Testosterone has often been associated as the hormone that “makes a man a man.”
Back in junior high, there was always at least one to two 12-year-olds who already had back and chest hair, an Adam’s Apple in their throat, could grow a beard overnight, and were strong as an ox. They were the kids (or ‘men’) you wanted on your dodgeball team at recess, the first string linebackers in JV football and the dudes who always seemed to have a girl on their arm—no matter what other ‘nice boys’ lined the walls at middle school dances.
They had ‘high testosterone’ is what all the moms and teachers said.
The sex hormone testosterone is linked to everything related to masculinity including chiseled jawlines, massive pectoral muscles and an unquenchable sexual libido. Lately however, it seems as if men are less ‘manly’ than they used to be.
Testosterone levels in males have been perceptiously dropping almost universally since the 1980s. Also, there seems to be a massive uptick in men undergoing testosterone therapy which almost often involves a regular injection.
Unfortunately, this day in age, with the chronic stress epidemic, that so many of us are under (caused from a variety of things: poor sleep habits, overstimulation by light and electronics, overtraining and under-recovery, not training at all/sedentary lifestyles, poor quality diets, work stress), low testosterone levels have become a ‘norm’ amongst people.
In the United States alone, approximately 43 percent of women and 31 percent of men experience sexual dysfunction—much of this often related to low testosterone levels. (1)
In fact, according to ABC News, 1 in 4 men over age 30 have reportedly low testosterone, resulting not only in sexual dysfunction, but the host of other symptoms including difficulty gaining strength, recovering and/or losing body fat. It is not surprising then that synthetic testosterone is being prescribed more often than in the past; a 500 percent increase in sales has been documented from 1993 to 2001. (2).
However you don’t need a needle or some expensive program to get back to an optimum level of testosterone to improve your physique or sex life. There’s actually quite a few simple and cheap things you can do today as we will explain below.
Testosterone is the primary anabolic and sex hormone in humans, responsible for sexual desire and function, muscular hypertrophy, densification of bones, and hair growth. Throughout our lifetime, testosterone is associated with all sorts of great things: It promotes lean body mass, increases recovery time and gives a psychological edge of confidence, concentration, cognitive function and determination.
Low testosterone is a harbinger of many problems in men including:
As a side note, testosterone is not just needed by men. Even though men produce 10-times as much testosterone as women, it is also necessary for the female body for, if anything, promoting hormonal balance. Adequate testosterone levels also enable female athletes to make increases in lean mass and power, support bone health, balance mood and mental clarity, and increase sex drive.
Maybe your testosterone levels have already been tested and you don’t know what a healthy amount would be.
For Men: A range of about 270 to 1070 ng/dL
For Women: A Range of 15-70 ng/dL
Optimally, for both men and women, levels are somewhere in the middle of that range—not too high or too low.
While blood testing is the most clinically sound way to see your numbers on paper your body’s signs and symptoms (ultimately how you feel)—can be the greatest indicators for whether or not this hormone is in optimal balance for YOU.
While we are not medical doctors here at OPEX, we do specialize in health—improving the quality of life and performance of all individuals with whom we work. In addition, when something is out of our scope of practice, we do not hesitate to consult with outside experts who we consider, very much, to be part of our team.
Dr. Jeoffrey Drobot, a Naturopathic Medicine doctor out of the American Center for Biological Medicine here is Scottsdale, Arizona, is one of those individuals. Dr. Drobot helps shed light and develop treatment plans of care for clients who may be experiencing health issues, such as this topic of low testosterone and hormonal imbalance. One of the key factors he talks most about?
“You need to take a good look at your lifestyle to first get to the roots of where your hormonal imbalance or this low testosterone is coming from.” – Dr. Drobot
In our experience working with athletes and clients with low testosterone over the years, we have witnessed the impact that some very basic dietary and lifestyle changes and choices can make in how a person feels, consequently bringing wonky hormones more into balance. Learn some basic lifestyle changes you can adopt immediatly to naturally improve your testosterone here.
The unsexy reality is that our diet, sleep and exercise patterns play a HUGE role in testosterone production.
Hence, increasing testosterone naturally simply comes down to taking a good hard look at your current nutrition and lifestyle (preferably under the guidance of a knowledgeable coach or healthcare practitioner) and potentially making some long-term adjustments in these areas.
Common nutrition and lifestyle triggers to lowered testosterone include:
Once you identify potential culprits of lowered testosterone, here are a few natural methods many have experienced success with when it comes to turning those levels back up:
Protein shakes and bars. Bulletproof coffee. Ice cream before bed in the name of weight gain. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Instant oatmeal. Gatorade. Bowls of pasta. 99-cent eggs by the dozen. Calling cucumbers or that little bit of lettuce and tomato on a sandwich your only vegetables. Seemingly harmless foods for the athlete who needs energy and calories, but when we lack nutrition (think nutrient-rich colorful vegetables, pasture-raised and grass-fed meats, some fresh fruits and whole-food sourced starches, healthy fats like coconut oil, grass fed butter, raw nuts and seeds, avocados), or consume ‘dead foods’ (powders, synthetic man-made foods, low-nutrient dense foods like pasta, bread or cereal), we illicit both malnutrition and an inflammatory response in our bodies—our guts. And when our guts are unhappy the rest of our bodies are unhappy (especially our hormones).
Here are some foods to incorporate in your diet:
Fat is NOT a 4-Letter Word. Hormones are comprised mostly of fats. And in order to ‘nourish’ those hormones, they in turn, need (and thrive upon) fat—healthy fats. Eat fat—and lots of it. At least one to two sources with every main meal. Eggs, unsweetened coconut flakes and coconut butter, grass fed butter, coconut oil, avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, full fat raw organic dairy, nitrate free bacon, organic fattier cuts of meat (chicken thighs, beef, bison, etc.). wild caught salmon, flax and chia seeds, fish oil, the fuel of champions.
High cortisol reduces free testosterone levels. Cortisol, known as the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, increases when we are stressed—inside and out. Common stressors include:
Just to name a few. Tone the cortisol down by targeting those key stressors head on and…doing the opposite. An easy way to actively lower cortisol is to follow to OPEX Basic Lifestyle Guidelines.
Vitamin D, known for positively impacting bone and muscular strength, has also been cited as positively affecting testosterone levels in men. (3.)
Zinc and magnesium in particular are two key minerals that are often connected with lower testosterone. A study conducted in 1996 for instance found a direct correlation of moderate-severe zinc deficiency and low testosterone in men, ages 20-80 years of age (4.). Supplementation with zinc for some can yield positive impacts on the restoration of testosterone. Magnesium is very similar to zinc when it comes to increasing testosterone levels. Nearly 70% of the adults in the United States eat below the recommended RDA of magnesium, 19% eating less than half of the recommended daily value . A 2014 study revealed that supplementation with magnesium positively impacted anabolic hormonal status (i.e. testosterone). (5.) Get your levels checked today under the guidance of a nutrition therapist or healthcare professional.
Aim to implement smart training into your regime. Quit the blog hopping; the need to be ‘flat on your back’ after every workout; pushing it harder and harder day in and day out. You can actually get better, push past plateaus, and do your body great favor by following (and sticking to) a smart program, individualized to you and designed by a coach who is going to push you with the ‘just right challenge’—without sending your overly enthusiastic inner beast over the edge. “In fact, if you’ve been training too hard, and consequently causing an imbalance in your hormones, then you are completely defeating your own ability to get anabolic in the first place,” Dr. Drobot said. “Since testosterone is responsible for muscle gains and growth, if you are low in it due to constant pounding, then you are not getting anywhere,” he said. In times of serious overtraining, sometimes, less is more…and by backing off just a bit and/or changing some things up—even just a hair (one less met-con, and more mobility; shortening sessions but keeping your intensity the same; intermixing intensity with MAP 10 and strategically planned active recovery days; etc.) can dramatically impact your body’s hormones.
Get an introduction to the skills needed to write these mentioned programs here.
Perhaps you are already ‘on a program’ for training and not necessarily ‘overdoing it’. Instead, you are training for gains, and training hard, no doubt, but still ensuring recovery and rest, BUT for some reason, you are still experiencing hormonal imbalance(s). “For this person, hormone balancing or restoration may mean changing up some things around your training timing, frequency, and/or stimulus,” Dr. Drobot said. Your body may have adapted to an unhealthy norm, or not reaching its peak simply because one, or all of these factors, is out of balance as well. For instance: 4:30 a.m. wake up times in order to get an early morning session in could be disrupting your body’s cortisol levels, waking at a non-preferential time day in and day out, and setting your body into ‘stress mode’ from an early start; consequently, messing with your other hormone levels. Or stimulus: training your ‘engine’ in overdrive to improve your metcon? Perhaps your bod is not able to catch up—your mind is strong, but your hormones are weakened, simply because they are more stressed than when you were on your strength cycle. Balance, above all, is key for getting your hormones back to where they want to be. A shift around training time, or the ratio of conditioning and strength in your program could make all the difference.
“Herbals and vitamin supplements, for the most part, will not do anything more than help if you need them for things like low testosterone. For instance, an herb like Tribulus is one of the most popular and effective herbs for supporting testosterone. Hormones themselves on the other hand (like taking DHEA or testosterone), are probably not the best thing to do on your own without consulting a professional. Taking hormones can end up throwing your body out of balance even more so or screwing with your bio-chemistry—not a good thing,” Dr. Drobot said.
“All things considered, it’s always best to never assume you have this or that; or to self-diagnose yourself with low testosterone or hormonal imbalance. See a healthcare practitioner who specializes in these things. Get some lab work done—preferably every 6-months if you are an athlete. If anything, a good look at your hormones will help you see if you are even getting the most out of your training,” Dr. Drobot said. Salivary, blood and urine tests are the most commonly conducted hormone panels, and Dr. Drobot suggests doing all three to get a clear picture of how your hormones are working.
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1, 2. Margo, K. (2006). Testosterone Treatments: Why, When, and How? American Academy of Family Physicians.
3. Wehr E1, Pilz S, Boehm BO, März W, Obermayer-Pietsch B. (2010). Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men. Clinical Endocrinology.
4. Prasad AS1, Mantzoros CS, Beck FW, Hess JW, Brewer GJ. (1996). Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults. Nutrition. 12(5):344-8.
5. Maggio M, De Vita F, Lauretani F, Nouvenne A, Meschi T, Ticinesi A, Dominguez LJ, Barbagallo M, Dall’aglio E, Ceda GP. (2014). The Interplay between Magnesium and Testosterone in Modulating Physical Function in Men. International Journal of Endocrinology.