Carbohydrates and Testosterone

Do Carbohydrates Influence Testosterone Levels?

Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.


What Are Carbohydrates?

What are carbohydrates? Essentially, they are substances made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with small amounts of additional carbon and hydrogen. These molecules are then combined to form sugars and polymers, known as carbohydrates. After consumption, these carbohydrates are broken down in the digestive system to release glucose, which the cells in the body use as fuel. Carbohydrates are classified as simple, complex, or a mixture of both. Complex carbohydrates contain more nutrients and are generally better for you.

Carbohydrates are essential nutrients and are the most readily digested forms. Carbs are the main source of energy for the body and make up the bulk of the diet. They are made up of three major groups: hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen, and can be found in grains, fruits, vegetables, and milk. In addition to being the primary source of fuel for the body, carbohydrates are essential for maintaining a healthy weight and a balanced diet.

Nutrition labels list the total carbs and dietary fiber. Simple carbohydrates are sugar, while added sugars are a source of empty calories. However, there are many health benefits of eating a high-fiber diet. However, added sugars are commonly found in soda and snack foods. Check the ingredient list for hidden sugars. Other forms of sugar include fructose, dextrose, and honey.

Good carbohydrates contain more nutrients and are digested slowly. They are also rich in fiber and protein, which help provide long-lasting energy. Whole grains, legumes, and wheat are examples of complex carbohydrates. These sources are high in fiber, and are beneficial for treating chronic conditions. 

Unlike protein and fat, carbohydrates affect blood sugar more than other nutrients. When glucose rushes into the blood, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin. This insulin tells cells to absorb the glucose in the blood, keeping the blood sugar level from going too high. But this hormone cannot be produced in abundance, so you must choose foods that have lower GIs. Fortunately, carbohydrates are not the sole cause of diabetes. Instead, they are an essential source of nutrients in a normal diet.

Carbohydrates provide energy for your body, including the brain. It also contains fiber, which aids digestion, keeps cholesterol levels low, and helps maintain the health of your digestive tract. Glucose also supports cellular respiration, which is a series of complex reactions. If you have a high blood sugar, carbohydrates may be your primary source of energy. But in the event of a carbohydrate deficiency, you may experience headaches, fatigue, constipation, or other health problems.

When it comes to carbohydrate-rich foods, mashed potatoes and pasta are two examples. Although carbohydrates can be found in a variety of foods, they tend to mix with other macronutrients and are not necessarily considered a dietary by themselves. Carbohydrates are found in grains, including white rice and flour, but they are less complex than whole wheat, quinoa, and brown rice. It is also important to note that dairy products, including cheese and milk, contain carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates and Cognitive Functioning

The relationship between carbohydrates and cognitive functioning is complex, involving dysregulation of many metabolic, inflammatory, and vascular processes, as well as timing of carbohydrate intake. There are also several confounding factors, including age, genetics, and physiological conditions. Overall, the impact of carbohydrates on cognitive functioning is often not directly related to total body weight, and negative neurocognitive impacts can occur long before overt obesity or metabolic disease develops.

For example, foods with low GI are more beneficial than those with high GI. Studies have shown that a low-GI meal improves memory, but those with a high GI meal result in poorer memory performance. Therefore, it is important to eat foods with low GI and high glycaemic index. For best cognitive health, aim for carbohydrates containing more fiber than starch. However, there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a healthy diet.

Cognitive tests often include subjective measures of the brain's state of mind. In such tests, glucose intake was shown to enhance verbal memory. However, there is limited evidence supporting the positive effects of glucose on performance. However, in other studies, glucose intake increased the ability to recall the content of a word, whereas in others, it increased the ability to complete tasks. Further, it improved attention span and decreased stress levels. These benefits were most apparent when glucose was added to diets high in carbohydrates.

In a study that followed more than a thousand older adults, researchers examined the association between sugar intake and IQ in children and older adults. They found that glucose enhancement was greatest in tasks with higher cognitive demands and in tasks requiring divided attention. However, the results of the study suggest that cognitive enhancers may only improve performance in conditions with higher cognitive demands. This study, however, did not address the long-term effect of habitual consumption of carbohydrates on cognitive function in children.

Carbohydrates For Sports Performance

During the course of a sports training session, your body needs an ample supply of carbohydrates for energy and performance. In general, endurance athletes need about 30-60 g of carbohydrates per hour although this can go reach 90g. This amount is usually provided through various carbohydrate sport drinks, gels and chews. There's also carbohydrate mouthrinses available, too. The amount of carbohydrates recommended for elite athletes is around 6-10g per kilogram of body weight. During intense physical exercise, however, you may be required aim for even more carbohydrate intake.

When choosing carbohydrates for sports performance, avoid eating complex carbohydrates during the practice, preparation or competition period. Instead, opt for simple carbohydrates and consume them at the right times.

A superior carbohydrate is Cluster Dextrin. This substance is derived from a special barley starch that is much easier to digest than sugar. Its sweet flavor also makes it a good ingredient in sports nutrition products. These carbohydrate products can be used in powder or liquid form. They are also easy to mix. They are suitable for athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and everyday people who are looking to maintain their energy levels.

The Importance of Carbohydrates For Muscle Recovery

When training, carbohydrate intake should be increased. Ideally, athletes should consume at least 50 to 75 grams of carbohydrates after a workout. These carbs should largely come from high-glycemic sources, which enter the body more quickly and spike insulin levels more quickly than low-glycemic sources. The exact amount of carbs needed will depend on the intensity of the workout and the amount of recovery time required.

When carbs are consumed post-workout, they help re-energize the body. They eliminate hunger and lethargy. They also help muscle recovery. Before you consume any carbohydrates, check their glycemic index. Foods with low glycemic index won't trigger a high blood sugar spike, while those with a high glycemic index are better for post-workout.

After a workout, the body's muscles need carbohydrates to replenish their stores of glycogen. A carbohydrate meal can speed up muscle recovery and reduce post-exercise soreness. Consuming carbohydrates before workouts can optimize the amount of glycogen in the muscles and minimize post-exercise soreness. Additionally, carbohydrates eaten prior to exercise can increase energy and performance, especially in endurance exercises. Ample amounts of carbohydrates can help prevent muscle breakdown, so it is crucial to eat them before exercising.

It's important to note that carbohydrate intake is not specific to athletes. Nonathletes and other exercisers need additional energy to recover properly from strenuous activity. However, it is important to consume a balanced diet, which includes a variety of carbohydrates, protein and fats from a variety of sources. Protein and carbs are the building blocks of muscle mass, so they are crucial for muscle recovery. And while protein is the cornerstone of muscle building, carbs are crucial for regenerating the muscles after a workout and must be consumed together for maximum muscle protein synthesis.  

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Benefits of Testosterone for Physical Performance

If you're interested in improving your athletic performance, you've likely wondered whether testosterone has any effect on physical performance. Studies have shown that testosterone improves performance in athletes by modulating the physiological mechanisms that lead to greater muscle mass and function. 

While testosterone has been linked to enhanced athletic performance in men, the same cannot be said for women. Although males are associated with higher testosterone during puberty, no sex-based sports competition results were different prior to puberty. Testosterone affects muscle mass, bone composition, and hemoglobin levels, giving male athletes a slight physical advantage. 

While the IAAF is aware of the evidence that female athletes have higher testosterone levels, it's still not clear whether testosterone has any effect on their performance. The IAAF's Bulletin article references a paper by Richard V. Clark that examined testosterone levels in sports. But Pielke Jr. argued that the findings were flawed because the researchers were unable to test the benefits of testosterone, afterall there are many ethical obstacles to clear. However, the article cites a few studies that suggest that testosterone can improve athletic performance.

A new study found that testosterone can also affect body composition. While testosterone is essential for muscle growth and maintenance, lower levels of the hormone can result in weight gain. This leads to a loss of lean muscle mass and increased body fat. Because of the physical side effects of low levels of testosterone, these changes may affect the performance of older men in sports. As a result, there are numerous health risks associated with low levels of testosterone.

Do Carbohydrates Lower Testosterone? 

Many people opt for low carbohydrate diets in the belief that it will help them lose fat by entering a state of ketosis. 

Some eat high fat diets and others increase their amount of protein. But, is this beneficial or harmful to your testosterone levels? Afterall, testosterone is widely accepted to have many health benefits, particularly for men, and does enhance body composition. 

Let's take a look at some of the available research. 

Low carb high protein

A 2022 review of a low carb diet (less than 35% of their macronutrient intake) found that over a period of three weeks saw that resting cortisol levels were higher than those on a high carb diet. This higher level of cortisol for the low carb group was also seen post exercise. 

That said, when the levels were monitored after 3 weeks, cortisol levels returned to their baseline readings. So, maybe a short term pre vacation low carb diet may not be beneficial for your hormones.

Perhaps more interesting were the levels of testosterone for those following a low carbohydrate and high protein (over 35% of their macronutrient intake) diet. 

The review recorded that low carboydrate and high protein diets decreased resting and post exercise testosterone levels. 

Wheras a moderate protein (less than 35% of the their macronutrient intake) and a low carbohydrate diet didn't affect testosterone levels. 

Low carb high fat

Research published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition investigated the safety and effects of a very low carbohydrate high fat diet on hormone levels when compared to a typical western diet. 

They found that testosterone significantly increased in the low carb high fat diet compared to the western diet whereby testosterone levels decreased. 

High fat low carb vs high carb low fat 

A 2020 study wanted to compare the differences of a high carb and low fat diets and vice versa on hormonal response over a duration of 12 weeks in men who were involved with strength training practices.

The sources of fats and carbohydrates were various and diversified. The high fat group consisted of 40% of their calorie intake from fats and the low fat group's intake of fat was 22% of the participants' calorie intake.

They found that those on the low carb high fat diet saw an increase of testosterone by 2.5%.

However, in the low fat high carb group they saw an increase of 12%. Cortisol also decreased (by 3.5%) in this group. 

Hormonal response to carbohydrates immediately after eating

Research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition looking at hormone changes immediately after eating a high carbohydrate and high fat meals.

The researcher's noted that there weren't any differences during the period immediately after consuming either a high fat or a high carbohydrate meal. Nor were the results significantly different to what would be normally expected post eating for either cortisol or tetsosterone. 


Carbohydrate intake is important for both physcial and mental function. There's very few studies that demonstrate a low carbohydrate diet improving performance and would be beneficial for all athletes.

As such the recommendations for most people by the American College of Sports Medicine is that carbohydrate intake should match activity levels, and a lack of carbohydrates can reduce exercise performance. 

So, we know that our bodies require carbohydrates to function, but what's the low-down on hormonal response?

The studies shown mixed results. A low carb diet has shown to increase cortisol levels, which over time are detrimental to health, and testosterone levels if not addressed. 

Interestingly, fat and protein intake alongside carbohydrate appears to have a significant influence on testosterone levels. 

What's the answer?

As there appears to be inconsistency amongst studies, the best course of action is to not alter your eating patterns with the sole intention of trying to increase or decrease your testosterone production

Instead, for the majority of people (and athletes) carbohydrates should make up the majority of your daily calorie intake, however, as mentioned, carbohydrate intake should align with your activity levels. 

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