Taming Testosterone Troubles
Men: Have you had difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, or are you suffering from low mood or libido? Have you gained body fat, lost muscle or begun to struggle with depression or lack of motivation? Low testosterone levels may be to blame.
Ten years ago, the Endocrine Society reported that men had approximately 20% less testosterone than their fathers' generation at exactly the same age (Travison et al. 2006). This has led to a growing trend of people using testosterone creams and gels to boost lagging levels. However, most men don't need more testosterone; they need to slow their testosterone losses. Here are a few factors that lead to testosterone deficiency—along with simple tips that will get you back on track—from Marc Bubbs, ND, board‐certified naturopathic doctor, strength coach, author, speaker, blogger and sports nutrition lead for the Canadian Men's National Basketball Team.
Note: Ask a doctor to test your testosterone levels. Unlike menopause in middle‐aged women, where hormone output dramatically shifts and symptoms are obvious, testosterone decline in aging men is gradual.
Obese men have 25%–45% lower testosterone levels than average‐weight males (Isidori et al. 1999). When body fat levels increase, sex hormone‐binding globulin (SHBG) gobbles up bioavailable testosterone, making it unusable by the body.
The Fix: If you are overweight, chances are that your testosterone levels are on the decline. The top priority may need to be fat loss, which you can target with changes to your diet, strength training and HIIT cardio. A registered dietitian and certified personal trainer can provide sound suggestions.
Stress is another major drain on testosterone levels. Most people are constantly on the go and stuck in fight‐or‐flight (sympathetic nervous system) mode, which is very taxing on hormone production. High stress levels can lead to sugar and carbohydrate cravings and make it harder to fall or stay asleep.
The Fix: If you spend too much time stuck in fight‐or‐flight mode, you need to reactivate your "rest‐and‐digest" nervous system. This will increase resiliency and mitigate the detrimental effects of long, busy days. That said, the first priority should be getting enough sleep. If sleep is squared away, the focus can shift to boosting the "rest and digest" parasympathetic nervous system. See the sidebar "Breath Exercise" for a simple technique to try.
Not Enough Compound Lifts
For men, there is no drug or food that benefits testosterone production more than safe, effective movement. In particular, compound movements such as squatting, bending, pushing and pulling all trigger significant increases in testosterone production. Lower‐body‐dominant exercises like squats and dead lifts, along with Olympic lifts—snatch; clean and jerk—all elicit a big testosterone boost (Kraemer et al. 1992).
The Fix: Incorporating more compound lifts—lower‐body exercises in particular—into an exercise program is a direct line to improving testosterone levels and supporting weight loss or hypertrophy goals. Make sure to include total‐body workouts (3–4 days per week), rather than classic bodybuilding splits, to maximize testosterone production. Maximizing an increase in testosterone will take about 10 weeks of training, so consistency is key (Kraemer et al. 1999).
Too much cardio training versus strength training can also affect testosterone levels. For help developing an exercise program with compound lifts, work with a qualified trainer.
One way to relieve stress and hopefully bolster testosterone is to use deep belly breathing to stimulate the vagus nerve, which can calm an overactive nervous system.
Lie on the floor with a book resting on your belly. Inhale deeply (the book should rise) and exhale fully (the book should lower toward the spine). Repeat for 5–10 minutes daily to improve vagus nerve function.
Isidori, A., et al. 1999. Leptin and androgens in male obesity: Evidence for leptin contribution to reduced androgen levels. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 84 (10), 3673-80.
Kraemer, W.J., et al. 1992. Acute hormonal responses in elite junior weightlifters. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 13 (2), 103-109.
Kraemer, W.J., et al. 1999. Effects of heavy‐resistance training on hormonal response patterns in younger vs. older men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 87 (3), 982-92.
Travison, T., et al. 2006. A population‐level decline in serum testosterone levels in American men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 92 (1).
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