There are a lot of myths around what works and what doesn’t to help boost testosterone. Here are 5 things that definitely don’t help to boost your energy and T levels.
Doing Long, Slow Aerobic Exercise
Long, slow aerobic exercise, like long-distance running and cycling, or long workouts of ninety minutes or more, can cause testosterone to flatline or drop. Some long-distance cyclists even have to get on T therapy simply to get their levels back up to something approaching normal. (Hours on a bike saddle, with all that weight where the sun don’t shine, can also lead to erectile dysfunction—yet another reason to limit your long-distance exercise!) Low T in endurance athletes is a double whammy, because it can also lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis—low bone density—which makes these athletes more vulnerable to fractures forming during their sport of choice. I hate to knock any particular form of exercise, especially since so few of us get enough of it anyway. But if you’re concerned about low T, stay away from all those junk miles.
There’s a reason that injectable T is administered in an oily solution: it’s fat-soluble. Cutting fat out of your diet—or even lowering it substantially—can reduce T levels. One study indicated that a diet consisting of less than 40 percent fat (with that fat coming mostly from animal sources) can lead to a decrease in testosterone levels. Another study showed that increasing fat consumption from 20 percent of total calories to 40 percent increased T levels significantly. Conversely, following a low-fat, high-fiber diet (ironically, the type of diet that was strongly recommended for optimal health even up to a decade ago), reduces testosterone by 12 percent. While 40 percent is an awfully high percentage of your diet to come from fat calories, this fact certainly drives home the point that dietary fat is important. So make (the right) fat your friend include Omega 3 fatty oils, avocados, and my favorite, coconut oil.
After the Great Dietary Fat Scare of the 1980s and 1990s turned out to be overblown, the Twenty-First-Century Carb Crackdown quickly took its place. Carbs stand accused of all manner of crimes, from expanding waistlines to brain fog to, invariably, diabetes and obesity.
When it comes to overly processed junk food (corn syrup–laden desserts, Wonder Bread, Saltines, sugary cereals), I couldn’t agree more: that stuff’s nutritionally bankrupt crap. But legitimate whole-wheat products, eaten in moderation, are another story entirely—the much- maligned bread and pasta included, which have caused all kinds of objections.
A recent study in the journal Life Sciences found that men who ate a high-carb diet for ten days had higher T and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) than men who ate low-carb during the same period. If you exercise regularly (or perhaps plan to start exercising regularly soon), a low-carb diet is an even worse idea. In 2010, researchers studied the effect of low-carb dieting on athletic performance and found that after just three days of low-carb dieting, most subjects were unable to complete a cycling test. After three days back on carbs, they completed the test with ease.
Low-carb dieting, then, results in lower T, higher cortisol, and a drop in athletic performance. And since exercising hard and heavy is one of the most potent ways to up your T, eating low-carb is, effectively, another double whammy against your T levels.
But don’t take this advice as a license to chow down on carbs of any kind: consumption of an exceptionally high-carb meal results in a temporary drop in circulating T. Moderate carb consumption seems to be the way to go.
Stroll through the aisle of your average GNC or Vitamin Shoppe and you’ll see tons of protein powders loaded up with soy. There’s a reason: soybeans are cheap and plentiful, and it’s easy to grind them up and make them into protein-filled powder (usually called soy protein isolate on the label) that consumers think will help them build muscle.
My advice is to stay away. After years of back-and-forth wrangling, researchers have demonstrated conclusively that if you’re trying to hold on to your cojones, skip the soy. In active men, soy protein lowers T and raises cortisol—the stress hormone that most of us al- ready have plenty of. Estrogen levels may also be affected, and not in a good way: one study (in which subjects admittedly ate soy in huge quantities) showed that some of the male subjects developed breast enlargement and nipple discharge. Yikes.
Read the labels on your protein powder, and skip the tofu at the local vegetarian joint.
Boozing It Up
Here’s irony for you: many of the behaviors we associate with a certain type of over-the-top masculinity—staying up all night, wreaking havoc of various kinds, and, yes, boozing—are associated not with high T, but with low T. So the next time you meet an obnoxious, hard- drinking hell-raiser, just know he’s probably compensating.
Plenty of studies confirm this, including a recent one that discusses the effect of alcohol on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis—the hormonal network that affects male reproduction. Turns out that alcohol not only lowers T but generally lowers fertility as well—a fact that may have been welcome news back when you were a tipsy teenager looking for action on a Friday night, but probably not so much now that you’re an adult trying to hang on to your T.
Other reasons alcohol is tough on T: it promotes weight gain and causes damage to the liver. Packing on weight, as I discuss earlier, increases estrogen and lowers T, while overtaxing the liver—an organ also responsible for metabolizing T—can dampen your levels still further. That makes booze a double—or even a triple—whammy against healthy T levels.
I’m not going to preach total abstinence here—life is short and many of us enjoy a drink now and then. But I will say that the less alcohol you drink, the better off your T will be: studies have indicated that even two drinks a day can depress your levels, and that’s why I regularly do “alcohol fasts” to increase my T. And drinking beer, specifically, is a huge mistake: hops, a key ingredient in the brewing process, are so effective at increasing estrogen that they are currently being studied as a way to treat hot flashes in menopausal women.
These are the by-the-book recommendations for guys who want to minimize the effect of booze on their T. Some guys enjoy beer or vodka sufficiently that they’ll sacrifice a little T to get an occasional buzz. As with any health advice, there’s a balance to be struck.
I probably don’t need to add that drinking lots of alcohol is also a great way to pack on a gut, lose fitness and focus, and, if you go far enough with it, ruin your life. We’ve all known guys (and women, and young people) who have let the bottle steal vital years from their lives. If you have a problem with alcohol, get help for it.
I recently had my blood work done and it showed another 11% increase in my testosterone to 893 ng/dL over the last 6 months – which is about 20% above the normal range for a 20 year old (I’m 53) – so I must be doing something right! You can read about my tips for increasing your energy and testosterone naturally as you age in my free eBook by clicking here.