Your Testosterone Primer
Everything you wanted to know about the manly hormone ... but were afraid to ask
There's no one thing that makes you a "real man," but your testosterone levels do play a pretty significant role. You could say it's what separates the men from the boys—literally. But how? What is testosterone, really? Why do some body builders sweat their T levels and inject themselves with the hormone or steroids? Is it as important as we've been lead to believe and what happens if you have lower levels than the average man? With all these questions, we thought a primer on T was in order. Herewith, the answers to a few simple questions.
Testosterone is a hormone produced primarily in the testicles (and, to a lesser extent, the ovaries of females). It regulates everything from sperm production and sex drive to muscle mass, a deeper voice and all your body hair (whether you want it or not). The hormone also plays a role in your bone density, fat distribution and red blood cell production.
we need testosterone?
In addition to the primary bodily functions above, T is responsible for pushing us through puberty. So without it, we'd all look (and feel) prepubescent. According to the Journal of Applied Physiology, testosterone also increases our potential for muscle growth, increasing our strength by forcing the body to increase protein synthesis. Post-puberty, a man's body continues to produce testosterone well into adulthood, which ensures he can continue building muscle.
Does more testosterone =
Well, yes and no. An increase in testosterone provides the potential to build more muscle. So boosting your T can be effective for strength training and body building. But be wary of artificial testosterone supplements or anabolic steroids, which come with serious downsides. Research published in PLOS One found that when you take an artificial T hit, the body slows its natural testosterone production. And if you take too many, that slowdown becomes permanent, hence the warnings of how steroids shrink a bodybuilder's balls.
What do low
levels do to the body?
After turning 30, most men begin to experience a gradual decline in testosterone. A decrease in sex drive occasionally accompanies this drop in T, which convinces many men that they're less interested in sex simply because they're getting older. "Some say it's just a part of aging, but that's actually a misconception," says Jason Hedges, MD, PhD, a urologist at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Other telltale signs of a drop in testosterone are also linked with male aging: Hair loss, decreased bone mass, increased body fat along with a weaker heart. For men who produce low testosterone naturally, some of these problems can arise much earlier than middle age. In which case, a man can work with his doctor to boost his T levels via injections and lifestyle changes.
While testosterone replacement therapy via injections can effectively boost your levels, a review of 28 studies (PDF) on diet and its relation to testosterone levels and sexual health suggests that you might be better restoring your T levels naturally. And if you don’t have clinically low levels, but are still looking to increase your testosterone, skip the prescription and focus on your lifestyle.
Sleep is good, stress is bad
Try to avoid stress and its accompanying high levels of cortisol—a hormone that can block the production of testosterone. Shoot for at least seven hours of quality sleep and try a 10-15 minute meditation before bed to improve sleep quality and reduce cortisol levels in the body.
Workout smarter and watch your weight
Forget about working the vanity muscles. Combine lifting weights with high-intensity interval training. Engage and tone your entire body and core with big, compound movements such as squats, thrusters and deadlifts.
Focus on your diet
There are a handful of vitamins and nutrients proven to up your T levels. The amino acids in milk boost production of anabolic hormones, while chemicals in grapes help raise T-levels and boost sperm motility. Ginger, leafy green vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil and fish all have properties that can help elevate testosterone levels.
Studies have shown that watching porn causes a spike in testosterone levels. Just having an erection, in fact, is enough to spur production by nearly 40%.