Why Do We Care So Much About Testosterone?
There are very few factors more important than testosterone when it comes to overall health and function in men. Of course, we all know about testosterone’s ability to increase muscle mass and strength by increasing muscle protein synthesis. But studies also show the major benefits of testosterone in fighting depression, decreasing body fat, protecting the heart, strengthening bones, improving libido, improving cognitive ability and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Most of you probably know that your individual testosterone levels fall as you age. But studies have shown that men today, across the population, have about 20% less testosterone than men the same age did just two decades ago. That’s a huge drop.
Identifying Optimal T Levels
There are three types of testosterone in your body: free testosterone, SHBG-bound testosterone, and albumin-bound testosterone. When you get tested for testosterone levels, there are two tests you can get: total testosterone and free testosterone.
Total testosterone is the total amount of T floating in your blood at the time of the test: free, SHBG-bound, and albumin-bound combined. Free testosterone is– you got it– the measurement of free testosterone floating around.
Most lab testing facilities publish a “normal range” of around 250-1000 ng/dL for healthy men. The problem with that, however, is that the reference range consists of all men: men ranging from 20 to 100 years old, and with fitness levels ranging from super fit to obese. The fact that reference ranges don’t break patients down by age or health status explains why a 30-year-old man can go to his doctor with the symptoms of low T, only to be told that his T levels are fine because they’re within the “normal” range. If you’re 30 but have the same testosterone level as an 8o-year-old diabetic man, your doc may say you’re okay, but you’re still not going to feel good.
When determining what’s considered a normal testosterone level, it’s best to look at what the reference range is for men your age.
|Age||Total Testosterone||Free Testosterone|
If your testosterone levels match up with the average in the chart above, it’s safe to say that you have adequate amounts of T in your system. But we don’t want to go for just adequate, we want optimal testosterone levels so that we can derive as much benefit from this vital hormone as we can.
How to do that? Here are the eight most evidence-backed ways science says we can increase our testosterone levels naturally.
1. Lose Weight
Being overweight is the number one cause of low testosterone levels. Research has shown that obese people tend to have 1/3 of the testosterone levels of their leaner counterparts. This is mainly due to the fact that body fat contains aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. As you lose body fat, you lower your levels of aromatase and lower the conversion rate. Keeping your body fat percentage between 8-15% is ideal for testosterone production, while anything over 20% or under 8% is going to cause problems.
2. Lift Weights
Strength training is the best type of exercise for boosting testosterone. Research has shown this over and over again – especially large full body compound movements like deadlifts, squats, overhead press and pulls ups. When we compare these type of movements (especially with heavy weight) to isolation movements like bicep curls the difference is profound. Strength training will increase growth hormone (GH) as well as testosterone.
3. Get Enough Vitamin D
Vitamin D isn’t even a vitamin, it’s actually more of a hormone that regulates over a thousand physiological functions. Vitamin D is strongly associated with higher testosterone production, increased immune function, improved energy and better libido. Ideally, 15 minutes of sunlight every day will allow your body to produce the amount of vitamin D it requires, but vitamin D3 supplements help if that’s impractical. Most nutritional guidelines recommend 1000–2000IU Vitamin D3 per day, but studies show that a better rule of thumb is to take 1000IU Vitamin D3 per 50lbs of body weight per day.
4. Eat More Fat & Cholesterol
Sounds crazy doesn’t it? You have always been told to keep away from fat and cholesterol yet they play an important role in optimizing testosterone levels. Cholesterol from animal products is incredibly important for testosterone production, as it’s actually a precursor to the testosterone hormone. Our bodies produce our own cholesterol, but research has shown that dietary sources of cholesterol will increase testosterone levels. Dietary cholesterol (or even saturated fat for that matter) isn’t something most of us need to worry about about in moderation. Eggs are a great source, but monounsaturated fats should be your main priority (think olive oil, peanut butter, almonds and avocados).
5. Consume Enough Zinc
Men with zinc deficiency tend to have lower testosterone levels and a number of other problems that accompany low testosterone. Zinc is lost with sweat, so it’s particularly important to get enough of if you train hard at the gym. Fish, oysters and crab are all packed with zinc, but if you’re lacking it in your diet you can consider supplementing it (but don’t go over 40mg per day).
6. Reduce Stress
Stress causes an increase in cortisol levels. While an increase in cortisol isn’t necessarily bad, it serves an important purpose, but too much will cause problems. Cortisol is synthesised from cholesterol just like testosterone. When you’re too stressed, more cholesterol goes towards synthesising cortisol instead of testosterone. That’s why keeping your stress down is key to increase testosterone levels.
7. Fast Intermittently
Intermittent fasting is basically not eating for a certain period of the day. Research shows fasting can increase testosterone short term as well as growth hormone (GH) and androgen sensitivity. Fasting may help you get more out of less testosterone, basically, this means you get more bang for your buck
8. Get Enough Sleep
This last one should be a no brainer, but a lack of sleep has been shown to be hugely detrimental to testosterone production. Research at the University of Chicago recorded the sleeping patterns of healthy men and found that the subjects’ testosterone levels increased the longer they slept. 7-9 hours optimized testosterone response.
Note that the quality of sleep matters too. Studies have shown the best ways to improve your sleep quality are:
- Take five minutes before bed to write out a to-do list for the next day
- Have a come down period where you de-load and get away from high stimulus material such as television and the internet.
- Don’t drink too much water before the bed, or you will ruin your deep sleep each time you have to get up to go to the bathroom.
- Use a white noise machine to ease yourself into sleep
The Bottom Line
If you want to optimize your testosterone levels:
- Lose body fat and keep it between 8-15%
- Strength train with compound exercises
- Get enough sun or supplement with vitamin D3
- Eat enough dietary cholesterol/fat
- Get enough zinc, especially if you exercise
- Reduces stress to minimize cortisol
- Get enough quality sleep
- Try intermittent fasting