The sports world has been riddled with the use of performance enhancing drugs. These can be anabolic steroids, HGH, artificial stimulants, or blood boosters. We have seen steroids rock the baseball world over and over again and blood doping shattered the cycling world. Although more under the radar, it is pervasive in high school sports. It’s hard for athletes to feel like they are playing on a level playing field when guys are injecting steroids and look like bodybuilders. The truth is, using these drugs are completely unnecessary. You could spare the disgrace of getting caught and dealing with the harsh side effects and instead spend a little time with a biochemistry book.
The Benefits of Testosterone
Testosterone promotes lean body mass, decreases recovery time and gives a psychological edge of confidence, concentration, cognitive function and determination. Low testosterone leads to obesity, loss of muscle, weak bones, and depression, but also increases the odds of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other major health problems. It’s at its peak throughout puberty and continues to serve you well until around 40. However, levels are changing dramatically in every age bracket, making it especially important to understand what keeps testosterone from dropping.
Researchers have been reporting that testosterone levels are getting lower with each generation, evident in the ability of guys able to zip up skinny jeans. Studies are showing substantial drops unrelated to age, showing a drop of 1 percent per year. This means a 65-year-old man in 2002 would have testosterone levels 15 percent lower than those of a 65-year-old in 1987 and a proportion of men in 2002 would have had below-normal testosterone levels than in 1987. A Finnish study found that a man born in 1970 had 20 percent less testosterone at age 35 than his father’s generation at the same age.
Why are Men Losing Testosterone?
While it may appear clear on how to increase testosterone, there is much speculation at the moment as to the exact reasons why men have lower testosterone levels. It seems fairly clear that it is a combination of xenoestrogens (chemical agriculture, cologne, plastic water bottles, face and body washes, creams) environmental pollutants, medications, sedentary lifestyle and a low-fat, high grain/sugar diet that is contributing to this problem.
In a study highlighted in Scientific American, exposure to dioxin and BPA in a pregnant female rat lead to low testosterone levels in four generations of mice. When we look at study from Brazil – who have also embraced genetically modified crops and therefore heavy pesticide and herbicide use – we find that these chemicals lower testosterone and increase estrogen. Chemical agriculture was introduced in the early 1900’s, and use has been compounding since then along with our disease rates. GMO’s have pushed this amount even further despite promises that it would require less chemicals. Instead, nature created super weeds.
Another study found that that high spikes in blood sugar was enough to drop testosterone levels by as much as 25% in a random grouping of healthy, prediabetic, and diabetic men. Here we find the fallacy of loading up on refined grain carbohydrates and sugary sports drinks; these are making you weaker not stronger. Oxidative stress from exercise, fluoridated water and pollutants also tax testosterone, making dietary antioxidants and adaptogens very important.
Cholesterol: The Building Blocks of Anabolic Testosterone and Catabolic Cortisol
For a long time, the medical community pushed the avoidance of cholesterol rich food like eggs, meat (muscle and organs) and whole fat dairy due to the fear of high cholesterol levels. Then it became clear that dietary cholesterol has no barring on cholesterol levels, and actually is extremely important to consume. Meat, egg yolks, liver, heart and dairy products contain significant amounts of dietary cholesterol. In the body, this serves as an essential component of cell membranes, especially nerve tissues. In fact, cholesterol is a pre-cursor to vitamin D, testosterone, estrogen and adrenaline. The rate-limiting step in testosterone production is the conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone. What happens if cholesterol is too low, and testosterone and vitamin D is too low? You get one depressed, weak and anxious individual. Let that sink in for a moment as you contemplate cholesterol lowering drugs and the push for low cholesterol levels.
Here is the conversion: What else can you see from this conversion chart? Cortisol (the stress hormone that wrecks havoc on your muscle) competes for building material (cholesterol) with testosterone. The adrenal gland rests on top of the kidneys and is composed of layers. On the outer layer, you have the mineral corticoids which control your electrolyte balance. If you are not refueling with electrolytes, your body goes into the next later of corticosteroids that controls sugar and generates stress hormones. Overtraining, mental stress and emotional stress will lead to the third layer where you generate growth hormones and sex steroids. This is when you increase cortisol levels, robbing you blind of muscle, confidence and mental clarity; disrupting your ability to increase testosterone.
The feedback mechanism called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or HPA axis controls reactions to stress, regulates digestion (stress causes indigestion), immunity, mood, emotions, sex drive, glycogen storage and calorie expenditure. This is why I recommend using Cordyceps, which have been found to balance the HPA axis and help you adapt to stress and prevent the catabolic effects. Especially for athletes, overtraining can be a chronic issue. It can be very hard to convince someone that taking a day off can sometimes be more productive than training. Overtraining will lead to excess cortisol, lowering testosterone, impairing long-term performance, increasing muscle loss and decreasing mental function. Nothing will deplete your body and take your hard earned muscle and strength faster than cortisol.
Eat More Fat, Get More Testosterone
A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that strength athletes who consumed the most fat also had the highest testosterone levels, however, excessive protein also compromised the anabolic response. A study from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reported that a low-fat, high-fiber diet reduced testosterone levels in middle-aged men. Men whose testosterone levels were slightly above average were 45% less likely to have high blood pressure, 72% less likely to have experienced a heart attack and 75% less likely to be obese than men whose levels were slightly below average. The optimal level appears to in the 550-900 ng/dl range to reduce risk according to the American College of Cardiology.
A study also found that a high fiber diet with wheat bran also depletes vitamin D 43% faster. A diet with less than 40 percent of energy as fat (including saturated) leads to a decrease in testosterone levels. Wait a second? You mean all of this time of promoting a low-fat diet fearful of saturated fats built upon the grain pyramid has been completely destroying muscle building testosterone and depleting vitamin D? Yes. So if you see someone pushing a diet that promotes low-fat, carbo-loading with bagels and asking if you ate your Wheaties this morning, run the other way with your testosterone-rich body. They won’t catch you.
Concerned about saturated fats? Saturated fats have been attacked for quite a long time now and are often grouped with trans-fats which appears illogical without naming the sources of these fats. A natural occurring trans-fat in animals is not the same as margarine while saturated fat from a wild or grass-fed animal is not the same as a corn and soy-fed, sick feedlot animal. But it is this inattention to detail that makes the nutrition field change its stance on food every decade. Low-fat? High fat! Egg white? Whole egg! Whole grains? No grains! Organ meats like liver and heart have a wealth of nutrients like b-vitamins, CoQ10 and zinc, as well as cholesterol and saturated fat. Liver and heart could very well be the missing link for testosterone that has completely vanished from the modern plate.
Saturated fats are still considered controversial by the medical establishment, and my stand continues to reject making an isolated villain out of a naturally occurring compound. You can make the case that the studies that have found correlations with saturated fat in red meat and different diseases were too low in the protective CLA, vitamin E, B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and too high in omega-6 fatty acids, toxins, genetically modified corn and soy, growth hormones and antibiotics.
|2-4x more anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids||Contains up to 10x more Omega-6 fatty acids (pro-inflammatory, weight producing)|
|Healthy fat and lower toxic load due to cleaner environment||Grain-fed meat has a higher toxic fat content|
|Up to 500% higher in muscle building CLA||Low CLA levels and high omega-6 fatty acid levels contribute to higher abdominal fat (predominate in metabolic syndrome and increased insulin resistance)|
|4x higher in vitamin E than feedlot cattle and almost 2x higher than cattle given synthetic vitamin E||Vitamin E is crucial for a healthy cardiovascular system, and a deficiency can affect heart function|
|Higher in B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium and potassium||B vitamins are important for a healthy metabolism, and a deficiency can affect muscle loss and low energy levels|
|No antibiotics, hormones or unknown feed given||Antibiotics, hormones and genetically modified corn, soy and questionable feed|
The way the animal is raised deserves our attention and for researchers to treat the two as if they are equivalent shows a complete ignorance of agriculture. Conjugated linolenic acid is found in lamb, beef and dairy and is up to 500 percent higher in grass-fed meat and dairy. CLA helps glucose get into muscle cells for effectively, which prevents glucose from being converted to fat while helping fat enter cell membranes of muscle and connective tissue where fat is burned for fuel. This is why grass-fed meat is so effective at building healthy muscle mass while shrinking waist lines.
But once again, the health pundits will try to pull apart CLA from the food and say “well yes, CLA is great but then you are eating saturated fat and cholesterol rich foods which lead to disease.” Yet, you will read other information that believes the lack of CLA has led to the obesity epidemic which is what is increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other diseases. CLA is also the only natural fatty acids accepted by the National Academy of Sciences of USA as exhibiting consistent anti-tumor properties. Grass-fed meat and feedlot meat are not equivalent.
Types of Training to Increase Testosterone
As men, we are designed to lift, smash and sprint. It turns out, the hulk effect is what helps us increase testosterone. Different types of training, rest periods between sets and the amount of sleep can all affect testosterone levels. One study found that chopping wood actually increased testosterone more than sports. The study, which was published in Evolution and Human Behaviour, found that one hour of tree chopping resulted in a 48 per cent increase in salivary testosterone levels in all men, regardless of age or state of health. By contrast, levels increased by only 30.1 percent during a soccer game. Interesting enough, the Tsimane men studied have a far more active life than sedentary office workers and have lower levels of testosterone when compared to age-matched US men, but also appear to have less of a decline in testosterone with age. Yet even late in life, these men were found to have the same spikes in testosterone as younger men.
A study from the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that, in young men, a six-second bout of sprinting increased serum total testosterone levels and remained elevated during recovery. Numerous studies have shown that resistance training is a powerful stimulant for testosterone production, especially compound movements like squats and dead-lifts. If you have been confused on how long you should rest between sets, a study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that resting 90 seconds between squat and bench press sets boosted post-workout T-levels the most. For recovery, the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that a lack of sleep – below the 7 hour mark – dramatically lowers testosterone in healthy young men. 7-8 hours a night is optimal.
Swimming is an excellent workout, but you might want to think twice about using chlorinated pools. Adolescents having attended indoor chlorinated pools for more than 250 hours before the age of 10 years old or for more than 125 hours before the age of 7 years old were about three times more likely to have an abnormally low total testosterone. I can verify this with teenage swimmers I’ve seen in our practice with low total testosterone. Seek out salt water pools or use the ocean if you live on the coast. I would like to see parents, swimming coaches and water polo coaches taking this seriously and start lobbying schools to make the switch to salt water pools.
Drink More Alcohol, Get Less Strength
One small study titled Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline of muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise, had healthy males engage in strength training, then post-workout consume alcohol or orange juice. Measurements were made with isometric, concentric and eccentric force measurements before, 36 hours and 60 hours after 300 concentric contractions of quadriceps with alcohol or orange juice. While alcohol didn’t effect soreness, it did impact muscle strength by as much as 40 percent.
Drink More Beer And Alcohol, Get Less Testosterone
Hops in beer is estrogenic, and drinking too much alcohol can cause testosterone to convert to estrogen (remember this the next time your buddy is giving a lot of hugs and telling everyone he loves them). According to the book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, before the use of hops in beer, gruit ale was the beer staple made primarily with sweet gale, bog myrtle and yarrow. These herbs were mildly narcotic and some were considered aphrodisiacs, and due to these qualities, it was under extreme interrogation by the Protestant church. Unhappy with partying habits of the Catholics, the Protestants played a role in the banning of certain herbs and replacing them with hops. Why? Hops cause drowsiness and a diminished sex drive. They knew this before we understood what estrogenic meant. Party’s over.
How To Increase Testosterone Naturally
The level that appears to be the most beneficial is between 550-900 ng/dl, aiming for the higher end. You can use myfitnesspal.com to track your fat, protein and carbohydrate ratios for free. I tracked mine, and consistently hit approximately 55% fat, 20% protein and 25% carbohydrates daily.
A superior Viking era source of vitamin A, D and omega-3 fatty acids. This particular product is the only raw, non-fermented cod liver oil using the old Norse method, preserving the delicate oil. You want to avoid cod liver oil that has been heated, treated, and add synthetic vitamins. Read about their process here.
Animal research has shown that vitamin A plays a major role in testosterone production and decreases estrogen. High protein diets and heavy exercise burn through vitamin A storage. According to Chris Masterjohn PhD, “with equivalent hard work and dedication, athletes and bodybuilders may be able to achieve similar results from their training by taking high-vitamin cod liver oil and eating foods rich in vitamin A on a regular basis as others receive from the common practice of supplementing with testosterone precursors.”
One study found that low vitamin D status has been associated with low testosterone production. Vitamin D at a dose of 3,332 IU has been found to increase testosterone and decrease Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). Hair loss drugs, statin drugs, beta-blockers, anti-depressants and antifungals all lead to high SHBG levels which lower testosterone.
Vitamin A and D increase zinc absorption. “A sustained raise in plasma zinc concentration (and therefore its potential bioavailability) was obtained only when the zinc was augmented with both vitamins A and D (in RDA concentrations).”
The Extra Virgin Cod Liver OIl will give you 3000-5,000 IU of vitamin A, 500mg EPA, 700mg DHA and 400-500IU vitamin D in one teaspoon. Adding liquid vitamin D enables you to hit the target IU in the linked study.
There is evidence that magnesium exerts a positive influence on anabolic hormonal status, including testosterone. A zinc-magnesium nutritional formulation was able to improve T levels of athletes engaging in intense physical activity compared to placebo. The highest levels of T were found in those athletes both exercising and receiving magnesium supplementation. In young men participating at 7-week strength training program, supplemental magnesium was capable of significantly improving muscle strength and power. The gain in muscle strength occurred at dietary magnesium intake higher than 250 mg and was even more evident at 500 mg. Another study found that those with the highest magnesium levels had the highest testosterone.
A study looking at wrestlers and another study looking at cyclists both found that zinc prevented a decrease in testosterone and thyroid hormones from exhaustive exercise. Make sure your diet is rich in vitamin E. Vitamin C and E together helps retain zinc status.
Reishi and Cordyceps both have a reputation for longevity and immunity (see cold and flu article), with reishi being known as the “mushroom of immortality.” Who wouldn’t want to take that? In particular, both of these have been found to combat inflammation in the form of superoxide (what causes expedited aging, and excessive oxidative stress is an important mediator of a decline in steroid hormone production), prevent hypoxia and high altitude sickness by increasing oxygenation.
Cordyceps main targets are the lungs, kidneys and reproductive organs, while reishi targets the lungs and heart, demonstrating cardiotonic, anti-allergy and anti-bronchitis effects in studies.
The Cordyceps and Reishi Cyclist Study
A double-blind clinical study had 7 male cyclists ages 30-40 divided into 2 well trained/5 at risk of overtraining groups, take placebo supplements for the first month and then active supplements of cordyceps and reishi for the following 3 months.
During the trial, the athletes performed daily workouts and took part in 2 “Gran Fondo” cycling races. The placebo race had a distance of 110 km, a change in elevation of 1651 m, a duration of about 3 hours and 40 minutes, and an average speed of 36 km/h. The mushroom race had a distance of 85 km, a change in elevation of 1850 m, a duration of about 4 hours, and an average speed of 33 km/h. The latter course is particularly hard due to the slopes and technical difficulties.
Every day, during the placebo phase, athletes took 5 capsules: 1 with breakfast, 2 with lunch and 2 with dinner. Every day, during the fungal supplementation phase, athletes took 3 capsules: 1 capsule of cordyceps with breakfast, 1 capsule of cordyceps and 1 capsule of reishi with lunch, and 1 capsule of cordyceps and 1 capsule of reishi with dinner. This was a total of 1335mg of Cordyceps and 1170mg of Reishi daily.
For the well trained group, the before race basal level of salivary testosterone increased after the fungal supplementation phase that lasted 3 months. The after race testosterone level after fungal supplementation increased even more compared to the after race level in the placebo condition.
In the placebo group the testosterone/cortisol ratio decreased by an average of ?69.3%, suggesting that the athlete was at risk of overtraining while after fungal supplementation it decreased by an average of ?8.7%, so the athlete was no longer at risk of overtraining.
The after race testosterone level after fungal supplementation increased 3.4-fold compared to the after race level in the placebo condition. Four out of the 5 athletes who were shown to be at risk of overtraining in the placebo condition overcame these symptoms after fungal supplementation.
See the chart here.
Ashwagandha is a root used traditional in Ayurvedic medicine for over 2,500 years. Studies have shown that this adaptogen reduces stress, lowers cortisol levels, enhances memory, increases antioxidant activity, enhances immune function and increases testosterone. After using this adaptogen consistently, I can say that it is one of the most impressive herbs I have taken and the research backs it up.
One study showed faster swimming time in rats, longer duration of muscle contractility in the heart muscle of frogs and increased glycogen storage capacity in the liver.
A second study showed that ashwagandha promoted significant immunological effects within 96 hours of consuming the root extract twice daily.
A third study found that ashwagandha increased velocity, power, VO2 max, lower limb muscular strength and neuromuscular coordination.
A fourth study used elite Indian cyclists for 8 weeks. One group received 500mg of the root extract 2x a day, while the other group received a placebo. There was significant improvement in the experimental group in all parameters, namely, VO2 max and time for exhaustion on treadmill.
Finally, a fifth double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that ashwagandha root extract supplementation (300mg 2x a day) was associated with significant increases in muscle mass (bigger arms and chest) lower muscle damage and greater strength.
Like cordyceps, vitamin C plays a major role in reducing the stress response and nourishing the adrenal glands. While taking vitamin C does not appear to directly increase testosterone levels, it repairs muscle tissue, retains zinc status, prevents illness and infection, detoxifies from chemical stressors that lower testosterone, lowering oxidative stress, lowering mental stress, and preventing environmental allergies. Preventing all of these stressors helps your body keep the testosterone flowing. This particular product also contains hespridin, a potent anti-estrogen aromatase inhibitor.