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Testosterone plays a role in mediating energetic trade-offs between growth, maintenance, and reproduction. Investments in a high testosterone phenotype trade-off against other functions, particularly survival-enhancing immune function and cellular repair; thus only individuals in good condition can maintain both a high testosterone phenotype and somatic maintenance. While these effects are observed in experimental manipulations, they are difficult to demonstrate in free-living animals, particularly in humans. We hypothesize that individuals with higher testosterone will have higher energetic expenditures than those with lower testosterone.


Total energetic expenditure (TEE) was quantified using doubly labeled water in n = 40 Tsimane forager-horticulturalists (50% male, 18–87 years) and n = 11 Hadza hunter-gatherers (100% male, 18–65 years), two populations living subsistence lifestyles, high levels of physical activity, and high infectious burden. Urinary testosterone, TEE, body composition, and physical activity were measured to assess potential physical and behavioral costs associated with a high testosterone phenotype.


Endogenous male testosterone was significantly associated with energetic expenditure, controlling for fat free mass; a one standard deviation increase in testosterone is associated with the expenditure of an additional 96–240 calories per day.


These results suggest that a high testosterone phenotype, while beneficial for male reproduction, is also energetically expensive and likely only possible to maintain in healthy males in robust condition.


This article was originally published in American Journal of Human Biology in 2023.

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