Men, Women, and Stress Hormones

Here’s a recent article from Runner’s World magazine in which I was interviewed about the hormonal differences between men and women – and how that relates to fitness and well-being. It’s interesting that women hear the word “testosterone” and automatically think that it’s only a “male” hormone – when in fact, women produce plenty of their own testosterone. Unfortunately, they also suffer the detrimental effects of “low T” when they age, when they’re under stress, when they diet to lose weight, and when they fail to get enough sleep (just the same for men). In fact, an imbalance between testosterone and cortisol (stress hormone) is a primary cause for exhaustion or “burnout” and low vigor that I’ve talked about on The Dr Oz Show – so it’s important to keep your stress hormones in proper balance for a lot of good reasons.

Please take a look at the Runner’s World article and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading,


About the Author: Shawn Talbott holds a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry (Rutgers) and a MS in Exercise Science (UMass). He trains for iron-distance triathlons and ultramarathons in Utah – and is always sure to keep himself in biochemical balance and with high vigor.


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 My books related to stress, cortisol, vigor, and Feeling Your Best:

▪                Vigor Diet – The New Science of Feeling Your Best

▪                The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

▪                Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic. FREE versions at

▪                The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House) – FREE text at

▪                The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House) – FREE text at

▪                Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House) – FREE text at

Can Love and Running Coexist?

You and your partner both love running and being together. So why doesn’t it go so well when you actually run together?

May 13, 2013
Mars Venus June 2013

“You never leave your runner” I said, grinding my teeth, and gasping.

Less than 24 hours after Peter had kneeled down and asked me to marry him, vowing to stick by me for better, for worse (and, I assumed, for faster or slower), he was darting ahead, bounding over roots and rocks, not even looking over his shoulder to make sure I was okay.

“But we’re running,” he said, his eyes bulged in confusion. “I want to push it as much as possible.”

I craved quality together time; he wanted a workout. It was one in a series of missed signals that got triggered every time we tried to take our partnership on the road (or trail). When I asked, “You okay?” He seethed. When he didn’t ask, I fumed. Indeed, we learned the hard way what many other couples already knew: Even if you love running and love being together, there is a very good chance you may not love running together.

“When romantic partners are intimate in so many functions in their life, whether it’s work, a hobby, or a sport, it can get intense,” says Michael Gervais, Ph.D., a high-performance psychologist in Los Angeles. While plenty of couples cherish running as together time, others always go their separate ways. Fifty-eight percent of runners in a poll said that they never train with their romantic partner. Another 26 percent of runners said that they train for and go to the same races together—but run at their own paces. Just six percent of runners said that they train and race in lockstep.

To be sure, sharing your love of running with the love of your life has plenty of benefits. There’s no need to explain the early start that cuts short a late night out. No need to justify mysterious smells, sweaty kisses, ugly feet, or why a $120-shoe expenditure every few months is non-negotiable. And that’s to say nothing of the ease of planning vacations around races and the companionship of someone who can genuinely commiserate when you’re sidelined by injury.

Experts say that learning to nurture and respect your partner beyond his or her role as your beloved—as a runner—can bring you closer. “The great thing about running—like any leisure activity—is that it breaks down the normal patterns of communication and the roles we play,” says Dennis Orthner, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Social Work. “That gives you an opportunity to open up new channels of communication and break down the normal barriers for intimacy.”

So why can mixing romance and running be so tough? After all, you’re doing the thing you love with the one you love. All those feel-good hormones are pumping; your body and confidence are getting a boost. Experts say that conflicts can stem from basic gender differences—shaped by nature and nurture—along with communication breakdowns that can start before the first shoelace is tied.

But running together doesn’t have to wear down your relationship. With a little planning, and the same kind of give and take that you exercise off the road, you can each run happily ever after.

Some of the potential for problems comes from differences in basic brain chemistry, says Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist who has finished more than 100 marathons and triathlons. “When men and women compete, they have totally different hormone production, and they’re going in completely opposite directions.”

Even at rest, men have about 10 times more testosterone than women. Testosterone helps guys be more driven, competitive, goal-oriented, and focused. During competition—or even just a training run—testosterone gets elevated even higher. “It’s all about going up against the other person,” Talbott says.

In women, on the other hand, competition prompts the production of oxytocin, the so-called “cuddling” hormone associated with nurturing, collaboration, empathy, and trust; it’s the same hormone that promotes bonding between moms and newborns, and two people who are falling in love.

This can be further reinforced by socialization, says John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. “Men get benefits from staying focused on one thing and accomplishing that task,” he says. “Women get more benefits from talking and sharing.”

That explains why it took a little adjustment when Meleah and Greg Shank started training together for the Big Sur Marathon. Meleah jokes that she had to give her husband a five-word-per-hour quota, because otherwise he wouldn’t make a peep. “If I’m running, I’m thinking about running,” Greg says. “I’m worried about whether or not I’m going fast and performing at my best. I may appear quiet because I’m focused on that, or trying to solve a problem. It’s not that I don’t want to talk, but there are times when I just want to be in my head.”

Just knowing—and respecting—that can help you sidestep trouble, says Gray. The chattier partner won’t take the silence personally and can maybe bring along some music or some other running buddies for entertainment.

Indeed, Meleah came to savor the silent together time, focusing on the sounds of their footfalls or their breathing rhythm. “I learned to just be present and enjoy his company without trying to force anything or nudge the situation,” she says.

She also learned to avoid heavy topics that required his decisions or attention. “It’s so easy to take advantage of our alone time,” she says. “In the past I may have been tempted to have a ‘conversation list’ of things to bring up with him during our run. But the quality of running together is quite different from having dinner together by ourselves. With running, we are connecting in such a different way, without having a conversation.”

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