Let’s play a word association game here. If I say testosterone, you say “___________.” Did you say men? Or guys? Or anything related to males? You’re not alone. This is what many of us think about when we hear the word; but testosterone does so much more for our bodies and our health besides define manhood. In fact, women’s bodies also produce some levels of testosterone. It is true that this little hormone does help (although it’s not the only factor) a fetus develop male genitalia, but it does a lot more than just that for men and, believe it or not, women, too.
Testosterone throughout Life
We produce different testosterone levels at different points in our lives. As already mentioned, testosterone helps form male genitalia in prenatal babies. For male newborns until around 4-6 months, testosterone levels spike, although experts are not quite sure why. Once we reach puberty, testosterone levels rise steadily again in both boys and girls. Along with all the other awkward changes that come with puberty, bones further develop thanks to the help of these increased levels of testosterone. It also helps increase sex drive in teens (I think a lot of us figured this out by ourselves). Once we reach adult hood, testosterone’s influence over our body’s development has stabilized, but this lovely hormone does not disappear: it continues to affect the libido in both men and women.
Why Do We Need It?
Testosterone has a huge effect on your health and is important for several parts of your body. First, it helps form our bones and sustains bone density, especially as we get older. Testosterone also helps rebuild muscle fibers. It even helps maintain levels of red blood cells. What may be considered most important of all, it helps promote a healthy sex drive for both men and women. While men do produce about 10 times the amount of testosterone as women, females feel the effects much more than men.
Like every hero, testosterone has an archenemy known as Cortisol. If you’re not already familiar with cortisol, it is also a hormone. It gives us that “fight or flight” feeling. Obviously, this has advantages, especially given our evolutionary history. That instinct of survival helped us evolve all these years to who we are today. However, with the high stress and lack of sleep many people suffer from a contemporary lifestyle, comes an overly elevated level of cortisol. While excess cortisol produces fat gain and causes muscles to waste away, testosterone fights against fat and promotes stronger muscles. Can you see how the two are adversaries now? So it seems natural to want to lower our level of cortisol and raise our levels our testosterone. Getting enough sleep mitigates cortisol levels. This is why sleep is so important to weight loss and a healthy lifestyle.
It may seem like the most cliché thing I can tell you, but diet and exercise are the best ways to increase your testosterone. You may wonder if testosterone is a hormone our bodies produce naturally, can diet and exercise really affect it that much? Simply put, the answer is yes. It’s no surprise that a healthy diet and generous amounts of exercise give us strong bodies and minds. However, they also affect the levels of testosterone we have in our bodies and all the amazing things it does for both men and women. The good news is there are several simple changes you can make in your life in addition to diet and exercise to increase the levels of testosterone in your body.
All That Extra Stuff
Of course logic follows that if you want to raise something you should lower the thing that blocks it. Cortisol is encouraged by stress. Lowering stress in your life lowers cortisol and therefore raises your testosterone. If it’s been a while since you’ve got a good night sleep, start there. Lack of sleep deeply influences our stress levels. We can all get obsessed with exercise when we first start trying to get healthy, but don’t over train as this also increases stress. Finally, take some time each day to relax doing whatever breezy activity (reading, walking the dog, playing with your kids) makes you happiest. If after all that, you still feel high levels of stress, try breathing exercises or visualization techniques. This will help you live a longer and happier life.
Vitamin D, which we already know builds bone and muscular strength (two things also associated with testosterone), helps build testosterone levels, too. Whether that means getting a few extra minutes of sun each day or taking a Vitamin D supplement, make sure you get that in every day. Even just 15 minutes of sun with a fair bit of skin exposed can increase Vitamin D more than a week’s worth of supplements can.
Of course any kind of exercise you do is great, but if you specifically want to increase testosterone there are a few things you can focus on during your workout. Lifting, for example, is not only a great way to build muscle and get rid of fat at the same time, but it also helps us increase our testosterone. The resting between sets can spike it even more so don’t forget to take that small break not only to avoid overexertion but to help your testosterone levels along. Remember: it’s not a race. Slow down when you’re lifting to get a higher intensity and ability to focus on doing the exercise right. If you plan to do cardio, considering doing a few sprints to get both your heart rate and testosterone levels up.
So what do weight lifting and sprinting have in common? They’re both short, intense bits of exercise. This is the key to modifying your workout to greet testosterone raising goals. For example, when weight lifting, warm up for 3 minutes, do the most intense workout you can for 30 seconds, and then recover (but don’t stop all together) with a lighter level of exercise for 90 seconds. Repeat that around 7 times and see how you feel.
While exercise is great, we all know that diet is where most of that weight is loss. As the saying goes, abs are made in the kitchen. Changes to diet make the greatest impact not only for weight loss but for overall better health. Food is where we get our proteins, our fats, our carbohydrates, our vitamins and our minerals.
There are several things you can manipulate in your diet to increase testosterone and they all line up with the Paleo diet. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the Paleo diet is based on several factors: moderate protein intakes, moderate to lower carbohydrate intake (depending on your health and weight goals), increase in healthier fats, and decrease of unhealthier ones (like trans fats), higher potassium, moderate sodium, and higher intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants rich foods. When listed like that it may seem overwhelming. Fear not; I’m going to break it down so it seems real easy for you.
Obesity kills testosterone. That’s why diet is such an important part of influencing testosterone levels. If you want to lose weight, start by cutting processed sugar, especially fructose. Soda, processed foods, and fruit juice should be trimmed down or maybe even cut all together. Testosterone levels decrease after eating sugar so think about that next time you’re craving a double-scoop ice cream cone on a date (wink). Food that contains added sugar and fructose should be avoided. These include grains like bread and pasta. This does not mean you have to cut them out entirely but start limiting your intake.
The word fat has become a villain in our society. It’s a part of our lives but we’re embarrassed when our diets are associated with it. It’s important to remember that not all fats are horrible for you. You may already know that monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are necessary (found in things like nuts or avocados) but saturated fats are crucial for testosterone, too. Just make sure you stick to the healthy ones. Healthy saturated fats come from animals and vegetables. Some examples of testosterone boosting fats are: olives and olive oil, raw nuts like almonds and pecans; organic pasteurized egg yolks, avocados, coconut oil, and grass-fed meats.
Carbs can be good for you, too, but you have to watch the intake of them. Breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles, pretzels, and processed food are refined carbohydrates; more importantly, they’re grains so they’re off-limits. An excess amount of carbs (commonly found in these foods) increases insulin levels and causes insulin resistance leading to weight gain among a whole gang of other diseases and conditions. Once you’ve cut these things out, make sure to replace them with healthy substitutes like vegetables and healthy fats. Find the right carbohydrates in your veggies over sugars. Glucose is another natural enemy of testosterone. High glucose foods can drop testosterone levels by as much as 25%. Yet again, that pesky pasta, cereal, and bread is converted to glucose once it’s digested.
Now that we’ve talked about what not to eat, let’s talk about a mineral you should definitely try to eat more of: Zinc. You can find zinc in food that is high in protein like meat and fish. It is sometimes difficult to find zinc in our food today due to the way we grow our food (chemicals in the soil). That’s why you’re most likely not getting enough, consider taking a supplement.
Testosterone is important to us all in so many ways:
- overall mental and physical health
- and libido
… just to name a few. Women need it just as much as men and with so many factors in our society like fast food diets, driving everywhere, and increased levels of stress, not to mention that natural factor of aging, it’s no wonder why we’re seeing and feeling testosterone levels drop. Now that you know why and how it happens, start (if you haven’t already) making a few simple modifications to your life to help boost your testosterone.