WHEN Sir Steve Redgrave started feeling tired, low and gaining weight around his middle, he put it down to getting older.
But the most successful male rower in Olympic history - gold medals at five consecutive Olympic Games from 1984 - wasn’t just feeling the effects of age. A friend pointed out his symptoms could be due to low testosterone, and tests have since shown he has borderline testosterone deficiency.
“Since retiring from rowing, I’ve experienced unexplained weight gain particularly around my belly, tiredness, and feeling low and a bit depressed,” reveals Redgrave, 61 this month.
“It was only after speaking to a friend I learned these could be signs of testosterone deficiency, rather than just signs of getting older.
The father-of-three, who retired from rowing in 2000, had his levels checked by digital health company Ted’s Health, which says testosterone deficiency can cause both physical and mental symptoms, including depression, fatigue and sexual dysfunction.
It is also linked to type 2 diabetes (which Redgrave also has), with studies suggesting men who have low testosterone are four times more likely to develop it. Yet, many people are unaware of these links, or even what low testosterone is and how it can affect people.
“I’ve been a diabetic for 26 years and know a lot about it, but it wasn’t until quite recently that a friend of mine told me about testosterone and how it can affect diabetes,” says Redgrave, an ambassador for Ted’s Health to help raise awareness of low testosterone, and particularly the role in can play in the early stages of type 2 diabetes.
Redgrave was diagnosed with diabetes in 1997 and says: “I was an athlete at the time, and carried on competing for the next three years with diabetes. I was one of the fittest people in the country, and then you’re told your body isn’t doing what it was doing before. I honestly thought my rowing career would be over at that point, and it wasn’t until I saw the specialist and he said he saw no reason why I couldn’t carry on doing my sport.
Redgrave now has an insulin pump to help control his diabetes, and puts his blood sugar levels in twice a day - compared with up to 10 times a day when he was competing. He says he eats what he wants “to a degree”, although it’s far less than the 6,000-7,000 calories per day he was consuming in his Olympics days.
He’s also taking tablets to help improve his current health issues: “They’re trying to help with the tiredness and weight, and trying to give me more enthusiasm.”
He may also get testosterone support, which can either be through an injection which lasts for a few months, or by rubbing a gel onto the skin. “If I have to go down that avenue, I think I’ll go for the injection, rather than a daily rub of gel - the injection would be a lot more convenient for me,” he says.
He does still try to keep fit too - and has an extra-special reason to maintain his fitness now, he happily reveals.
"My eldest daughter Natalie, who’s a doctor, is pregnant, so I’m going to be a grandfather in July, and I want to be healthy and fit for the grandchildren that are going to start coming along from now,” he shares.
He admits he goes through different phases of fitness but is “in a pretty good phase at the moment” - exercising about three times a week, doing plenty of static biking in the gym and going out on the roads as the weather improves. He also tries to play golf at least once a week.
And what about rowing?
“Very rarely,” he admits. “To me, it was an activity of competing, from when I went to my comprehensive school. didn’t really enjoy the training overly. But I enjoyed the success, and the harder you trained, the more success you had.”