If you’ve turned on a TV or radio in recent years, you’ve been informed by a soothing voiceover that testosterone is linked to muscle growth. But this muscle-building hormone serves a number of equally important functions that are linked to your physical and mental fitness.
You may think you’re too young to worry about testosterone, but testosterone levels peak in adolescence and early adulthood and go downhill from there. “Starting after about age 30, depending on your lifestyle and diet, test levels will gradually start to decrease as you get older,” says ErgoGenix athlete, personal trainer, and physique competitor Tom Graff.
Even if your testosterone is not clinically low, you can still benefit from having more optimal T levels. Here are four reasons why, plus some dietary and training tips to max your levels!
It’s well known that testosterone plays a significant role in building muscle and strength, but that’s by no means the only body-composition benefit the hormone provides. Men who get their levels up often discover they experience a significant loss of body fat, but testing indicates they also see improvements in their bone density.
You may think that bone density is a concern only for women, but as men age and testosterone levels drop, so does bone density. Maintaining optimal T levels for your age is crucial for keeping your bones strong.
Testosterone can also inhibit the uptake of triglycerides, the fat circulating in your bloodstream, and increase fat utilization. This one-two punch can help lead to lower levels of body fat.
Testosterone levels naturally rise in response to sexual arousal and activity; therefore, having normal T levels can positively affect your sex drive. On the flip side, low testosterone could be related to a decline in desire and performance.1
This positive—and frequent—side effect has been noted among men who are not testosterone deficient but raise their levels. Yes, even for men who already have adequate testosterone, higher T levels are associated with levels of strength, energy, and sexual health.
The most important—and perhaps the least discussed—benefit of testosterone may be it’s effect on heart health..2 A recent 10-year study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism involving almost 4,000 men concluded that those men with low testosterone levels had an increased risk for all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.3
Maintaining a healthy heart is also important for providing your muscles and organs with the oxygen needed for peak performance. Testosterone helps increase the production of nitric oxide (NO), a molecule that helps dilate your arteries, resulting in greater blood flow and more oxygen delivered to the tissues and organs that need it the most. More nitric oxide can mean better workouts, improved sexual health, and even shortened recovery time after workouts.
T levels can have a drastic effect on your emotional state. Here’s the good news: Multiple studies report supporting testosterone levels may also promote feelings of self-esteem and motivation.7,8
You don’t have to be well into your later decades in life to experience low testosterone levels. “Pay attention to conditions like low sex drive, fatigue, lack of motivation, and irritability, as these could be signs you have low T levels,” adds Graff. If you start to experience any of these conditions, a simple blood test can be ordered to help better understand any underlying issues.
Normal levels of testosterone can range anywhere from about 300-900 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). If your levels fall within the normal range, you can promote continued healthy testosterone levels through dietary supplementation. However, if you display low concentrations, you may wish to consult with your physician. And even if you’re, say, on the low side of normal, there’s a good case to take action to get your levels up.
While it may be tempting to just purchase that test booster you saw on TV, making changes to your workout and diet can be just as effective at raising your testosterone levels.
When it comes to resistance training, prioritize compound movements that recruit as much muscle mass as possible. Certified personal trainer, USA weightlifting coach, and ErgoGenix athlete Dane Martin recommends incorporating variations of squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses into your lifting program, making sure to use a heavy weight around 80 percent of your single-rep max. You have many varieties of all four moves to choose from, so don’t feel compelled to stick to just one.
Pay attention to the length of your workout session as well. Team ErgoGenix athlete Cody Chau recommends limiting training sessions to about an hour, sticking to the rep range of 8-10 for the majority of lifts, and prioritizing free weights over machines as much as possible. Protocols that incorporate a large amount of muscle mass, are high in volume and intensity, and short rest periods have been shown to produce to the greatest hormonal elevations.9
“Also, watch the amount of cardio you do,” warns Graff. “Excessive endurance training has been shown to reduce T levels, so if you want to incorporate some cardio into your program, utilize HIIT protocols like short, explosive sprints with 1-2 minutes of rest in between.”
Speaking of rest, try to get at least seven hours of sleep every night, adds Chau. “Chronic sleep deprivation won’t just affect your energy levels. It can definitely have a negative impact on testosterone levels as well.”
When it comes to your diet and testosterone, the biggest rule is don’t ditch the fat. Dietary fat—specifically, saturated fat—plays an important role in maintaining levels of testosterone. Meat, dairy, nuts, and coconut oil are all great sources of saturated fat.
Monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, avocados, and peanut butter can also help maintain T levels. Eating 30-40 percent of your daily calories from total fats—not just saturated—can help with optimal testosterone production.10