Testosterone is the hormonal basis for masculinity. The Testosterone Diet presented here is based on studies that have shown which nutritional profiles are associated with higher testosterone levels.
Testosterone is a naturally-occurring hormone that promotes male characteristics such as muscularity and assertiveness. It also increases red blood-cell concentration, which enhances the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, thereby increasing the ability to sustain endurance activity. These effects explain why so many different kinds of athletes, from weight-lifters to baseball players to Tour de France cyclists have taken supplements of either testosterone or of steroids that mimic the effect of testosterone. Most men would not be interested in taking such illegal and potentially harmful substances, but would like to build and maintain a healthy testosterone level naturally. That is the purpose of the Testosterone Diet.
A man’s diet can affect his testosterone level. The effect is less likely to be noticed in younger men, whose testosterone levels are high anyway. But testosterone levels naturally decline as men become older, so the effects of diet on testosterone can be more apparent as men age into their forties and beyond. During adulthood, a man’s testosterone level declines about 10% per decade. Symptoms of a lower testosterone level can include a lower libido, impaired sexual function, less energy and drive, and body changes such as reduced muscle mass and physical strength as well as increased body fat, especially around the waist. The incidence of erectile dysfunction that increases with age is partially due to decreasing testosterone level (it can also be related to blood flow restrictions caused by disease processes. For example erectile dysfunction is much higher among diabetics than among non-diabetics).
A 1997 scientific journal article entitled, “Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise” by Volek, Kraemer,Bush, Incledon, and Boetes of Penn State University, was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, volume 82, pages 49-54. It provides a basis for the Testosterone Diet by strongly linking nutrition to a man’s testosterone level. The following dietary characteristics were associated with relatively low testosterone levels among the male subjects studies:
- protein intake as a percent of diet
- ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fat intake
- ratio of protein to carbohydrate intake
The following dietary characteristics were associated with higher testosterone levels in the male subjects studied:
- percentage of fat in the diet
- saturated fat intake per unit body weight
- monounsaturated fat intake per unit body weight
This study also showed a weak negative effect of dietary fiber intake on testosterone level. Other studies also supported this relationship, so excess fiber intake may be considered a risk factor for lowered testosterone levels.
Another study showing similar results is one by Anderson et al. in the journal Life Sciences (Vol. 40, no. 18, pp. 1761-1768, 1987). It showed that after 10 days on a high-carbohydrate diet, men showed significantly higher levels of both testosterone (+28%) and sex hormone binding globulin (+39%) than after 10 days on a high protein diet. It also found that the level of cortisol (a hormone that has a host of negative consequences to the body including reduced muscle mass, increased abdominal fat, reduced immunity, and higher blood pressure) was significantly (14-64%) lower on a high-carbohydrate than a high-protein diet.
These results are important for several reasons. First, they make it clear that there is some tradeoff between eating for health and longevity and eating to maintain one’s male sexuality. A high fat diet, especially one high in saturated fats, while promoting testosterone production, is clearly contradictory to the recommendations of the American Heart Association, which promotes a lower fat diet. Secondly, the study results fly in the face of the commonly-accepted notion that eating more protein makes men more masculine. Body builders are known to eat an enormous quantity of low-fat protein yet have gigantic muscles. They might have reduced natural testosterone levels as a result, but some of them may make up for it by taking steroids or testosterone supplements either via injection, in pill form, or as a rub-on cream that penetrates the skin. However, in addition to several other possible health effects, steroid or testosterone supplementation results in shrinking of the testicles and shut-off of the body’s natural testosterone production. It can also cause infertility.
Why should men be put in the position of choosing between food plans that either benefit their long-term health or enhance their masculinity, but not both? A possible compromise is to make one’s diet as healthy as possible by incorporating some of the testosterone-enhancing dietary characteristics cited above and minimizing the testosterone-lowering ones.
One needn’t eat a low protein diet in order to promote testosterone production. A careful examination of the data in the Volek article revealed that only the men who ate extremely high quantities of protein and who had exceptionally high protein-to-carbohydrate intake ratios had lower testosterone levels. These individuals greatly affected the statistical association. If those subjects were eliminated, the apparent relationship of protein intake and protein-to-carbohydrate ratio to testosterone level would disappear. So, a man who takes in a healthy but not excessive quantity of protein should have no concern. A daily protein intake of 2 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.9 grams per pound of body weight) supplies plenty of protein for muscle growth and repair as well as healthy body function without risking suppression of testosterone production.
What about the positive effect of saturated fat intake on testosterone levels? Is it worth risking heart health by eating a lot of saturated fats like those found in fatty meats and full-fat dairy products in order to enhance our testosterone production? Fortunately, this is not necessary or prudent. Monounsaturated fat has the same positive effect on testosterone level that saturated fat has. Therefore, a man needn’t load up on fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, or tropical oils in order to maximize his testosterone level. Liberal use of olive oil in cooking will provide plenty of monounsaturated fat. And a diet high in this beneficial fat also promotes a healthy HDL cholesterol level which helps to prevent heart disease. On the other hand, a high saturated-fat diet can lead to arterial disease that can directly cause erectile dysfunction by reducing blood flow to the penis.
Bottom Line Testosterone Diet
- Eat adequate but not excessive amounts of protein. Eight ounces of meat per day as well as some low fat or fat-free dairy products will provide a healthy quantity of protein and some saturated fats without becoming excessive. If you want to use a dietary analysis computer program, limit daily protein intake to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.9 grams per pound of body weight).
- Use olive oil regularly. This provides plenty of monounsaturated fats that promote testosterone but contains low levels of the polyunsaturated fats that decrease testosterone levels. Avoid most other vegetable oils because they contain high levels of the polyunsaturated fats that are associated with lower testosterone levels.
- Eat whole fruits and vegetables but avoid fiber supplements. There is too much evidence that fruits and vegetables are beneficial to the health to avoid them in order to maximize your testosterone level. However, it is a good idea to read food labels and avoid cereals and other products that add bran or other fiber. Natural whole grains are fine. It is not advisable to take any fiber supplements unless specifically recommended by your doctor to do so.
- Make healthy carbohydrates an important part of your diet. A moderate amount of pasta, rice, and/or bread with meals will keep your carbohydrate-to-protein ratio at testosterone-promoting levels. It will also build a level of stored-carbohydrate (glycogen) in your muscles that will keep your energy level high and give you plenty of endurance for sports activities.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Body mass index is negatively associated with testosterone level. The heavier you are for you height, the more likely you are to have a lower testosterone level. This is very likely related to body fat percentage, so you don‘t have to worry if you just happen to be built like a fireplug as long as your body fat percentage is low. Pinching the fat around your midsection is a quick and handy method of determining if you carry too much body fat.
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