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Lauren M. Biscardi, MS, CSCS, CISSN – PhD Student, George Mason University

Margaret T. Jones – Full Professor, George Mason University

Matthew Andre – Assistant Professor, George Mason University


Testosterone and cortisol are both considered to be valid biomarkers in athletes, and are sometimes monitored to help to assess recovery in athletes (Fry & Kraemer, 1997). Further, scientists have wondered if resting concentrations of these hormones can help to predict talent and/or influence acute performance in athletes (Cardinale & Stone, 2006). Differences in baseline concentrations of salivary free testosterone and cortisol between elite and non-elite women athletes across various sports have been documented. The data suggests that more successful athletes have higher salivary testosterone and cortisol than less successful athletes (Cook et al., 2012; Crewther & Cook, 2018). While these studies have compared athletes at different levels of competition, differences in basal hormone concentrations of women athletes with differing performance success at the same level of competition is of interest. PURPOSE: To compare salivary free testosterone and cortisol between women NCAA DIII track and field athletes who were national competitors and matched athletes who did not qualify for nationals. METHODS: Resting saliva samples were collected from 12 NCAA DIII track and field athletes before a preseason time trial. For analysis, athletes were paired by event to include one athlete who scored points at the NCAA DIII National Championship, and one athlete who went through the same training protocol but did not qualify. Each pair of athletes had the same training schedule with the same coach, and the same competition schedule. Twelve matched pairs (2 throws, 2 sprints, 1 vault, 1 distance) were used for analysis. Independent samples t-tests were used to determine whether or not there was a statistically-significant (P < .05) difference between qualifying and non-qualifying athletes for free testosterone and cortisol. RESULTS: National competitors had higher salivary testosterone (mean ± SD: 0.427±0.137 versus 0.250±.078 nmol/L, p=0.020) and cortisol (11.54±4.73 versus 5.95±2.14 nmol/L, p=0.025) concentrations than non-qualifiers, both overall and when matched for event. CONCLUSIONS: Baseline testosterone and cortisol measures were higher in national competitors than non-qualifiers. This suggests that the trend observed in elite internationally-competitive women athletes versus non-elite athletes from various sports (including track and field) also occurs between nationally-competitive and non-qualifying NCAA DIII track and field athletes. PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS: These findings support the use of salivary testosterone and cortisol as valid biomarkers in women athletes. It is recommended that practitioners and sport scientists consider monitoring salivary testosterone and cortisol as a tool for differentiating athletic performance potential in addition to recovery assessment. Saliva samples can be collected on a consistent time interval before warming-up for an afternoon practice session, to be included along with other typical monitoring tools, such as surveys, performance tests, and measures of training and competition workload.


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