driven biochemical process of building muscle cells, or increasing the cellular energy storage.
A longer, two-week period of constant hormone monitoring is required to gather enough observational data points on both stressful and resting days, both of which should normally occur over a week. On the other hand, calendar weeks – which are also equivalent to microcycles in athletes’ training programs, are also often distinguished from one another by their average level of physical and total load, and rest.
Therefore, for us, the optimal assessment of an athlete's basic hormonal dynamics requires two weeks of consecutive (or near consecutive) daily measurement, optimally executed over a period where the first week occurs during a hard training block, followed by a tapering / recovery week during the second monitoring week.
This way, we can determine the maximal variability in individual hormonal dynamic range, and learn to detect the hormone levels that are associated with high stress buildup – and also detect the values that represent personal maximum values while adequately rested.
We are measuring salivary testosterone and cortisol, with frequent intervals, and at the right time in relation to training program phases, single bouts of training and the circadian rhythm.
On occasion, we measure total androgens, total corticosteroids, androstenedione and interleukin-6 for r&d purposes.
Testosterone is a key anabolic hormone and a major promoter of muscle growth and increase in muscle strength.
Cortisol is a key catabolic hormone. It is much more than just a “stress hormone” – it provides priceless information about long-term fitness and the status of a person’s training load balance.
Testosterone-to-cortisol ratio is a prime marker of anabolic vs. catabolic balance, training status and in Summa analytics it is used as a predictor of performance capacity.
Saliva contains biodata that is equivalent to what can be gathered from blood. Changes in salivary hormone levels display the responses to life events in near real time. When monitoring hormones, saliva has the added benefit of containing only their biologically active fraction.
Saliva is easy and painless to collect and repeated samplings can be obtained with low burden. Samples can be collected on the spot in a real life setting, capturing true information without errors.
Many substances in the bloodstream are passively filtered into saliva, testosterone and cortisol included. With these hormones, saliva has the added benefit of containing only their free, biologically active fraction – the portion that matters.
The concentration of hormones in saliva is much smaller than in blood, but the values are tightly correlated with the values of the same hormone in blood and can thereby be compared.
Testosterone is an anabolic steroid hormone produced by either the testicles, ovaries or adrenal glands, and is responsible for many important processes in your body, especially for men. The level of testosterone in your body will determine physical factors such as muscle mass, bone density and energy levels – but also competitiveness, sex drive, and more.
The amount of testosterone in the body is important for overall health and well-being, as it affects how you feel mentally and physically. There's no question that testosterone is a key determinant of performance capacity and the quality of life. It provides the drive, energy, and strength to be successful.
Testosterone helps build muscle and even bone mass. It also has a play in protein synthesis, meaning the right amount of testosterone can put your body in the perfect position to build muscle. Testosterone increases the number of neurotransmitters – this helps the body better control muscular activity such as force production better.
Testosterone production exhibits a clear circadian rhythm. It is highly reactive to different kinds of life events such as exercise – and its levels can thereby be used to monitor the effects of nutrition, sports, sleep and more.
It’s important to recognize that this hormone fluctuates over time due to several factors, including total load, stress, or age, and this influences your ability to gain muscle or perform in sports and everyday life.
Low testosterone levels can be caused by genetics, age, lifestyle factors such as diet, insufficient or too much exercise, and sleep patterns, medical conditions such as obesity or diabetes, and medications, including blood pressure drugs known as beta blockers. In athletes, low testosterone is often due to excess training and insufficient recovery.
A person might have low testosterone in the following situations:
- energy levels feel low and there’s a loss of drive in training, or
- training is not delivering increases in performance or progress is even reverted.
Testosterone levels are easy to test and can be altered with changes to lifestyle and training, supplements, or prescription medications. If you’re serious about athletic performance, you should measure your testosterone levels frequently enough, and time the measurements to coincide with important phases of your training program.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that's produced by the adrenal gland and released in response to stress. Cortisol levels tend to be higher in athletes than in non-athletes.
Cortisol plays an important role in how the body responds to training and competitive load.
When under stress, the body releases cortisol into the bloodstream to help deal with the situation at hand.
Anticipatory competitive stress may also spike cortisol in correlation with the level of competition and its social relevance, with veteran athletes typically handling the stress better.
There are three major ways that athletes’ performance is acutely influenced by increased cortisol levels;
- higher values increase muscle breakdown by suppressing protein synthesis,
- release stored fat for utilization, and
- help muscles use stored glucose more efficiently so they don't tire as easily during exercise.
When we're talking about cortisol levels in athletes, there are two factors that we need to consider: too much and too little.
Constantly high cortisol for extended periods will lead to fatigue, and it can cause weight gain through visceral fat accumulation, decreased muscle mass and insomnia.
Cortisol suppresses insulin sensitivity—meaning that if thereäs too much of it in circulation in the body, the body won't be able to process sugars properly, and will become resistant to insulin over time. This leads to more food ending up being stored as fat instead of being used as energy.
Not enough cortisol can cause its own set of problems: low energy levels and difficulty recovering from workouts or competitions. It may also affect the immune system, since cortisol, or its biologically active form, cortisone, is one of the most effective anti-inflammatory agents in the body.
Athletes who are serious about their training should get their cortisol levels regularly tested in order to analyze their body’s response to their training regime and to form a comprehensive understanding of what the body needs to perform optimally.
Cortisol monitoring helps validate that the immediate cortisol spike post-exercise is sufficiently high to trigger positive adaptation, and that over long-term, cortisol levels are low enough as not to signify overtraining syndrome, or other adverse effects of long-term high cortisol.
Once a hormone is produced in the body, it can be stored for future use by binding into different proteins circulating in blood. The majority of steroid hormones are in bound form.
Bound hormones are not delivering on their biological function. Only the non-bound, free fraction of hormones, that otherwise circulate in blood bound to their carrier proteins, is able to enter cells and exert biologic effects.
Measuring the free hormone levels provides a better measure of the true hormonal status than measuring the total or bound levels.
Hormones control catabolism. Catabolism is a part of normal metabolic function and catabolic refers to the bodily status and processes that are breaking down proteins, stored sugar, fats or tissues into smaller units such fatty acids or cells, to release energy for proper maintenance of muscle and other organ activity.
Catabolism acts as a negative process with adverse effects when the body has an extremely high rate of catabolism, as opposed to anabolism – thereby depleting fat deposits and muscle tissue and until deposits found within the body become depleted.
This process takes larger structures like proteins, fats or tissues and breaks them down into smaller units such as cells or fatty acids.
Hormones control anabolism. An anabolic state is when the body builds and repairs itself to become bigger, stronger and faster – the mechanism takes smaller units like nutrients, cells, or amino acids and bonds them together to create bigger structures.
In order for the body to be in an anabolic state, a source of energy must be consumed in sufficient quantities. Select foods or supplements will also be helpful in enabling muscle tissue to receive said energy.
Athletes will generally require more energy than other populations in order to counteract catabolic processes.
Over decades of research sport scientists have proven that monitoring of either cortisol or testosterone in isolation provides only an incomplete picture of the bodily status.
Combining them into testosterone-to-cortisol ratio provides a more comprehensive and accurate picture than either hormone alone, as it enables the analysis of the balance of anabolic and catabolic processes.
Interpretation of the testosterone-to-cortisol individually is basically simple: when the ratio is decreasing, especially when decreasing below the average individual values, stress and load is accumulating and this trend should not continue overly long. In this state, the body is most probably catabolic and no progress is taking place in the tissues – or performance.
Conversely, when the ratio is increasing, and especially when the increase is exceeding the average individual values, the body is in an anabolic state, the tissues are rebuilt and components of the increased performance are present.
Testosterone-to-cortisol ratio is in clear conjunction with performance and anabolism – and the ratioed values are in tight correlation with near-term adaptive capacity and performance.