Testosterone is the male sex hormone that is responsible for fertility and libido, body composition (muscle mass, fat distribution, and bone density), and red blood cell production.
Levels of testosterone generally tend to drop as men age (it's normal!). Very low levels of testosterone can lead to medical conditions such as hypogonadism and infertility.
This article will cover some basic facts about testosterone, how it affects your athletic performance, and what you can do to support healthy levels.
Testosterone is a hormone that regulates a number of functions in the male body including:
Produced in the testes and adrenal glands, testosterone levels are regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
Around the age of 40, testosterone levels drop by about 1.6 percent per year for most men. Again, this is a normal part of aging.
If levels drop too low (normal range for adult men is about 300-800ng/dL), a condition called testosterone deficiency, or hypogonadism, may cause symptoms such as:
Decreased sex drive
Decreased facial and body hair growth
Decreased muscle mass and strength
Increased body fat
Development of breast tissue (gynecomastia)
Only a doctor can diagnose low testosterone levels or hypogonadism, so be sure to make an appointment if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above. Your doctor will determine if the problem is that (1) your testes can't produce enough testosterone, or (2) your pituitary gland isn't signaling hormone production.
Treatment for medical testosterone deficiency is available by prescription only. Treatments such as testosterone replacement therapy can utilize gels, creams, patches, injections, and implants.
How it Affects Your Athletic Performance
Because testosterone is responsible for your body's ability to maintain healthy bone mass and increase muscle size and strength, it makes sense that higher levels of this hormone equal higher levels of performance in the trained and skilled athlete.
Studies have repeatedly shown that testosterone levels spike before and during competition. What they do not know however, is how this affects performance (if at all). Some speculate that this hormone spike increases aggression, fine motor skills, and the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream.
Some athletes who are desperate to improve their performance will illegally take testosterone supplements or replacement therapy, even though they have no medical need. This may help increase muscle mass and strength, but has zero effect on their skill in the sport. In fact, synthetic steroids have serious side effects and consequences:
Oily skin and acne
Growth of male breast tissue
Increased risk of heart disease
Decreased natural production of testosterone
Severe withdrawl symptoms if you stop taking it
"Natural" over-the-counter prohormone supplements that claim to help increase test levels are unregulated, and will often signal an increase in estrogen as well (this is the opposite of what you want).
Bottom line is, always consult with your doctor about your testosterone levels and treatment.
How to Naturally Boost Testosterone Levels
The great news is, most men have a good amount of control over their test levels naturally. Here are some ways to help promote healthy levels of testosterone, no matter your age.
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep promotes healthy diet, exercise, and brain function. Too little sleep has a negative effect on all of these, as well as lowering testosterone production.
The ideal amount of sleep is dependent on the person, but one study has shown that 5 hours of sleep led to a 15% reduction in testosterone levels. Other long-term studies support these findings. One long-term study found that men who got 4 hours of sleep per night had borderline deficient levels.
For men, testosterone levels are important to maintain for your overall health and quality of life. Although they naturally lower over the years, positive lifestyle habits can help naturally keep levels as high as possible. Ask your doctor about healthy testosterone levels at your next visit.