Testosterone and Cortisol Response: Friendly vs Official Games

Improving performance and decreasing the risk of injury soccer players requires a careful balance and management between the application of training load and recovery. The response to competition has been measured in several methods (e.g., biomechanical, neuromuscular, psychological and physiological methods), including the physiological measurement of hormones such as testosterone and cortisol (i.e. testosterone-cortisol ratio). In this sense, the aforementioned hormones have been related to the ability to perform soccer skills at high speed, although its release (testosterone and cortisol) is driven not only by internal triggers but also regulated by environmental stimuli. The hormonal response can be modulated by different competition scenarios, according to the environmental interpretation of the soccer player (i.e., friendly vs. official games), which would induce a different response and adaptation processes based on the release of these hormones.

 “The release of testosterone and cortisol is driven not only by internal triggers but also regulated by environmental stimuli”

The purpose of this study was to analyze the modulating effect of competition seriousness and competition level in the testosterone and cortisol responses in professional soccer player.

Ninety five (95) soccer players were included in this study (professional, n = 39; semiprofessional, n = 27; amateur, n = 29) before and after training, friendly game and official games.

The results revealed that:

  • These results revealed that testosterone was significantly different depending upon the competition category (p < 0.0001, effect size = 0.75); specifically, professional players had higher hormone concentrations than semiprofessionals and amateurs (p < 0.0001 for both)
  • Regarding cortisol concentrations they also observed differences among competition categories (p < 0.0001, effect size = 0.18); so, cortisol was significantly lower in professionals and semiprofessionals than amateur players (p < 0.0001 and p < 0.021, respectively).
  • They found an interaction effect between cortisol and game type (p = 0.031, effect size = 0.05)
  • In Figure 1 we provide the results of % change in testosterone across competition level and game type (differences between friendly and competitive games).


Figure 1. Percent testosterone change in friendly and official games in professional, semiprofessional and amateur soccer players. Statistically significant differences in percent testosterone change (* p < 0.01) and amateur soccer players.

Take home messages:

  • Soccer players who play the competition match do not have the same stress (hormonal response) as those who play the competition match. Conditioning and strength professionals should manage these factors.
  • The reserve soccer players need to perform official games sometimes because this stimulus is difficult to achieve with other types of tasks (e.g. friendly match).