In our last post we learnt that testosterone isn’t just for muscle heads and is vitally important for female and male health. If you haven’t read this, then do the right thing and check it out here. So we know that healthy T levels are linked with bone health, mood, cognition, motivation, weight management and muscle mass. This means so much more due to the sorry state of T levels in many gents. Many studies have documented the steady decrease in T levels in the past 30 years, as well as diminished sperm count worldwide.
Despite the sorry state of things, there’s a bunch of things you can do to improve your testosterone levels and not be a sad statistic.
- Lift Heavy Things: There’s a reason lifting heavy feels so good. It’s simple stuff, but lifting heavy things and putting them done has remarkable affects on our health.
- Do compound lifts: In order to lift heavy, you need to do compound lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift)… if you need to do your curls, save them for the end.
- Take shorter rest periods: Taking shorter rest periods between sets has shown to put greater demand on your system, and subsequent testosterone release.
- Go hard. You need to train at intensity to get the appropriate post exercise testosterone boost… There IS a place for low intensity work (cardio, yoga), but if we’re after that sweet T, then speed, power and weight is what we’re after.
- Sprint! Again, with the intensity, after a few sets of sprinting you’re guaranteed to feel the power. Studies have shown the benefits of high Intensity Interval Training. Compared to steady state cardio, HIIT has a superior effect on post workout hormonal surges. Research from Hackney et al. (2012) has shown the benefits of these short bursts of work for our T levels.
What do all of these have in common? Intensity. I don’t think it really matters what you’re doing with your training, but you should be reaching intensity a few times a week. You should be working hard, to the point of discomfort, but know that you’re going to come out healthier at the other end.
Training for testosterone: Lift Heavy and Go Fast
In the last post we learnt that eggs will make you a boss. The cholesterol in dietary fats is a precursor to a host of hormones, testosterone one of them. Other sources of healthy fat are olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, meats, and coconut. There are many reasons that low fat diets are a horrible idea, and shunted T production is one of them.
Protein gives us life. Life is good. It also gives us muscle mass, and muscle mass equals healthy T. You don’t need to go crazy-caveman on eating meat though, research has shown about 1g per pound of bodyweight is sufficient for protein synthesis. Healthy sources of protein are meats, fish, nuts, seeds, eggs and lentils (if tolerated).
An unsung hero in T production, carbs can have a vital importance for hormone synthesis. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach are high in magnesium, which has been shown to help T levels, and organic broccoli, which is high in sulforaphane, helps to harness the harmful effects of estrogen, and upregulate T production.
While we all want that sweet little pill that’ll unleash our superman, at this stage the most powerful interventions are sleep, nutrition and exercise. If these are in order, however, you can look at the 1%’s and dive into the vast world of T enhancing supplements. I could go on about natural testosterone supplements but I’d feel negligent in doing so. What I feel better about doing is recommending all of the above and below, and if all of this low hanging fruit is taken care of, then you can start researching the cherries on top.
Probably the most important on the list. A recent study has found that those who had 8 hours sleep vs 4 hours of sleep had more than double the testosterone levels the next morning. Why? Well, one reason is that a bad night of sleep is going to spike cortisol (stress hormone) for the next day, blunting testosterone production. Also, a bad nights sleep can lead to a cascade of unhealthy choices that further harm hormone production – you won’t feel like hitting the gym, and you’re more likely to crave that muffin with your coffee.
We’ve all felt that sweet golden goodness flowing through our body after a healthy day in the sun. Since cortisol is dictated by circadian rhythm, and cortisol works AGAINST testosterone, having a healthy dose of sunshine is critical for T production. The link between vitamin D and testosterone has also been established through a multitude of studies. This one is more interesting as it shows a linear relationship between D and both serum and blood T, and also showed that when we “maxed out” at vitamin D, our T levels also plateaued – so you can hold back on frying yourself in the sun.
Our stress hormones have a direct relationship to testosterone levels due to our old friend, cortisol. Cortisol is regarded as a catabolic hormone (breaks down muscle tissue), while testosterone is anabolic (gainz). When cortisol production is high and chronic, we lose the ability to produce T and get anabolic. It’s important to know that a little stress, (like when you’re crushing deadlifts), is good, whereas doing this everyday on the back of bad relationships, a job you hate and a tedious commute, is going to block you from getting anabolic. So lift, then chill.
- Environmental Toxins
Mayybbee the most important thing here as more evidence is arising about the vast amount of endocrine disrupters in our world. They’re everywhere. Pesticides in food, cosmetics, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorants, cleaning items, and they all add to our toxic load, tricking the body into estrogen dominance, leading to decreased T. And while it is daunting as you see these everywhere, you can make a start by buying endocrine friendly cleaning and cosmetics items in your home.
- Have Sex
It’s a beautifully healthy feedback loop. More testosterone = more sex drive. More sex = testosterone. In reallllyy interesting studies, long term abstinence of 3 months showed significantly reduced testosterone production, whereas a group who went just seven days without sex showed a 145% spike in T at day 7, before being relieved of their torment. So, like everything in the human body: if you don’t use it, you lose it!
- Cold Exposure:
Many swear by the cold shower to get them up and going, and there’s no question that there’s an adrenaline and sympathetic nervous system response when you dive into the cold. While the research on cold showers and testosterone is slim, we do know that human testis perform optimally at cooler temperatures (31 – 36 degrees), and anything warmer will impact DNA synthesis and sperm production. So while cold showers may not have such a profound effect on T, wearing looser boxers and letting your guys breath might be the way to go.
So What to Do
Well first, take care of the low hanging fruit. Have sunshine, good food, regular movement, good relationships, and things should take care of themselves. If you’re on a T booster and you sleep 4 hours a night and eat like a child, then you need a slap in the face then to address the above.
If you’d like some further advice and need some testing done, then please schedule a complimentary consultation where we can talk about your coaching options.
Steve is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner and Personal Trainer based in Melbourne, Australia. He works with clients to restore optimum function using nutrition and lifestyle interventions.
Devi, S., Saxena J., Rastogi D., Goel, A., & Saha, S. (2014) Effect of short – term physical exercise on serum total testosterone levels in young adults. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology
Hackney, AC., Hosick, KP., Myer, A., Rubin, DA., Battaglini, CL. (2012) Testosterone responses to intensive interval versus steady-state endurance exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology.
Cinar, V., Polat, Y., Baltaci, AK., Mogulkoc, R. (2011) Effects of magnesium supplementation on testosterone levels of athletes and sedentary subjects at rest and after exhaustion. Biological Trace Element Research.
Anway, D., Cupp, A., & Mehm. (2005). Epigenetic Transgenerational Actions of Endocrine Disruptors and Male Fertility. Science pp 1466-1469.