Testosterone is inextricably linked to strength, muscle growth, energy, masculinity and overall well-being. Do you suspect that your testosterone level is on the low side? Read in this article what you can do about it naturally.
WHAT IS TESTOSTERONE?
Testosterone is the main androgen (male sex hormone). It performs vital functions with regard to body composition, heart, bones, sexual organs, skin and kidneys, among other things.
As long as testosterone levels fall within the normal range (see below), the hormone can perform its function well, including in terms of muscle growth.
EVOLUTION OF THE TESTOSTERONE LEVEL
Healthy testosterone levels fluctuate over time. It peaks at about age 20, then slowly declines.
In men between the ages of 30 and 50, the testosterone level probably drops by about 1% per year. That shouldn’t be a problem, especially in men who naturally have relatively high testosterone levels. Others do experience problems, especially at a higher age (from 40-50 years). This drop in testosterone levels is also known as hypogonadism, “male menopause”, or andropause.
THE NATURAL RANGE
A healthy, natural testosterone level should be in a certain range: for men between 264 and 916 nanograms/deciliter, for women between 50 and 70 ng/dL.
Fluctuations within that natural range are usually barely noticeable in muscle growth and strength. If you already have an average testosterone level and you know how to increase it naturally, for example through lifestyle changes (see below), this will have little or no effect on the speed at which you build muscle mass.
Only artificial increases in testosterone levels, through anabolic steroids and to a lesser extent Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT), allow you to build muscle much faster than normal. And with long-term use, you can build more muscle mass than your genetic potential would allow.
CONSEQUENCES OF LOW TESTOSTERONE
If you are at the lower end of the natural range, this can cause complaints, such as fatigue, gloominess, loss of strength and reduced libido. In the longer term, this can also be detrimental to the maintenance of muscle mass.
If you think you are structurally below the natural range, please contact your doctor.
INCREASE TESTOSTERONE LEVEL
Do you suspect that your testosterone level is on the low side? Then you can do the following.
1. EATING ENOUGH
If you don’t eat enough to support the metabolic and hormonal mechanisms in your body, they will diminish over time. That is a survival mechanism: your body is going to cut back to save energy for more important bodily functions.
This saving only takes place in the event of an energy shortage. When you ‘re bulking, you’re eating slightly above your maintenance level, which boosts your testosterone production. If you are in the cut, you are dealing with a calorie deficit, which is at the expense of your testosterone levels.
Now cutting is only a temporary situation, where you have to accept that your testosterone levels are a bit lower than normal. However, it is important not to diet excessively heavy: use a calorie deficit of 20-25% of your maintenance level. So no crash diet. With this deficiency, you lose 0.5 to 1% of your body weight on a weekly basis, without your body going into austerity mode too much. When strong metabolic adjustments and ‘diet fatigue’ occur, it is best to take a diet break.
2. PROPERLY DISTRIBUTE YOUR MACRONUTRIENTS
Bodybuilding is not just about the calories, but also about the distribution of those calories among the three macronutrients ( proteins, carbohydrates and fats).
Yes, protein is important for muscle growth and muscle maintenance. However, do not eat more than 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (explanation). Even more protein comes at the expense of the amount of carbohydrates and fats you can consume. This while the importance of carbohydrates and fats for testosterone production is even greater than that of proteins.
It is therefore generally recommended to divide the calories available after proteins more or less evenly among carbohydrates and fats. This all comes down to:
- 25-30% proteins;
- 30-40% carbohydrates;
- 30-40% fats.
In addition to the quantity, it is also about the quality of your macros. A few tips:
- Divide the fats roughly evenly into polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats on the one hand and saturated fats on the other;
- Avoid trans fats (a lot in processed food);
- Avoid refined sugars;
- Oily fish is an excellent source of zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, among other things ;
- In terms of carbohydrates, eat mostly vegetables, fruits and whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat pasta and sweet potatoes. These foods all contain antioxidants and fiber, which have a positive effect on testosterone production and fat burning.
3. EATING ENOUGH MICRONUTRIENTS
When it comes to optimizing testosterone, it is mainly about avoiding deficiencies. We already saw that you have to eat enough and distribute your food evenly over the three macronutrients. But at least as important are the micronutrients, or vitamins and minerals.
Specifically for the testosterone level, the following ‘micros’ are important:
With a normal, healthy and varied diet you get more than enough of these and other nutrients. If you follow a strict, calorie-restricted diet (as in the cut), it may sometimes be necessary to supplement the micronutrients through supplements. Another factor may be age, why, for example, the elderly benefit from vitamin D supplementation.
Note that taking supplements does not make sense if you are already getting enough of a nutrient. Bodybuilders, for example, like to take supplements with zinc and magnesium, but you have to have a significant deficiency to have any effect.
Taking a multivitamin is also normally not necessary, but it is okay to do this, just to be on the safe side, as a supplement to a healthy and varied diet.
There are a handful of supplemental nutrients that may give your testosterone a small boost:
However, the effect of each of these supplements (the so-called testosterone boosters) has not yet been convincingly demonstrated. So don’t focus on supplements; your ‘regular’ diet is much more important.
4. MAINTAIN A HEALTHY BODY WEIGHT
In principle, the leaner you are, the better it is for your testosterone production. However, don’t go too low with your body fat percentage, because then your body will cut back on testosterone. As a man you therefore aim for a fat percentage between 8 and 15%, as a woman between 21% and 32%.
5. SLEEP WELL
A good night’s sleep has a positive effect on testosterone levels. Conversely, little sleep is often associated with unhealthy food choices and weight gain. This in turn has an indirect negative influence on your testosterone production.
Read in this article how you can improve your sleep.
6. BE ACTIVE, BUT ALSO GET ENOUGH REST
An active lifestyle is beneficial for you in many ways, including your testosterone. Albeit to a certain extent: being too active can actually have a negative effect on your hormone balance, namely by increasing the stress hormone cortisol, which is muscle-depleting (catabolic). So it is important to get enough rest. Prolonged cardio exercise in particular can lower testosterone levels.
Do you do HIIT? Fine, but only do two to three sessions a week because of the high training load.
In our opinion, the best form of cardio is walking. Boring? Yes maybe, but it offers the bodybuilder some specific benefits. For example, you can reduce stress by walking, which is also beneficial for increasing the testosterone level (see 8).
7. TRAINING WITH POLICY
We assume that you do strength training. Great, because strength training immediately increases the levels of testosterone, growth hormone and IGF-1, especially when you do compound exercises.
Don’t rejoice too early, however, as research has shown that these values drop quickly after training, i.e. within 15 minutes to an hour. The possible effect of the hormonal increases as a result of strength training is therefore only limited. What counts is your average testosterone level over the entire day.
Of course, strength training does contribute to your testosterone levels in a different, more indirect way. After all, strength training leads to muscle growth, which improves your body composition and therefore also your testosterone level.
Strength training also has restrictions, especially if you are a natural bodybuilder. After all, you can only build a limited amount of muscle mass within a certain time frame. In addition, your body can only handle a limited training load (the training volume). If you train structurally above your recovery capacity, this can have unpleasant consequences, including for your testosterone production.
Therefore, follow the following advice regarding your training.
- Do 10-20 sets per muscle group weekly (10 for beginners, 20 for advanced);
- Per training you do a maximum of 10-12 sets per muscle group and a maximum of 15-25 sets in total;
- Train each muscle group at least twice a week, allowing for 24-48 hours of recovery time between workouts;
- Train each set to near muscle failure, but keep 1-3 Reps In Reserve;
- Use weights that allow you to do 6-10 (compounds) or 10-15 (isolation exercises) reps.
In short, ensure a favorable Stimulus to Fatigue Ratio in your training, so that physical stress is limited as much as possible.
It may be easier said than done, but being more relaxed and less stressed will help you maintain your testosterone levels.
In stressful situations, the body produces large amounts of cortisol. At a later stage, the hormone DHEA, which offers protection when your body experiences stress, is no longer produced properly. At an even later stage, the testosterone level drops, because testosterone is made from DHEA.
Stress arises at work, at school or in the private sphere. But also stress as a result of too much strength training and cardio (see points 6 and 7).
9. LIMIT ALCOHOL
Those who regularly drink two glasses of alcohol or more can see their testosterone levels drop by as much as a quarter. Alcohol also makes it harder for your liver to break down estrogen, the female sex hormone. Less testosterone and more estrogen creates a hormonal imbalance and actually makes you less manly.
You don’t have to completely ban alcohol: drinking a glass of red wine every now and then has positive effects on your health.
10. BEING SEXUALLY ACTIVE
Having enough sex also contributes to a higher testosterone level. Men who are not or little sexually active have a lower testosterone level than men who have sex regularly, according to various studies. Just the thought of sex raises your testosterone level.
Having regular sex keeps the testicles active, which is good for testosterone levels. After all, testosterone is produced in the testicles. The old credo use it or lose it certainly applies.
11. KEEPING THE TESTICLES COOL
We said it before: the male hormone testosterone is produced in the testicles. It’s not for nothing that the balls hang outside the body: they benefit from staying cool. Cool testicles increase testosterone levels.
Tips to keep your balls cool: sleep naked, wear loose boxers and take cold showers.
12. GET MEDICAL HELP
If, despite the above tips, you still have complaints that indicate a (too) low testosterone level, please contact your doctor.