testosterone-street-sign

Testosterone: Muscles, Morning Wood and Steroids


Keep in mind, I am not a doctor even though I did spend seven years in college.  This is for informational purposes only.  Don’t be an idiot, consult your doctor before trying anything.

How do I increase my testosterone?

Go into any fitness forum, gym or talk any middle aged man and this is the inevitable question that comes up.  

Hell watching sports will make you question if you have low testosterone and how you could increase sex drive, have more energy or just feel more manly.  

But the real question is do you need it?  

I’m a big proponent of going natural – getting my nutrients and optimizing my body without the help of pills or supplements, but I feel like I’m the minority.

Beginning around 30, right when you start getting things figured out, our testosterone levels start to decline.  Mother Nature can be a fickle bitch.

You’ll notice a decrease sex drive, depressed mood, difficulties with concentration and memory as well as a reduction in your old friend…Morning Wood.  There is really nothing like having to do a handstand to take your morning pee.  Ahh the good old days.

Like a middle school sex ed class, I’m going to help you understand your body as we cross from the testosterone saturated teens and 20’s to the shell of your old self 30’s.  I’ll help you discover if you do have low testosterone and what you can do.  

WHAT IS TESTOSTERONE?

testosterone

Testosterone (or T) is a hormone produced primarily by the testicles, but sometimes the adrenal glands on your kidneys supply some.

If you’re interested in how it’s made, I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version, if not, skip to the next section.  

  1. When the brain senses we need T, it releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone.  
  2. When our pituitary gland detects the gonadotropin-releasing hormone, it produces two hormones: 1) follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).  Next stop is the old twig and berries.
  3. When the FSH and LH reach our boys, they tell them to do two different things. FSH kicks off sperm production, while LH stimulates the testicles to create more testosterone.
  4. The testicles’ convert cholesterol into testosterone. That’s the same cholesterol in that big juicy steak.  If there’s not enough cholesterol in our blood, our testicles can produce a bit so that it can convert it to testosterone. Relying too much on cholesterol produced by the boys can actually inhibit our testicles from producing T.  Long story short, eat some eggs and steak my friends.
  5. Once T is produced, it’s sent into our bloodstream in a few flavors. Most of it immediately becomes biologically inactive, boo. The small percentage that remains free and unbound circulates around and starts manning up our minds and bodies. When our brain detects that we have enough T in our blood, it signals the pituitary gland to quit secreting LH so our testicles ramp down T production.

From there all the glorious benefits happen like hair growth in your no-no zone, sperm gets produced and most importantly muscle growth.  There are also other benefits like maintaining bone density, red blood cell levels and other such boring things.  

THE FLAVORS

Like I mentioned in step 5 above, there are a few flavors of T;  I’ve listed them in levels of awesomeness.

FREE TESTOSTERONE

Free T is the Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Jerry Rice of the testerone world.   This is the type that gives you all the glorious benefits like muscle growth.  The reason it’s called “free” is because there aren’t any proteins attached to it. Single and ready to mingle, free T can enter cells and activate receptors in order to work its magic.  

What is ridiculous is it makes up only 2 to 3 percent of our total testosterone levels. To maximize the benefits of T, we want to do what we can to increase the amount of free testosterone in our bloodstream.

ALBUMIN-BOUND TESTOSTERONE

About 40-60% of the T is bound to a protein called albumin. This is your second tier guy on the roster, your Scottie Pippen or Kyrie for you Cav fans.  Albumin-bound T is biologically inactive, which sucks.  That just means your body can’t readily use it.  But sometimes, the albumin testosterone bond can break to create the Free T we all know and love.  Just like Pippen and Irving could take over a game when needed.  

Because albumin-bound testosterone is easily converted to Free T, some labs lump it together with free testosterone whenever you get tested. (We’ll get into testing later.)

SHBG-BOUND TESTOSTERONE

The rest of the T in your body is the SHBG-bound T (sex hormone-binding-globulin).  These are the 12th man coming off your bench.  SHBG is produced in our liver and plays an important role in regulating the amount of free testosterone in our bodies. SHBG-bound T is biologically inactive. Excess SHBG is why it’s possible to have high total testosterone levels, but still suffer symptoms of testosterone deficiency — the SHBG binds itself to too much testosterone and doesn’t leave enough of the Free stuff.

Research suggests that diet and lifestyle changes can help reduce the amount of SHBG in our system, making more free T available.

Free Testosterone >> Albumin-bound Testosterone > SHBG-bound Testosterone

THE GIANT PINK ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

testosterone-pink-elephant

If you’re over 30 and hang around with three other guys there is a good chance someone has low T.  And there is evidence to show that your grandfather and father at the same point in their lives had more T than you do right now.  

Well at least we have the internet I guess.  Yeah us!

So how do you know if you are the one in the group struggling to make free testosterone?  Get tested.  

The best way to go is a simple blood test.  There are saliva tests on Amazon but the accuracy is up for debate and chances are a blood test will be recommended to confirm a low result.  So why not cut out the middleman and go the blood test route off the bat.

Your doctor should tell you, but you should schedule to have your blood drawn in the morning as soon as you wake up.  

Reason being, your levels are the highest in the morning and slowly taper off as the day progresses.  Having your blood drawn in the afternoon could cause a false low reading and a cycle of drugs you don’t need.  

I will admit that I didn’t know this when I had my T tested a few months back.  

I had been up for 13 hours by the time my blood was drawn so the results came back around 210.  The healthy range is 280-1100.  I’m yet to go back for a follow up incase you were wondering.

So if you are curious what your levels are, muster up the little T you have and have your doctor send you for a blood test.

WHAT CAUSES OF LOW T

Besides getting old, there are a few guilty parties that contribute to low T:  

 

  • Consuming low calories for an extended period of time
  • Too much iron in your blood
  • A Bill Swift kick to the nuts
  • Infection
  • Pituitary disorder
  • The HIV
  • Obesity
  • Opioids and steroids
  • Severe stress or physical stress from an illness or surgery

 

It’s quite the list.

WAYS TO INCREASE T

testosterone-oysters

For those of us that have crossed the 30 year old threshold, all hope is not lost.  There are a few tricks that can help elevate your levels of T without the use of drugs or shady infomercials promising you to be a “new man” and an extra two inches to your manhood in a week.  

REDUCE STRESS

The silent killer known as stress is more than likely killing your T levels.  Stress causes a release in cortisol which blocks the effects of testosterone.  Testosterone is used for mating, competing and aggression (roid rage) while cortisol is used for survival (the fight or flight response).  This is because back in the day no one was looking to hook up when a giant hell cat was chasing you.  

But today, stress isn’t limited to just fighting for your life.  It extends to work and the millions of commitments we have which increases our cortisol levels.  If this happens for an extended period of time it will start blocking the sweet benefits of testosterone.

What To Do:  Make time in your day to be present.  Find a hobby or activity that makes you feel happy.  Things like meditation, reading and working out are great ways to lower cortisol.  Another option is to declutter your life and create more empty space to relax.

LOSE WEIGHT

If you are carrying some extra pounds there is a good chance that’s also lowering your T levels.  Like cortisol, high insulin levels can lower your testosterone.  

What To Do: First thing is to lower sugar consumption and other foods like white bread, white rice and junk food which elevates insulin levels.  Also, limit the amount of fruit.  Fruit contains sugar which elevates insulin regardless if it’s healthy or from candy.  Focus on meat and veggies.

UP YOUR ZINC

Zinc is important in testosterone production and the health of your swimmers.  So if you are looking to have kids make sure you’re keeping an eye on your zinc levels.

Supplementing your diet for six weeks has been shown to cause an improvement in testosterone among men with low levels.  Research has also shown that restricting dietary sources of zinc leads to a significant decrease in testosterone, while zinc supplementation increases it.

What To Do: If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m going to push getting more zinc from your diet rather than a pill.  Food is more satisfying than popping a pill.  Foods like:

Grass fed beef

Chicken

Lamb

Pumpkin seeds

Oysters

Are all high in zinc.

If you would rather take a pill then keep the dose below 40mg a day.  The poison is in the dose with zinc and too much will interfere with your body’s absorption of other minerals.

If you do decide to go the pill route take the pill at night on an empty or relatively empty stomach for best absorption.

UP YOUR VITAMIN D LEVELS

If you want to give someone your D you should up your vitamin D.

Vitamin D, which is actually a hormone, is essential for the healthy development of sperm and helps maintain semen quality and count and arguably the most important piece of your testosterone production.  Which is why during the summer you probably feel more frisky…and because girls are showing more skin.

Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise because we spend too much time inside rather than being in the sun.

So the first step to ensuring you are receiving all the benefits of vitamin D is to find out what your levels are using a 25(OH)D test, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D.  Or ask your doctor for a blood test.

The optimum level to shoot for is between 50-70 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml).

What To Do: The best way to get your levels up is to put down the remote and get outside.  If the sun isn’t an option, like during the winter, a Vitamin D3 supplement will do.  

Aim for 3000-5000 IU a day if you go the supplement route taken in the morning with fat.  Vitamin D is a fat soluble molecule meaning it will only dissolve and be useful with fat.

MULTIVITAMINS

If you want to hedge your bets, opt for a multivitamin.  Multivitamins usefulness has been debated recently but until there is conclusive evidence that they are useless I’ll still take one.  The benefits far outweigh the risk in this case.

We already talked about Zinc and Vitamin D which should be found in the vitamin but you also want to look for:

B Vitamins – increases sperm quality

Vitamins A,C and E which can play a role in your T levels.

What To Do: Get a multivitamin that provides you with 100% of each mineral minus calcium and magnesium.  If these were 100% of your daily value it would be a horse pill.  Steer clear of proprietary blends.  Transparency is key.

EAT SOME BEEF

Remember when fats were the enemy?  Well they were wrong.  Horribly, horribly wrong.

Just about all fats, minus trans, have a biological purpose in your diet with saturated fats taking the lead for T production.

Poor saturated fats, the ones you were told you should avoid like the plague and if you eat them you’ll ensure a heart attack.  Well that’s not true.  A shitty diet or hyper responders to saturated fat causes heart attacks.  

Saturated fats, commonly found in red meat aka the best stuff on earth, raise cholesterol levels in the body.  This cholesterol is the precursor to guess what?  Testosterone!  

What To Do: Now I’m not telling you to eat beef 7 days a week and wash it down with some bacon even though that sounds delicious.  I’m just saying a steak every now and then might do your T levels some good.

Some other examples of saturated fats are coconut oil, egg yolks and cheese.  Oh and of course bacon.

BRANCH CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAA)

It’s suggested in the scientific world that BCAAs result in higher T levels when taken during a workout.  This also extends to whey protein which has a high concentration of BCAAs and more specifically leucine.  

Consequently, free leucine taken alone is counterproductive to the plan as they rapidly enter circulation and disrupt insulin production.  Stick to BCAA or whey protein leucine for best results.

What To Do: If you’re going to take BCAAs, look for at least 7g of total BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, valine and isoleucine.  XTend is the best brand I’ve found in commercial stores. 

D-ASPARTIC ACID (D-AA)

D-aspartic acid (DAA) is an amino acid and is believed to impact hormone levels by increasing the activity of testosterone production. D-AA can be used as a testosterone booster for infertile men and by athletes as a temporary booster.

Elevated testosterone levels only last a week to a week and a half in healthy men, with testosterone returning to normal afterward.

What To Do: The dose for D-aspartic acid is between 2,000 – 3,000mg taken daily in the morning and to be on the safe side do two weeks on and one week off.  

EAT YOUR BROCCOLI

I remember when I was getting into dieting and weight lifting, broccoli was the go-to vegetable.  I figured it was because it was filling and low on calories, but it turns out it also contains a compound called Diindolylmethane (DIM) that is produced when foods like broccoli (and it’s disgusting cousin, cauliflower) are digested.  

DIM can help support a healthy balance of the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone in the body. Yes, men produce estrogen as well.  

It does this by converting potent forms of estrogen into less potent forms, reducing the overall effects of estrogen in the body.

Less man boobs, more grunting!

What To Do:  Add broccoli at at least 2 meals.  Load up on it.  It’s extremely hard to overdue veggies.

HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING (HIIT)

Like if HIIT wasn’t awesome enough with the fat burning benefits, it also has been shown to boost testosterone.  Say what girlfriend?  Lose fat and increase T all in one exercise?

HIIT has a proven positive effect on increasing testosterone levels and preventing its decline post workout.  That’s unlike aerobics or prolonged moderate exercise (think jogging on a treadmill), which have shown to have negative or no effect on testosterone levels.

HIIT can be done on just about any type of equipment you want – an elliptical, a treadmill, swimming, even sprinting outside – as long as you’re pushing yourself as hard as you can for 30 seconds and resting for 30-60 seconds.

What To Do: If you’re new to the HIIT game don’t be a hero.  Start with 2-3 sprints of 30 seconds, walk for 60 seconds.  Slowly work your way up.  Remember it’s easier to take it slow than to deal with an injury because you wanted to go 0-60 your first time out.

Aim for 2-3 HIIT workouts a week.  

STRENGTH TRAINING

Strength training is also known to boost testosterone levels.  That of course is assuming you are lifting heavy enough.  

To boost T with strength training, you’ll want to increase the weight and lower your number of reps, and then focus on exercises that work a large number of muscles, such as deadlifts or squats. Skip the isolation exercises.

What To Do: Here is a workout if you want to throw some strength training into your workout.  

If you wanna do your own workout, put squats and deadlifts into your existing workout.  Aim for a 5×5, 4×6, 8×3 with about 85-90% (depending on rep range) of your 1 rep max.  Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.

MY THOUGHTS ON TESTOSTERONE BOOSTERS

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 (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Christine Cabalo/Released)

I personally don’t like taking pills.  I don’t like being dependant on a substance when there are other means of getting the same result.  I’d rather eat broccoli and steak to up my levels.  

That being said, had you asked me about taking a T booster two weeks ago I would have said absolutely not.  It’s like taking pills to make my junk bigger.  But, after researching this post my stance has lightened up… a little.

Testosterone will help you add muscle.  If you are looking to add slabs of muscle, cycling is needed.  Normal products will boost your levels for 1-2 weeks and then the levels return to normal.  

So best practice would be 2 weeks on 1 off.  Constantly taking the pills won’t do anything but waste money.

Also, when looking at T boosters, steer clear from proprietary blends on the ingredients label.  The ingredients should be listed out as well as the amount of each.  It’s that transparency that makes or breaks a product for me.

If your progress has stalled in the gym and you think a T booster would help, I’d advise you to redirect that money you’d spend on the pills to me.  99.99999% of the time you’re either not pushing hard enough in the gym, your diet sucks or you aren’t sleeping enough.  Fix those first, then go to the T boosters.  These pills will not overcompensate you’re shitty adherence to the basics.  

MY THOUGHTS ON STEROIDS  

testosterone-steriods

I am not promoting steroids or similar products for aesthetic purposes.  Frankly, I think it’s a pussy way out.  Put some work in, be disciplined and reach your genetic potential.

However, being accused of using steroids because you are a jacked mofo is bad-ass when you’re natural.  

Steroids or similar products taken for legit medical reasons is A-OK in my book.  Some medical conditions do require them and I wouldn’t think of you as less of a man for medical purposes.  Aesthetic only, yes.

Like I just mentioned, supplementing with T boosters or trying to up your testosterone levels because your results stalled in the gym is not the answer.  Look at your sleep (6-8 hours a night), your diet (enough protein, minimal cheat meals, enough calories) and then your workout (are you doing enough) before dabbling in pills and supplements.  

 

Dave