For Men: The Facts on Testosterone

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 Basics

Testosterone is a hormone that regulates a number of functions in the male body including:

  • Sperm production

  • Sex drive

  • Bone density

  • Fat distribution

  • Muscle size and strength

  • Red blood cell production

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:

  • Infertility

  • Decreased sex drive

  • Erectile dysfunction

  • Decreased facial and body hair growth

  • Decreased muscle mass and strength

  • Increased body fat

  • Development of breast tissue (gynecomastia)

  • Osteoporosis

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating

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

  • Shrunken testicles

  • Infertility

  • 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.

  • Eat a healthy diet that includes foods rich in Protein, Dietary Fats, and Vitamins and Minerals such as Vitamin D and Zinc

  • Egg yolks and milk are examples of good sources of vitamin D

  • Tuna is an example of food containing Zinc

  • Supplementing with Vitamin D3 and Zinc is also an option

  • Avocado, Olive Oil, Macadamia Nuts are all examples of good Dietary fats

  • Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage can help flush out estrogen and make testosterone more effective

  • Exercise regularly, and be sure to include strength training

  • Resistance-based training is the best type of exercise to boost testosterone in both the short and long term

  • Ask your doctor how to prevent diseases such as obesity, diabetes II, and metabolic disorders

  • These conditions have a negative effect on testosterone production

  • Avoid drugs and excessive alcohol use

  • These substances reduce testosterone production

  • Manage and reduce stress levels

  • Stress causes an increase in cortisol, which has an inverse affect on testosterone production (it goes down)

  • Reduce stress to keep cortisol levels down and test levels up!

  • 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.

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