Testosterone is a really hot topic right now when it comes to muscle gains. I receive questions on a daily basis about what members can do to increase their T levels, so I decided to do a two part series all about “Testosterone” and “Testosterone Boosters”. The key fact is that testosterone is crucial to maximizing your muscle gains!
In today’s discussion we’re going to talk about the role testosterone plays when it comes to gaining muscle and how you can maintain an optimal level of T in your system with proper eating and healthy living habits.
In the next article I am going to analyze in detail natural testosterone boosters as a supplement to see whether or not they really work.
However, before I even start with today’s discussion, I want to make it perfectly clear that there is no secret you’re missing out on. There is no way to dramatically increase your T levels for unrealistic muscle growth unless you are taking synthetic steroids. With that being said, these are tips are for you to maintain your testosterone at an optimal level naturally to support your muscle growth.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone or T, is the male sex hormone which is primarily produced in the Leydig cells of the testicles for males and in the ovaries for woman. So why is testosterone so important? It’s important because it regulates and influences critical functions of your body. For example, when it comes to fitness testosterone helps to increase protein synthesis which leads to more muscle production. Testosterone also increases your sex drive, fat burning, heart health, aggression and cognition.
How does testosterone help with muscle growth?
By exercising through resistance training we cause damage to our muscle fibers and the body responds to that damage by repairing our muscle tissue adding new protein strands. The addition of more protein strands causes the muscles to become bigger and stronger. This is known as protein synthesis. So how does testosterone help this process? T binds itself to the receptors on the surfaces of your muscle cells to amplify the signals that result in protein synthesis. So without an adequate amount of T, your body’s ability to signal for protein synthesis will be reduced.
Keep in mind that testosterone also stimulates Growth Hormone (GH) release which is another anabolic hormone that helps with muscle growth. We will talk about this more in a later discussion.
How does your body make testosterone?
Cholesterol is the primary “ingredient” for your body to produce testosterone. Cholesterol is broken down into intermediate hormones like DHEA and progesterone that ultimately are broken down further into T.
Keep in mind that this production and breakdown of T is a continuous reaction occurring in your body and there are times of the day where your T levels will be is higher and lower. So when you hear people say things like, I increased my T level by 40%, it doesn’t stay like that forever. There will always be ups and downs depending on a variety of factors.
If you’re reading studies or articles, the results should be based on an AVERAGE T measurement, not a one-time measurement. For example I could take your before T level measurement and then give you a special new supplement to raise your T level and then proceed to take your after T level measurement at a time where your T level is naturally higher like after you finish training which could mislead you to think the supplement is what caused the raise in T. You can avoid this confusion by making sure the study took an average T level measurement over a period of time.
Another thing you need to keep in mind is that your body is VERY smart and is always monitoring what is going on inside of it. So if you raise your T levels, your body is going to try to counteract this raise by trying to convert T to other chemical compounds such as estrogen or breaking it down in your liver or kidneys.
So a raise in T levels doesn’t necessarily mean that there is more free testosterone” available to help you with your gains.
What is free Testosterone”?
94 – 98 % of the testosterone in your body is bound to proteins so that they become soluble and can be transported and stored throughout your body. Being bound to proteins also protect them from not broken down by your liver and kidneys.
Now that small amount that is left over, around 2 – 6%, is the T we really care about and it is known as free testosterone. This free testosterone is what is available to interact and bind itself to the surface of your muscle cells and help you with your muscle gains like we talked about earlier.
So again, if a study claims their method or product raises your T levels, you need to make sure it is your FREE T levels or else it won’t really make a difference with your muscle gains.
How do you optimize your testosterone levels?
Now that you have a general understanding of how testosterone helps with muscle growth, I want to go over a few different ways to help you optimize your T levels for the day. Keep in mind that these are NATURAL ways to optimize your T levels. We are going to get into test boosters in the next discussion.
- Keep your body fat % low.
Stored body fat contains an enzyme called aromatase that converts T into estrogen which is the female sex hormone. The one hormone that you DEFINITLEY don’t want more of in your body! What then happens is a snowball effect where this extra estrogen in your system causes your body to produce less testosterone which then causes you to accumulate more fat, which then leads to more estrogen and so on. It’s a vicious cycle and another reason why I am not a proponent of “bulking” or in other words significantly increasing your body fat %. I believe in leans gains!
- Get sleep!
Studies have shown that lack of sleep significantly lowers testosterone levels on healthy young men. A recent study showed that getting five hours of sleep a night lowered T levels by 10 – 15% after just one week. You can easily avoid this by getting around 8 hours of sleep a night.
- Lift Weights
Studies have shown time and time again that resistance training increases testosterone levels. To maximize your boost, here are a few tips:
- Lift at least twice a week.
- Use compound movements such as squats, bench presses, overhead presses and deadlifts in your routines to maximize the amount of muscle fibers stimulated.
- Make sure your training load and level of intensity are also high. This is where “progression overload” comes into play.
- Eat your fats!
Fats or fatty acids are incorporated into the membranes of all the cells in your body including the cells in your testicles, which if you remember I said earlier is where most of your testosterone is produced. Depending on what kind of fats you consume, different fats cause your cells to function in a slightly different way. When you eat saturated and mono-unsaturated fats, you stimulate more cholesterol to be transported into the cells in your testicles.
Now remember from the reaction we talked about earlier that cholesterol is the prime ingredient when producing T. So the more cholesterol in your cells, the more T your testicles will produce.
Good sources of saturated and mono-unsaturated fats are coconut oil, almonds, and olive oil. Now this doesn’t mean that you should go crazy on your fat intake as high consumption of these fats can have negative effects on your health as well.
A good rule of thumb is to have 20% of your daily calorie intake coming from fats with 7% of it being saturated fats. Remember, without an adequate amount of fat, your T production will not be where it needs to be for you to gain muscle.
- Take It Easy On The Alcohol
Studies have shown that regular alcohol consumption decreases your natural T levels, so limit your alcohol intake to only a few drinks each week. It’s ok to have a couple drinks a week, but as you can probably tell the party life style of very little sleep combined with massive amounts of drinking doesn’t do much for your muscle gains unless you’re on some “secret ingredient”.
- Keep Stress Under Control
Stress releases cortisol which causes the body to suppress testosterone production. If you have a lot of stress in your life, try to find a hobby or something to do that helps you release stress. This could be reading, running, sports, movies, gaming, hanging out with friends (probably without the drinking and staying up late, haha) or anything just as long as it doesn’t take away from getting enough to eat and sleep.
I hope this article helped you to understand the importance of healthy living and eating habits when it comes to testosterone production and your muscle gains. Keep in mind that we are just scratching the surface when it comes to testosterone, but now that you have a basic understanding of how all this works you should be able to make immediate changes in your daily routine and benefit from them.
You should also be able to make your own educated decisions when it comes to studies or claims from others about their gains and testosterone levels. Remember, it’s the FREE TESTOSTERONE % that you want to increase to see results, not the overall level.
Be sure to stay tuned for the next discussion where we are going to take a deep dive into test boosters to see if they really work or not.
If you would like to chat more about testosterone in relation to gains, please feel free to join the discussion in the SHF forums by clicking HERE.
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