This month, we’re going to be talking about men’s health. But rather than seeing health in terms of simple longevity, the focus will be more on quality of life. Sure, we want to be around for as long as possible, but if that means simply being kept alive in an existence that resembles an overcooked noodle, you’ll excuse me if I am less than enthusiastic at the prospect. Being truly healthy entails a host of things such as mental alertness, good energy levels, sexual function, a strong body and general sense of well being. It’s not always about living longer, but living better.
And that, friends, is where ye olde testosterone comes into play.
Whether you’re talking about sex drive, lean muscle mass, bone strength, overall energy levels or mental sharpness (this applies to both men and women), this is one hormone that delivers the goods.
While there are ways to dramatically boost the body’s testosterone levels through modern medicine (patches, pills, injections), these can be risky and expensive; so unless you are a competitive bodybuilder, athlete, or your body is no longer producing the stuff, it’s generally best to avoid messing with your body chemistry, as a misstep in this department can wind up being a huge, complicated hassle down the road. The focus of this article, then, will be ways in which t-levels can be increased naturally through our choice of foods, exercise programming, stress management and lifestyle habits. So let’s get cracking.
If you’re on a low fat diet, you may want to make a few adjustments to the way you eat, because it turns out that fats and cholesterol are key components in the body’s ability to produce testosterone. Thus, you won’t be shying away from bacon, eggs (with the yolk, ya milquetoast!), and healthy servings of meat. We’re not talking about lean chicken breast or fish here, but rather a good old fashioned hunk o’ beef, preferably with some fat on it. So go ahead and order that steak, nice and marbled! Not only will it make you more manly, but you’ll also be much less annoying as a dinner companion.
Olive oil is also a good source of fat, and helps the body absorb cholesterol, which in turn helps it make more testosterone. Use it on your salads, sauces, etc.
Next on our list of t-friendly foods is nuts. Like meat, they are a source of the kind of fat the body needs to boost testosterone, as well as the protein to build more muscle. And more muscle means more testosterone (more on that later).
Olives and avocados are also excellent sources of good fat, and should be included in the plan. Plus, they make your salad somewhat less namby pamby.
When it comes to vegetables, you’ll want to include spinach and leafy greens. They contain magnesium and zinc, both of which aid in testosterone production, as well as broccoli, which contains compounds that keep estrogen levels in check (estrogen keeps testosterone in check, so you don’t want too much of it in your system).
These are some pretty nutrient dense foods we’re talking about, so exercise common sense when it comes to how much you eat; when you’re no longer hungry bring an end to the meal. As far as carbs go, there’s no need to flip out if there’s rice, pasta or bread on your plate, but these should be consumed moderately-to-sparingly. Added sugar of any kind should be consumed minimally.
As far as supplements go, I don’t really have much to add. There may be something that will help, but the way I see it, the loss of virility is a source of stress to many men, thus attracting the unscrupulous opportunists who specialize in profiting from the insecurity of others. They are more than happy to lie, make unsubstantiated claims and do whatever else they have to do to sell you what is often a worthless-sometimes dangerous-product. I’d rather go au naturale whenever possible. But that’s just me.
Sure, taking brisk walks is healthy for you, and will reduce your risk of blah blah blah, but if you’re looking to access your inner badass, you will have to be a little more specific than that. There are ways to train that will not only ramp up your t-levels, but make you look a whole lot better in the process. Hint: they do not involve chuckling over amusing texts while you peddle a bike at a pace of, like, two revolutions per hour.
Studies have shown that t-levels are most affected by strength training in the 5-6 rep range, using big, compound movements. This means exercises that require a maximum amount of muscles to perform. Thus, a clean and jerk will be more effective than a bench press, which is more effective than flyes, and a deadlift preferable to a leg press, which in turn is preferable to a leg extension, etc. Each movement should be done for multiple sets (3-5 is a good guideline, starting with lighter resistance/weight and increasing the load as you warm up). You shouldn’t go to failure, but it should be difficult. Since this type of training involves handling weights that are at the higher end of your capacity, make sure your form is good.
If you’re not a fan of the weights, there is still hope. The way I see it, the takeaway from the studies just mentioned is that t-levels respond to the development of fast twitch muscle fibers, as opposed to slow twitch. An example of the former would be sprints, whereas the latter would involve long distance runs (which can actually deplete t-levels).
This means picking exercises that involve strength, speed, explosiveness and intensity. Battle ropes, medicine balls, picking up heavy objects (medicine balls, stones, barbells, kettlebells, etc.), and lifting them over your head, throwing them, smashing them to the ground, or walking as fast as you can while carrying them, hitting a heavy bag (hard) for short bursts, wind sprints, box jumps, etc., are all examples of fast-twitch friendly activity. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), as well as Tabata workouts, which involve performing sequences of maximal intensity exercise for 30 second bursts, are based on this premise. They’re also really effective at burning body fat.
Emphasizing fast-twitch muscle fiber training will also increase lean muscle mass, which in turn increases testosterone levels in the body. It’s a win/win, if you ask me.
I’m not talking about the momentary instances of stress, which are essential to our development, and make us stronger. What I’m referring to is chronic stress, which wreaks all kinds of havoc on us, both physically and psychologically.
Stress is meant to be a biologically temporary state of affairs (for example, when you need to get the hell out of a burning building, or a rabid Rottweiler is intent on taking your face off). But once the problem is over, so should the stress be.
Clearly, with the advent of abstract thought somewhere in our ancestral Homo Sapiens history, we developed the ability to think about what can go wrong in our lives, even though the problem may not be immediate. This ability can have disastrous implications, as the list of things that can go wrong (or that we are dissatisfied with) can be long, indeed. In fact, these things can make it so that we go through our day in a state of at least mild anxiety, sometimes worse. When that is the case, you produce cortisol, a by-product of stress. And more cortisol means less testosterone.
There are many ways to deal with stress, but my aim is to keep things simple, so I will just make some basic suggestions.
The first is to take up meditation. I prefer a technique called Mindfulness Meditation, which simply involves sitting in a comfortable position and following your breath as it goes in and out. There is no need to work yourself up into a spiritual state or think about anything in particular. If a thought pops into your head (it’s inevitable) just observe it without identifying with it, and keep focusing on your breath. I like it because it’s not too hoakey, and it works pretty well. Twenty minutes a day should do the trick.
Even though I just mentioned exercise as a t-boosting tactic, it’s also a good stress reliever, so I’m bringing it up again, although unlike the more intense techniques above, just going for a quick walk, shadow boxing or dancing in your living room can be a great way to get your head back in the game if you’re stressed out.
My last suggestion is to differentiate between intensity and anxiety. To illustrate the point, allow me to re-use the example of the rabid Rottweiler running at you in a full snarl. Intensity is taking action, which could be anything from finding a branch to defend yourself with to jumping on a parked car, or using your body language into fooling the dog into thinking that you’re a formidable adversary, and are actually not about to soil your drawers. Anxiety is going into panic-mode, so that mounting a successful response is impossible because your mind can’t function properly. In such a scenario, people tend to either get scared into paralysis or do the wrong thing. Practice being resilient. Since our time on this planet is finite, we might as well make the most of it, and not spend it in a state of anxiety. That’s just plain wasteful.
Besides, when you think testosterone, the image of an anxiety-ridden worry wart wringing his hands at the slightest difficulty is probably not the first one that popped into your head. For all of us, the best advice is to deal with our problems, then stop fretting about them.
As far as personal habits go, there are a couple of things to can do to give your body its best chance at keeping those t-levels optimum.
The body’s testosterone levels are replenished when you sleep, (which is the scientific explanation for Morning Wood), so my first suggestion is to make sure you’re getting enough. Most Americans are sleep deprived and, coincidentally, it turns out that testosterone levels in the population have declined over the years. 8 hours is an optimal range, but this may differ a bit according to the individual; some may need 9, others only 7. At 6 hours, my guess would be that you’re pushing your luck. Get your rest.
Here’s a little factoid for ya: when you have more sex, you make more testosterone. I know that going out and having more sex is a bit more complicated than picking up a smoothie at the corner store, but it’s something you should know. Good luck to you.
The last suggestion I’m going to make is to walk the walk. I am firmly convinced that your hormones react to your mindset and your environment, which, it stands to reason, are closely related. Have you ever seen a guy who’s been in a testosterone-saturated environment, like prison, or the military? Guys that go to jail often get huge on the inside, even though the food is starchy crap and they don’t really have access to top-notch equipment or training methods (sometimes they don’t even have access to weights, and get that way from improvised calisthenics). It’s been hypothesized that since strength and aggressiveness are a literal matter of life and death in those situations, the body responds in kind.
Clearly, I’m not suggesting that you get locked up, but, as athletic coaches like to say, get your mind right. Grunt a little when you lift. Get in front of the heavy bag and hit it like you mean it. Don’t give limp handshakes. Stake your claim in your little corner of the world, walk with your head held high, and MAN UP. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Until next time…
By Gerry Pinzon, Mercedes Club Personal Trainer and Boxing Instructor