The winners of wrestling matches have greater increases in testosterone levels than losing wrestlers, reports the January issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading provider of information and business intelligence for students, professionals, and institutions in medicine, nursing, allied health, and pharmacy.

The findings are consistent with studies linking testosterone changes to aggressive and competitive behavior in male animals-and may even suggest ways of enhancing a wrestler’s “social dominance” to facilitate future success. The lead author was Andrew C. Fry, PhD, CSCS, of University of Kansas, Lawrence.

In Competitive Wrestling, Winners and Losers Have Different Hormonal Responses

The researchers collected blood samples before and after matches in members of an elite collegiate wrestling team. Levels of testosterone and other hormones were compared for match winners versus losers.

In both groups, testosterone levels increased from before to after the match. However, the increase was greater for wrestlers who won their matches. Average testosterone levels increased from 16.4 to 23.2 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) for winners, compared to an increase from 14.8 to 19.4 nmol/L for losers.

Other hormones measured-cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline)-did not differ significantly between winners and losers. However, the change in epinephrine level was significantly related to the change in testosterone for winners but not losers. “These data suggest that winning wrestlers may use a different regulatory mechanism for their acute testosterone responses than losers,” according to Dr. Fry and co-authors.

The study is not the first to suggest that winning competitors have greater increases in testosterone. Previous studies have reported such differences not only in wrestlers and other athletes, but also in chess players-“even in games of chance such as those that involve a coin toss,” the researchers note.

The new findings confirm the difference in testosterone responses between winners and losers, and may also help in understanding the mechanisms responsible for this difference. Testosterone has been linked to aggressive behavior in animals-especially males competing for territory, food, and breeding mates. “Numerous studies exist supporting the challenge hypothesis throughout the animal kingdom,” Dr. Fry and colleagues write. They believe that the link between testosterone and winning wrestling matches “may present an excellent example of survival of the athlete within the construct of competitive sport performance.”

The results may even have implications for athletic training, with an eye toward improving future sports performance. “What has not been fully appreciated is the critical role of establishing social dominance in sport,” according to Dr. Fry and colleagues. “Based on data from the animal kingdom, winning wrestlers appear to establish a mechanism conducive to future success and long-term survival as a wrestler,” they write.

“The ability to foster an aggressive demeanor and a social dominance on the wrestling mat may be highly dependent on previous success and the accompanying physiological responses and adaptations,” the researchers believe. They suggest that scheduling matches with opponents against whom the athlete can establish “an enhanced wrestling social dominance” may aid in facilitating future success.

Source: National Strength and Conditioning Association, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins