Testosterone Levels So Low We Changed Normal Values?
Testosterone. The word itself sounds powerful, masculine, and maybe a little bit misunderstood. If you are a man who cares about his health, then you better care a whole hell of a lot about your testosterone to help combat the dreaded low testosterone epidemic that is starting to become the norm in today’s highly pampered sedentary society.
Testosterone is the main driving force behind what all guys should strive for – to be strong, lean, and vital. So why have the standards for normal testosterone levels been lowered? Yes, read that again. Guys are doing such a shitty job at taking care of their health that the governing bodies have lowered the healthy range of testosterone in men.
Lab Corp, the self proclaimed “world leader in health care diagnostics”, recently lowered their acceptable range for healthy testosterone in men. Prior to earlier this year, the “normal” range was 348 – 1197 ng/d; and now has been lowered to 264-916 ng/dL. Yes, the new norms have been lowered to accept the sad fact that men are becoming softer, weaker, and sicker. How about that for a participation trophy?
According to the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, the median total testosterone level in men was 501 ng/dL in 1987-1989. It dropped to 435 in 1995 to 1997, and in the most recent measurement, the median total testosterone level has dropped to 391 ng/dL…and that was still 2002-2005.
Many critics are quick to point out – 391 is still within the healthy range. Sure, if you are an 80 year old man, you have healthy testosterone at 391. Because you are reading this article, I would imagine that your goal right now is not to be compared to geriatric male peacefully living out his remaining years when it comes to your physical, mental and especially sexual health.
Common Signs & Symptoms of Low Testosterone
So what does low testosterone feel like? Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms:
- Low sex drive
- Poor erections
- Low energy
- Increased anxiety/depressed feelings
- Loss of strength and muscle mass
- Loss of bone density
- Increase in fat stores, especially in the abdomen and pecs – aka moobs.
Pretty brutal. If you are a young or middle aged man, you shouldn’t be struggling with any of the above because of low testosterone. So…Why the decline?
The Low Testosterone Lifestyle
Experts can’t quite put their finger on one simple cause to the overall low testosterone trend, but how the average man lives his life day to day is a good place to start.
We live in a world where we are always on the go, grinding away at our daily lives, and because of this, often placing our health on the back burner.
Living day to day in chronic sleep deprivation, in the fast food drive thru lane, and “not having time” to make it to the gym is the perfect concoction for a low testosterone modern man.
More and more men are becoming sedentary, and are especially not working manual labor jobs. When it comes time to actually train, it becomes an after thought that they should actually challenge their muscles beyond the typical 30 minutes of sweat pouring on the elliptical and a few sets of spine twists and bicep curls.
When it comes to optimizing testosterone production, men are slacking on the prime times to get that boost of testosterone. Many of these factors take on a “chicken or the egg” scenario, but contributing, yet not limited to; here are some of the common lifestyle factors that can lower testosterone:
- Poor Sleep Quality – this may be due to multiple reasons, such as overall stress levels (increases in cortisol), drug/medication use, obesity, sleep apnea. If you aren’t sleeping well, you are missing out on a prime time for your anabolic hormones to be working.
- Obesity – Low testosterone can also come from carrying excess body fat, especially visceral fat. With increased body fat comes higher aromatase, which converts testosterone to estrogen. This leads to a hormonal cascade in which the pituitary gland will secrete less luteinizing hormone (LH is what stimulates the testes to make testosterone).
- Stress – Both mental and physical stress increase your cortisol levels, which in excess suppresses the body’s ability to produce and utilize testosterone. The best way to find out if your cortisol levels are elevated is to get them checked by a medical professional via blood draw. However, you know what’s going on in your life, and you know if you are stressed. It is important to find ways to manage the mental stress, and take time to appropriately recover from training as well.
- Being Sedentary – We are engineered to move. Men are meant to be strong – that IS what testosterone does. Yet most American men especially sit for 12 hours per day (not including the time they sleep!) – couple that with the decrease in manual labor jobs, and less than optimal training programs, and you have yourself a recipe for low testosterone.
These factors are all interrelated and have multiple crossover aspects – but the big picture here is that men need to get off their ass, be more active during the day, cut the bullshit from their lives and start prioritizing their health – because all the grinding, hustling and money in the world means nothing if you don’t have your health.
The Low Testosterone “Workout Plan”
Let me start off by saying if you are following one of Dr. Rusin’s programs, you are definitely NOT on a Low Testosterone Workout plan. So following an intelligent training program like FHT will indeed simplify the hormone optimization process for many of us looking to boost testosterone.
But lets be honest, unfortunately I see this type of physical behavior all to often. It goes something like this; The cardio machines are still the busiest area at the gym. Men chugging away on the elliptical, running knock kneed on the treadmill, and hunched over on a step mill that is moving slower than molasses in January (in my home state of Wisconsin, especially).
This is not to say that cardio doesn’t have it’s place in a man’s plan, but strength training should take priority.
All too often men go into the gym out of spite, or guilt. Half awake and half burnt out from work, they will crawl onto a treadmill for a little bit, then head to the weight area and maybe do some bench press, bicep curls and old school swinging barbell upright rows. Not knowing how much weight they have previously done, nor having an actual plan for the workout – but just moving weights for the sake of moving weights.
So how should one approach a training session to optimize testosterone?
While acute testosterone boosts are evident during strength training sessions, it is much more important to focus on the overall training approach instead of trying to maximize hormone boosts in one session.
The ideal training program for men to maximize testosterone production would look like this:
- Focus on progressive overload through out the training cycle(s). You have three options when it comes to progressive overload – more weight, more volume, or more density (more volume over less time)
- If you focus on getting stronger, your low testosterone will go up. Tracking your progress is the only way to measure if you are actually getting stronger over time. Whether you go old school and buy a little notepad to track, or use your phone to enter your training sessions into a fancy app, you need to be tracking progress.
- Make sure you are hitting the compound movements. Pushing, pulling, squatting, hinging and carrying heavy weights are all surefire ways to maximize your potential testosterone levels.
- Cut back on the “cardio”. Slugging away on the treadmill day after day is not ideal for optimizing your testosterone levels. Some studies have even shown that hopping on the cardio train AFTER you lift may not be the best idea for maximizing your strength and hypertrophy. Separate the two sessions into different days, and use slow, longer duration cardio as a means for recovery only.
- If you want to hit more cardio, do some higher intensity sprint work 1-2 times per week. Sled pushes, kettlebell swings, hill sprints, etc. are all awesome ways to get your heart rate cranked up without mindlessly stumbling up a step mill.
So stop mindlessly “working out”, and start training seriously – your testosterone levels will thank you.
The Modern Man’s Low Testosterone Diet
When we look at foods that contribute to low testosterone, the biggest culprits are overconsumption of processed shitty carbs, omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, alcohol and under consumption of quality red meats and cruciferous green vegetables.
Carbohydrates are needed for active men, and do actually help with testosterone production. However, the typical form of carbs that most men eat daily might look more like a 7th grade boys wet dream diet. Sugary cereal for breakfast, greasy chips and white bread at lunch, and some kind of pasta or more snack like carbs at dinner. Couple this with the average soda intake sitting somewhere around 16-24 oz. per day, and now we are talking about issues leading to metabolic syndrome, obesity and uncontrolled insulin/cortisol levels – all of which contribute to lower testosterone over time.
Along with many forms of highly processed carbs, you will find another ingredient – omega-6 poly unsaturated fats. These are your standard vegetable oils that are used in pretty much every snack food, fast food outlet, and any food that comes in a crinkly foil lined bag that you might buy at the local gas station. Omega-6 PUFA’s have been proven to be linked to low testosterone predominantly because of their pro-inflammatory effects on the body. Obviously, we cannot ignore the other fat fact – fats are higher in calories, and when you eat to many calories you will gain weight, and gaining fat leads to correlated drops in testosterone.
After eating like shit, and being chronically stressed all week, where do most guys turn? To a couple cold brews to numb the stress away. As with anything, the dose and frequency is what becomes the problem for most men. Pounding down heavy hoppy beers (hops are a powerful phytoestrogen) and sugary cocktails is a sure fire way to keep the gut and man boobs hanging around much longer than you want.
The New Man’s High Testosterone Diet
First off, it goes without saying that in order to optimize your testosterone levels, you need to be training regularly and following solid training plan.
Unlimited Cruciferous Vegetables
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, arugula, cabbage, cauliflower – should be consumed in unlimited quantities. Not only are they loaded with awesome micronutrients and fiber, but the cruciferous family contains high levels of phytonutrients that help lower estrogen.
Carbs – 40-60% of Calories
If you are an active guy, you need carbs. Period. When you are active, and you choose to follow a low carb diet, you are actually running the risk of increasing your cortisol levels and thus blunting your testosterone production.
Digging deeper, the quality of carbs becomes important as well. Remember, we are talking about internal health at a hormonal level. Yes, you can get jacked and swole while eating pop-tarts – but what about your actual hormone levels?
- Oats, Potatoes, and Rice – these should make up a majority of your carbs for fuel. Oats contain high levels of fiber, moderate levels of magnesium and zinc (more on these later) and other phytonutrients that help manage your digestive system, blood sugar regulation, and overall satiety. Potatoes, not greasy French fries, are also an awesome source of micronutrients for overall health and easier to digest carbs. Lastly, rice is one of the most basic and easy to handle carbs out there – hence the reason most old school bodybuilders made this the staple carb of their diets.
Fats – 20-30% of Calories
When overall fat consumption drops TOO low, drops in testosterone do occur. This is what has lead to many gurus touting the high fat diets for testosterone support. Before you start throwing butter in your coffee, hear me out. The context of the diet and lifestyle as a whole is key. Blindly eating high fat diets just because you heard they raise your testosterone won’t help you if you are consuming too many calories – leading to fat gain.
- Monounsaturated (MUFA’s), Omega-3s and Saturated Fats –The quality of fat matters too. As stated before, most poly unsaturated fats tend to be more low quality and high inflammatory in nature. The exception to this is Omega-3 polyunsaturated fat – as you may know, these a re found in fatty fish such as salmon. Getting more Omega-3’s ton your diet to balance out your Omega 3 to 6 ratio is important for overall inflammatory control, lowering cortisol and a facilitating healthy production of free testosterone.
- Monounsaturated fats, olive oil, pumpkin seeds and avocados, have been linked to increases in testosterone, especially when they replace PUFA’s like cheap vegetable oils. Pumpkin seeds are also loaded with magnesium and zinc – two crucial minerals when it comes to healthy levels of testosterone.
- Lastly, saturated fat tends to be a hot button topic – and rightfully so. While high intakes are linked to heart disease and other unhealthy chronic issues, getting some saturated fat is important when it comes to your testosterone levels. What is a healthy intake? 10% of your total calories. (a man eating 3000 calories would only need 33 grams of saturated fat) When you look at the numbers, this isn’t nearly the amount that most Americans eat, so this may be an area that most of us don’t need to really worry about consciously increasing. Keep eating your whole eggs and quality meats and you will likely get close to 10%.
Protein – 1 Gram per Pound of Bodyweight.
Getting adequate protein is important for all goals – fat loss, maintenance, and muscle gain. There are certain forms of protein that have the nutrients to help with optimizing testosterone more than others.
- Quality beef, eggs and fatty fish. Most guys gravitate towards chicken breasts and egg whites when it comes to protein. While these are good sources of protein, they also lack some of the important micronutrients for optimal testosterone health.
- Good quality beef is a great source of protein, but also high in the important mineral zinc. Eggs, yolk included, are great sources of healthy fats – both saturated and monounsaturated – and are also packed full of the testosterone supporting nutrients Vitamin D, choline and aspartic acid. Lastly, as noted before, fatty fish like salmon is not only a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids but also high quality protein
Naturally Optimizing The Modern Man
The only way to truly know that you have low testosterone is to get your blood levels checked.
However, if you are experiencing some of the aforementioned symptoms and know that your current lifestyle is lazy and unmotivated, and your diet looks like the diet of a 7th grader – you should be able to start feeling better inside and out by adhering to the lifestyle, training and dietary advice provided in this article.
Taking back control of your health, training like a beast in the gym and adding foods like cruciferous vegetables, quality carbs, healthy fats, and mineral rich high quality protein sources will have you feeling more like the high powered man that you deserve to be.
About The Author
Mike Gorski is a Registered Dietitian and personal trainer located just outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Mike works with clients on a wide variety of goals including sports performance, post-rehab training, weight loss, and overall healthy behavior change. His ideas and methods have been featured on some of the top publications in the fitness industry including the Personal Trainer Development Center. Mike’s mission is to create positive behavior change with all his clients that will not only get them to their personal goal, but last them a lifetime.