Testosterone is the most important muscle building hormone. In fact, it is considered the ‘manly’ hormone and affects things such as your aggression, your mood, your sex drive and of course how well you are able to build muscle. Quite simply, the more testosterone in your system, the more successful you will be at building muscle.
As you age, your testosterone levels decline. Ever been around the proverbial grumpy old man, who always seems to be in a bad mood? This is likely the result of low testosterone levels.
Fortunately there are things you can do to naturally increase it without resorting to steroids or the equally controversial hormone therapy.
1. Avoid too much alcohol
It is ok to grab one for the road with the boys once in a while or to celebrate that accomplishment with a glass of fine chardonnay but being perpetually hammered does you no good. Tests conducted on men who were severely intoxicated showed that their testosterone levels had declined by as much as 25%.
Alcohol also has lots of calories and too much of it leads to accumulation of abdominal fat aka the beer belly, which brings us to the next point…
2. Keep Your Body Fat Low
Studies have shown that high body fat percentages are highly correlated with low testosterone levels. The primary way to handle this is through exercise and diet. Eat wholesome foods rich in protein, complex carbs and unsaturated fats. The following foods are generally good for you and should form the core of your diet.
Protein: Lean meats including beef, skinless chicken, fish. Eggs. Tuna.
Carbohydrates: Oatmeal, brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yam (an excellent complex carb), wheat bread (especially the kind that you cannot easily compress). All fruits and vegetables.
Unsaturated Fats: Avocados, fish oil, extra virgin olive oil (the dark bottle kind is the best since it hasn’t been exposed to light), cashews and almonds.
It is ok to eat junk food once in a while. In fact I recommend that you have one day of indulgence per week to avoid feeling deprived and to make the good eating habits sustainable. During this day, eat whatever you like, paying no heed to the above guidelines.
3. Eat Enough ‘Good Fat’
This seems contrary to 2 above but it is really not. There is good and bad fat and you definitely want to consume enough of the right kind while avoiding the bad as much as possible.
Good fat: Unsaturated and mono saturated fats found in avocadoes, fish oil, cashews, almonds
Bad fat: Trans Fat or partially hydrogenated fats found in cookies, crackers, donuts and most highly processed foods.
The right kind of fat is necessary for producing testosterone and depriving your body of healthy fats will lead to a decline in your testosterone levels. Get into the habit of reading food labels and avoid the foods containing ‘bad fat’.
If you are serious about muscle building at least 20% of your diet should be comprised of healthy fats and oils such as the ones mentioned above.
4. Eat Enough. Eat Often
If you ever let your body get into starvation mode your testosterone levels drop sharply. If you are trying to build muscle eating enough and eating often is of utmost importance. I usually recommend 5-6 small meals a day during an intense muscle building phase.
If you are just doing basic maintenance add a fourth meal to the “three square meals” and you should be fine.
Exercise increases your testosterone levels but not just any kind of exercise will do. It must be vigorous and intense, which is why weight training is great. Walking leisurely in the park won’t cut it!
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to spend hours in the gym. Strength/weight training 2-3 times a week for 45 minutes each time is more than enough. Add in one or two 15-20 minute vigorous cardio sessions and you are golden!
6. Avoid Stress
Any kind of stress usually leads to secretion of a hormone called cortisol. Known as the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol eats away your muscle tissue, leads to build up of fat and has a direct negative effect on your testosterone levels. It also makes you crave junk food and engage in ‘comfort eating’.
Cortisol and testosterone can be thought of as two opposing forces, one evil the other good. When one rises, the other declines and vice versa.
Getting enough sleep and avoiding overtraining (for those too anxious to build muscle) are two great tips for avoiding stress.
7. Root for a winning team
Men thrive on competition, the reason we enjoy competitive sports so much. Something about competition just gets our juices flowing!
What is really remarkable is that recent studies have shown that we don’t even have to be playing ourselves. Fans of a winning team usually experience a rise in testosterone right after their team wins, while the fans of the losing team experience a drop!
While these changes in testosterone levels occasioned by the performance of our teams don’t last, having enough of them can lead to a kind of permanence.