Testosterone is generally thought of as being the hormone that’s primarily responsible for masculine characteristics – even if it impacts both males and females.
One of the most common question men struggling from low testosterone ask is the following: do anabolic hormones, like testosterone, that have been produced due to physical exertion, impact how muscle is built?
Or have we all fallen into believing totally unfounded pseudoscience? Let’s take a closer look at what happens to your testosterone when you lift weights.
How hormones work
It’s easy to think of hormones work as the messengers of our body’s communication systems. You can juxtapose the messenger as the type of hormones and the messages they carry as the specific hormone (human growth hormone, adrenaline, etc.)
Once the hormones are released from a gland that produces them, they travel across the body and bind themselves to a particular organ’s receptors.
Hormonal roles in muscle communication
Take, for instance, an example of a man going to the gym to do leg day. Once he finishes his first set, a wide array of hormones in his body are triggered to organize the body’s recovery and repair process across multiple bodily tissues.
So, if this person does leg day again, he’ll have a little softer tissue, muscle, strength, and stamina. Hormones act as one way for the body to put together a response that communicates the messages that are required for the body to affect the recovery process.
The link between testosterone and muscle growth
One of the primary hormones that facilitate recovery is testosterone. Sure, injecting testosterone has been shown to increase strength and boost muscular hypertrophy (the increase and growth of muscle cells). However, the practice of doing thusly is illegal, and opens up a whole slew of risks.
The real question is, does the increases in testosterone that are produced as a result of exercise translate into further muscle building? Let’s find out.
The 411 on testosterone
The exact cutoff ranges for average total testosterone in males may vary, but generally accepted to be around 280-1197 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl). Anything below the low range is considered to be deficient as far as the norm is concerned.
Testosterone levels that are above the high range are above the limits of physiology because they are way above the average natural range. In general, the only way to achieve testosterone levels over the high range of the average is through injecting it.
What is testosterone responsible for?
Muscle growth and strength
Testosterone binds to receptors located in muscle cells and promotes the synthesis of protein to create muscle after trauma via weightlifting. Testosterone increases the growth hormone levels in the body which is responsible for muscle growth, recovery, and protein synthesis.
Bone growth and density
Studies show that testosterone deficient males tended to contract double the prevalence of osteoporosis than men who had normal T levels. Testosterone reduces bone breakdown and conversely increases bone growth.
Increased red blood cell count
Red blood cell counts are increased by testosterone, allowing for better transport of oxygen through the body. This is beneficial for reducing the strain on the heart, and thusly reduces the risk of contracting heart attack and stroke.
Metabolism of fat deposits
Testosterone may help control body fat and increase metabolism.
Improved cognitive function
Testosterone is also thought to increase cognitive function, such as improving spatial abilities and logical reasoning. A study has shown that men with higher testosterone levels were less susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease.
What factors influence the impact of testosterone in the body?
It’s known and accepted that performing strenuous compound exercises may produce a higher concentration of acute testosterone – but the fact of the matter is that there is yet work to be done in determining if this incremental increase in testosterone actually leads to more muscle growth.
The fact of the matter is, research is still being undertaken to determine the full effects of testosterone and exercise on the body. While we do know that exercise is responsible for acute testosterone production while training, we know that this doesn’t last for long, and it is yet unclear as to how this momentary spike in testosterone benefits performance.
Here are the four main factors that influence the effects of testosterone on the body:
Lower body fat percentage has a direct correlation to high testosterone levels. Testosterone has been found to directly inhibit the production of fat cells in the body.
Testosterone production starts to decrease at around age 30 and progressively thereafter. Exercise increases testosterone levels in older men. Lower testosterone levels have also been linked to an increased risk of dementia.
Current fitness levels
If your fitness levels are not up to speed, then you are likely to experience an increase in acute testosterone levels in response to exercise. As your body adapts to your routine, the testosterone response will have diminishing returns.
Time of day
Even when you exercise plays a role – testosterone levels are at its peak in the morning, so the most potential for testosterone response is when you train in the evening, when testosterone levels are lower.
Get the right amount of exercise for increased testosterone levels
To maximize your returns on exercise and its testosterone boost, try the following:
Compound movements like chest presses, squats, and rows trigger multiple muscle groups and are thought to promote enhanced testosterone release than isolated exercises.
The ideal is to lift heavy weights that tire you out after less than 12 repetitions, and perform three sets of each. The heavier, the better – but always train within your limitations and never overdo things lest you suffer an injury.
Take your time off
Rest days are absolutely important for testosterone response. That’s why you should give your body time off, and take at least 48 hours off before working the same set of muscles.
The best gains are achieved when compounding your efforts at the gym with a reasonable, testosterone-boosting diet filled with lean proteins (fish and poultry), whole grains, fresh produce, and healthy amounts of fat.
Think of what you put in your body as the fuel with which you conquer your workouts. 3 quarter pounders wouldn’t be appropriate fuel all the time, would it? Additionally, avoiding refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and sugars will help complement your diet and supporting a healthy weight and lifestyle.
Never, never, NEVER overdo weightlifting
You know what they say: too much of a good thing is harmful. The same is true for the body. Exercise puts the body through stress, and overdoing it can have far-ranging negative consequences on your testosterone levels.
Athletes who train for endurance have been found to have lower testosterone levels than other athletes, as well as higher cortisol levels (the “stress” hormone). Cortisol is linked to inhibited testosterone production, and is something you’ll want to avoid by avoiding overtraining altogether.
Try to find the right balance of challenging yet reasonable exercises – no one benefits from overtraining.
That said, if you feel like your athletic performance is slipping, and you feel aches and pains more often than you normally did, or find it hard to recover after a grueling exercise, pause for a minute and ask yourself honestly if you are overtraining.
You might just find yourself experiencing the hallmark symptoms of low T such as lessened sex drive, poor sleep habits, depression and mood swings, a decrease in muscle mass, and inability to keep the pounds away, consult your medical practitioner – you might just be suffering from low testosterone.