In continuing my discussion about fitness and health for men, you cannot go very long these days without hearing something about testosterone and how many men suffer from not having enough of it. And this is definitely true, as testosterone levels start to decrease at the age of 30 in most men. Approximately one in every four men has low testosterone after the age of 30. In fact, in the last 20 years, the average level of testosterone has dropped anywhere from 20 to 30 percent in most men. Is this just a part of life and aging?
Hormonally speaking, testosterone is the big player that helps level out all other male hormones. In other words, if this one starts to dwindle, it can throw off the levels of all other hormones, such as HGH, leptin, ghrelin, estrogen (yes men have small amounts of estrogen), and cortisol. Testosterone production is very important. Testosterone is essentially what makes a man a man. It’s what allows you to build muscle and burn fat, what powers your sex drive, and what helps you recover from workouts. It’s a driving force in your health, energy, and life span.
The biggest problem with most approaches to health, however, is the lack of focus on testosterone. You can do all the sets and reps in the world in the weight room, but if you’re not producing enough testosterone, you won’t add muscle to your body or burn off fat (Side note: This is also why women’s bodies don’t naturally bulk up, as they don’t produce testosterone like men do). Men, your ability to maintain and build muscle is essential to helping your body function better, and testosterone helps maintain and build muscle.
Testosterone is not about becoming big and bulky like a bodybuilder or weight lifter (unless that’s your goal). Testosterone is more about making you feel your absolute best in day-to-day living. Did you know that low testosterone levels can kill your sperm? Or that decreases in testosterone have been linked to decreases in brain activity and memory function? The fact is that men with higher testosterone have lower incidence of heart disease, spend less money on health care, and live significantly longer – potentially more than a decade longer!
Listen, after you hit your 30’s (I recently turned 31, gulp!) your testosterone levels instantly begin dropping. I feel that most doctors are overly quick to prescribe hormone replacement therapy and fill your body with exogenous hormones (after all, doctors are pressured to sell drugs by big pharmaceutical companies). But the good news is that small changes to your lifestyle can be all it takes to increase testosterone by as much as 50 percent. For example, sleeping more will help increase testosterone levels.
The number one goal to help increase your testosterone levels should be eliminating your beer belly. The more fat you carry, the more aromatase you produce, which is an enzyme that converts your testosterone into the female hormone estrogen. This is not good at all, as high estrogen in men will give you a softer body, softer erections, and even make you softer emotionally. Cutting down on your body fat will have the greatest impact on keeping testosterone levels high as you age. In fact, Australian researchers found that testosterone levels don’t have to drop as you age, and they can actually stay high up into your sixties if you exercise the right way, eat the right foods, avoid smoking, and limit how much fat is on your body.
The Takeaway: Keeping testosterone levels high in men is a lifestyle decision, and is largely affected by food selection, exercise selection, and emotional stability (ie. limiting stress, staying happy and positive). Here is a short list of ways to naturally boost testosterone:
- Lift heavy weights
- Perform high-intensity interval cardio
- Practice sprints and work your lower body hard
- Supplement with Vitamin D (at least 300 IU/day)
- Don’t smoke
- Supplement with zinc
- Sleep more than six hours per night
- Eat more protein
- Do squats and deadlifts
- Use shorter rest periods in the gym
- Take fish oil
- Don’t overtrain
- Include fat from animals and dairy in your diet
- Eat eggs