Keep the Psycho In Check: Why Psychology is Important in Endurance Athletics

By the Precise Multisport Team


When training for an endurance event such as a triathlon, the athlete focuses on their body at all hours of the day. They plan their meals, training, and sleep; they calculate down to the second every move they make to prepare for the big event. But, what many seem to forget is that training their psyche is just as important to prepare for such a huge physical goal. It goes so far beyond just motivating an athlete to mentally prepare for the physical prep and recovery, but also for the emotional rollercoaster an athlete will experience from the first day of training until well after the event has taken place and the body has recovered.


There are tons of reports and studies that have been published on the physical aspect of endurance athletics, but now researchers are shedding more light on the psychological impacts and the importance of understanding and training the psyche as well. As one group of researchers concluded, working with a trainer is so important to safely prepare for, partake in, and recover from these endurance events [2]. Their study focused on amateur triathletes and found that when new triathletes did not use a trainer, they scored much lower in “stress management, motivation, [and] mental skills [2].” While some of the athletes in their study experienced post-race blues, they were prepared for them and were moving through them in a positive manner due to their physical and mental training with their coaches.


Let’s Get Technical

It is common knowledge that exercise improves mood, and that mood impacts a person’s ability to complete tasks. There are specific hormones and neurotransmitters associated with high-endurance athletics that impact the psychological side of training. Many athletes are familiar with how these impact the physical side of exercise, but they can also increase and impact psychological and emotional reactions to exercise [3]. More importantly, an athlete can work this knowledge and understanding into their training and use their diet and mental training to regulate their body’s reactions throughout the experience.


In extremely simple terms, the human body can withstand a certain level of internal and external stressors, and hormones and neurotransmitters associated with exercise function to address any increased stress on the body and mind and adapt to minimize possible physical and psychological damage, also known as allostasis [1]. Just as training physically starts small and increases, training mentally also goes hand-in-hand to help regulate the body’s response to the increased stressors.


Neurotransmitter Systems (work reciprocally)

Hormone-Related Mental Stimulation

  • Dopamine (DA) System: dopaminergic neurons, found in the midbrain, are responsible for some behaviors of physical movement and are involved in cognition and reward responses. There are two families of receptors: D1-like and D2-like. These impact the enhancement (D1) or inhibition (D2) of long-term depression [5]. 

  • Norepinephrine (NE) System: stimulates the nerves in the cerebral cortex, subcortical areas, cerebellum, and brain stem [5].

  • Serotonin (5-HT) System: the foundation for controlling the psycho-emotional (neuropsychiatric) symptoms of depression and anxiety [5].

  • Endocannabinoids: these act similarly to endorphins in that they increase psychoactive effects such as lowering anxiety and increasing feelings of calm. Unlike endorphins, they DO cross the blood-brain barrier to be more effective [6]. 

  • Cortisol: Aptly referred to as “nature’s alarm-system,” it impacts the physical and mental stress response [4]. 

  • Prolactin: affects anxiety and depressive-like behaviors. This also crosses the blood-brain barrier [7].

  • Growth Hormone: regulates anxiety [7].


Simply put, this technical talk serves as a reminder that it is important for an endurance athlete to train their brains just as much as they train their bodies. While athletes can do the research and try to train themselves, it is safer and healthier to seek coaching from certified endurance coaches. Join us at Precise Multisport to train the whole package for your next race!




[1] Athanasiou, N., Bogdanis, G.C., and Mastorakos, G. (2023). Endocrine responses of the stress system to different types of exercise. Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders 24: 251–66.


[2] Boucher, V.G. (2021). Psychological status during and after the preparation of a long-distance triathlon event in amateur athletes. International Journal of Exercise Science 14(5): 134-48. 


[3] Galbo, H. (1992). Endocrine factors in endurance. In: R.J. Shephard and P-O. Åstrand (eds.) Endurance in Sport. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, pp. 116-26.


[4] Johnson, T.C. (Rev. for WebMD). (2022). WebMD.


[5] Lin, T., and Kuo, Y. (2013). Exercise benefits brain function: The Monoamine Connection. Brain Sci. 3(1): 39–53. doi: 10.3390/brainsci3010039


[6] Linden, D. (Rev.). (2024). The truth behind ‘runner’s high’ and other mental benefits of running. Johns Hopkins Medicine: Health


[7] Torner, L. (2016). Actions of prolactin in the brain: From physiological adaptations to stress and neurogenesis to psychopathology. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne), 7: 25. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2016.00025