What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is a naturally occurring hormone in the human body that is responsible for the development of male characteristics.
Both men and women produce testosterone, but females produce it in much smaller amounts.
What does testosterone do?
Testosterone regulates a number of functions within the body, including: -
- Sperm production
- Sex drive
- Bone mass
- Fat distribution
- Muscle size and strength
- Red blood cell production
There is a dose-response effect of testosterone on muscle strength and size. The more testosterone you produce, the bigger and stronger you get (Bhasin, et al, 2001) - “an increase in circulating testosterone concentrations results in dose-dependent increases in fat-free mass, muscle size, strength, and power.” (Bhasin, et al, 2001)
Testosterone is also an important determinant of energy partitioning and body recomposition during overfeeding (Bouchard et al, 2013). Basically, when you consume food, specifically a surplus of calories, you are much more likely to build muscle with higher testosterone levels, whereas you are far more likely to gain fat with lower levels of testosterone.
Higher levels of testosterone also correlate to faster improvements in strength (Ahtaianen et al, 2003)
What are the Side Effects of Low Testosterone?
- Reduced sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Loss of body hair
- Loss of muscle mass
- Loss of strength
- Lower energy
What things can I do to increase my natural levels of testosterone?
In men, testosterone will peak at around 18 years of age and will naturally start to decline from around the age of 30. The rate of decline is around 1-2% per year.
So what can you do to naturally offset this decline: -
- Reduce alcohol intake - moderate to high consumption can decrease testosterone by 7%.
- Increase intake of Polyunsaturated Omega 3 fatty acids - this can be achieved through supplementation of Fish Oil (3g per day). As well as increasing testosterone production, Omega 3 fatty acids will also lower chronic inflammation levels and lower cortisol levels. Numerous studies have shown increases in lean body mass as a result of Omega-3 intake (Noreen, et al, 2010; Smith et al, 2015)
- Reduce body fat - excess body fat will cause the body to convert testosterone to oestrogen
- Manage stress to ensure cortisol levels aren’t chronically elevated
- Get enough sleep - sleep deprivation can reduce testosterone production
- Get outside: Getting outside, especially earlier in the day, can help boost vitamin D levels.
- Strength training
Are there any supplements that can help?
Supplements should be something that supplements your current dietary intake (hence the name). It is also worth reminding you of the muscle and strength Nutrition Pyramid (see below). As you can see, when it comes to changing body composition (lose fat, build muscle etc), supplements are the LEAST important factor to consider and you should have all the factors below in place first before worrying too much about supplementation.
That being said, there are some supplements that can help improve testosterone production, which are: -
- Fish oil (see above)
- Zinc: 5-10mg daily as a preventative dosage or can be taken 25-45mg daily if there is a zinc deficiency
- Vitamin D: Most people have sub-optimal levels of Vitamin D. The safe upper limit for adults is 10,000IU/day either with a meal or with fish oil.
If improving body composition is a primary goal of yours, paying attention to your testosterone levels will be extremely important
Levels of testosterone will naturally start to decline with age, but this decline can be offset naturally
Controlling stress, optimising sleep, weight training, reducing body fat, minimising alcohol intake, and are of prime importance here
There are also a few supplements that can be taken to help, but most improvement will be seen with dietary and lifestyle adjustments