Our previous study demonstrated that treatment with Tribulus terrestris (TT) extracts (120 mg/kg) promoted the muscle weight gain and performance of rats undergoing high intensity exercise. The present study was designed to explore the mechanisms underlying the effect of treatment with TT extracts and the involvement of androgens, the androgen receptor (AR), insulin growth factor‑1 (IGF‑1) and the IGF‑1 receptor (IGF‑1R). A total of 32 Sprague‑Dawley rats were randomly divided into groups as follows: Control; TT, treated with TT extracts, E, high intensity exercise; E+TT, high intensity exercise plus TT treatment. The rats of the E and E+TT groups underwent high intensity exercise with a progressively increasing load for 5 weeks, and TT extracts were intragastrically administered in the TT and E+TT rats 30 min prior to training. TT extract composition was analyzed using ultra‑high performance liquid chromatography‑quadrupole‑time of flight mass spectrometry. Testosterone and IGF‑1 plasma levels and AR, IGF‑1R and myosin heavy chain (MHC) protein levels in muscles were determined by ELISA and western blotting, respectively. The saponins tigogenin and diosgenin comprised ~71.35% of the total peak area. Compared with the E group, TT extracts increased the testosterone and IGF‑1 plasma levels, and AR, IGF‑1R and MHC protein levels in the gastrocnemius of rats undergoing high intensity exercise, accompanied with increased body weight and gastrocnemius weight. In conclusion, the effect of TT extracts on the performance of high intensity exercise rats may be attributed to increased levels of circulating testosterone and IGF‑1 and increased AR and IGF‑1R protein expression levels in the gastrocnemius, resulting in increased muscle weight and increased MHC in the gastrocnemius. The present study provided preliminary evidence supporting the use of TT extracts as a dietary supplement for the promotion of skeletal muscle mass increase and the enhancement of athletic performance in humans performing high intensity exercise.