Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. L2 Strength & Conditioning Coach.
If you are interested in building more slabs of muscle, you've probably heard of testosterone, but what is it and can it help you build a body to be proud of?
In this article we shall look at the following areas:
- What's testosterone?
- Does it build muscle?
- How to increase testosterone
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is the male sex hormone that plays a major role in male human development.
Testosterone is part of the androgen family, which also includes other hormones such as DHT, DHEA, and estrogen.
Testosterone production occurs in the testicles after stimulation from luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). It is then converted to either testosterone or estradiol. Approximately 6-7mg of testosterone is produced per day,
Testosterone plays an important role in many bodily functions including sex drive, bone density, fat distribution, muscle mass and strength, cognitive function, mood control. It also regulates skin thickness and how much hair grows on a person’s face.
Side effects of high levels of testosterone can include acne, body hair growth on places other than the face or chest.
The benefits of testosterone are a hotly debated topic. The overwhelming research says that testosterone can help you build muscle, improve your memory and intellect, and even protect you from heart disease.
Testosterone is a hormone that is responsible for the development of masculine traits such as deepening of the voice, hair growth on the face and chest, increased muscle size and height in older boys.
In young girls, testosterone acts on cells in the ovaries to cause them to release an egg each month. In both sexes it affects sexual behavior and development of secondary sex characteristics.
Do men produce more testosterone than women?
The short answer is yes. The level of testosterone can vary between men, just as it can between women. However, men do have markedly high levels of testosterone than women. And it is this significant difference that leads to the characteristics which define women and men alike.
However, these changes only occur during puberty, prior to puberty there is no difference between the genders.
This increase and difference help to provide a substantial benefit of muscle strength and mass alongside increased hemoglobin levels which then gives men an 8-12% (at least) ergogenic benefit over their female counterparts.
Research into the differences of testosterone between male and female athletes showed that even men who fell within the lower range were still four to fivefold higher than those female athletes who fell within the higher range.
Is testosterone natural?
Testosterone is a steroid hormone from the androgen group. Its name comes from testes, the male sex organ, because it is made in the testes.
Men produce most of the testosterone in their testes, women on the other hand produce testosterone in their ovaries, adrenal gland and other peripheral tissues.
Testosterone is called an androgen because it stimulates the development of male sex organs or “masculinity” during puberty. It supports muscle growth and strength by increasing production of red blood cells and promoting bone growth with calcium.
Can a woman have too much testosterone?
The hormones that are produced in the ovaries are responsible for female characteristics. These hormones are called estrogen and progesterone.
Women have testosterone too, but they have much less of it than men do. As a result, women who produce higher levels of testosterone will have more male characteristic traits.
So if you have higher levels of testosterone, you may experience some or all of these symptoms: acne outbreaks, facial hair growth, trouble maintaining healthy body fat distribution, oily skin, increased libido, and aggression just to name a few.
However, a women can suffer from a testosterone deficiency after her menopause. Even so, prior to the menopause a woman’s testosterone levels would be at a level that is 50s of that when she was 20 years old.
What happens if a man has low testosterone?
Hypogonadism is a condition where the gonads have diminished function.
In the human body, gonads are reproductive organs. In males, these are the testes and in females, these are ovaries.
Hypogonadism refers to a condition where gonads have lost their ability to produce sex hormones and sperm or eggs. This is usually due to an underlying disease or injury that affects the reproductive system resulting in abnormally low testosterone levels.
Hypogonadism can be categorized into two types: primary and secondary hypogonadism.
Primary hypogonadism occurs when there is no identifiable cause for reduced function of gonads while secondary hypogonadism occurs because of some underlying medical condition, such as pituitary gland problems or testicular injury from cancer treatment or trauma.
Low testosterone in men can result in the following symptoms which could lead to a number of risk factors:
- Low energy
- Erectile dysfunction
- Breast tissue
- Decreased muscle mass and strength
- Type 2 diabetes
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Does Testosterone Increase Muscle Size?
Testosterone is a steroid hormone produced in the testicles in men and ovaries in women which controls the development of male primary and secondary sex characteristics like body hair, prostate size, voice changes as well as influencing muscle growth.
How does testosterone increase muscle growth?
The answer lies in the specific receptors that testosterone binds with in order to initiate changes within cells.
These receptors are called androgen receptors, which are found on cells called myocytes. When testosterone binds with these myocyte cells, they initiate a process known as cellular signalling.
This process starts by producing a series of chemical reactions that result in an increase in muscle protein synthesis rates or anabolism.
Does it improve athletic performance?
Athletes are using testosterone to improve their performance in competition. It is used as a doping agent because it has a number of effects on how muscles work, however, using an anabolic agent like testosterone is banned in the military and in sporting events.
One reason athletes use testosterone is to increase muscle mass and strength. If you have more muscle strength or muscle endurance, you can lift more weight or run faster for longer periods.
Testosterone also helps the body produce red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. In short, testosterone improves athletic performance by building muscle mass and giving athletes increased hemoglobin levels which means the body can process more oxygen.
How to increase testosterone levels
There are lifestyle reasons that can accelerate this change, and likewise, lifestyle choices can also slow the decline of testosterone and even increase your levels.
Therefore, we shall cover some of the actions you can implement to increase your testosterone natural testosterone production.
Eat more test boosting foods
Yes, that's right, there are foods that you can eat which will support a healthy hormone machine.
Foods which are high in nutritional value such as the following:
You should also avoid consuming processed foods such as sausages, potato chips, sweet treats, candies, and soda which can increase inflammation.
Vitamins and Minerals
So what is it about these foods that are so great? It's the vitamins and minerals that they contain. Sometimes these are referred to as micronutrients.
A broad range of these nutrients have anti-inflammatory effects, consist of anti-oxidants, and other bioactive compounds that can reduce stress and improve hormone levels.
Do more exercise
Also commonly referred to as weight training or weightlifting, this type of exercise is a great way to improve your testosterone production as well as build your overall strength.
Resistance exercise is also great for bone health, muscle development and injury prevention.
Therefore, taking up multiple forms of exercise is going to benefit your health and hormones.
The only case whereby there could be concern is for those athletes who are involved in chronic endurance training.
Getting those vital hours of sleep in are vital to maintain and promote testosterone production. A 2015 study found that just 7 days of sleep restriction saw a reduction of 10-15% of testosterone in healthy young men.
Your body needs to recover adequately to grow, and this starts with the testosterone which is secreted mostly during your sleep.
Furthermore a lack of sleep can increase stress which releases cortisol, and cortisol reduces your testosterone.
Being tired also makes you far less effective, whether this is for work, sport or driving a vehicle. You can read more about the effects of sleep deprivation, here.
There are some natural plant extracts that have been used for centuries, if not longer, for medicinal use.
While these remedies may initially have been overlooked by western medicine or seem confusing there is plenty of emerging clinical evidence that demonstrate how effect some extracts are for treating a variety of conditions or improving health parameters.
These can include extracts such as ashwagandha, fenugreek and stinging nettle. All of which have proven benefits to reduce issues such as inflammation, increase testosterone or improve strength and recovery.
What about supplements?
A food first approach is the ideal form of intervention alongside exercise and sleep to help raise your testosterone levels.
However, we understand that it can be difficult to get all of the essential nutrients to optimize your hormone health.
Furthermore, supplements can offer highly concentrated doses of micronutrients or plant/herbal extracts that would be extremely difficult to achieve through careful eating.
For example, Military Muscle contains 11 proven ingredients that support your testosterone production, and there's enough boron from each daily dose that would require you to eat 500g/17oz of broccoli or as much vitamin D as eating 93 eggs!
As such, supplements certainly have their place. However, place caution on what you buy and where from, be sure to check the ingredients label so that you are not buying a proprietary blend or just another re-labelled private label supplement.
Testosterone is widely acclaimed for promoting muscle growth. The sex hormone is responisble for the characteristics that differentiate males and females which includes:
- More muscle
- Less fat
- Increased athleticism
- Deep voice
- Facial hair
Testosterone is available as a replacement therapy (TRT) for those who are suffering from hypogonadism, and also used illegally by athletes to enhance their performance.
However, you can help improve your own production to take advantage of the health benefits, naturally, legally and safely.
This can include getting more sleep, weightlifting and consuming the right nutrients from foods or supplements.