Many people tell me that they want to lose or gain weight. But when they do, they are no happier than they were before they started. Why is this? A male who is 6′ 200lbs and strength trains looks different than a male who is 6′ 200lbs and sits on the couch all day eating chips.
This is because of “Body composition.” Body composition is the way our mass, fat and muscle, come together to form our body and overall fitness level. One who consistently trains and diets will have a better body composition than one who doesn’t. So what does this say about the people who want to “lose weight.” Maybe they didn’t want to lose weight at all, maybe they just wanted to recompose the way their fat and muscle mass is distributed.
Fat and muscle look and feel different on the body. One pound of muscle and one pound of fat displaces differently on the body. Lowering body fat percentage and increasing muscle mass is how recomposition works. This has to be done through proper diet and exercise.
One of the most important lessons I have learned from strength training and fitness is the difference between Reaction and Response. Not only have I learned that there is a marked difference between the two behaviors, I have learned how to utilize these behaviors intelligently.
Reaction is what I would like to deem an amygdala driven behavior. This is the area of the brain that is responsible for our flight or fight reactions. Reaction is emotionally driven and is a behavior that is limited to instinct.
Response in the sense that I use it, is the cerebral driven behavior. It is based in the ability to skillfully use the forebrain for an intelligence driven behavior. This is where the word “responsibility” comes into play. It means our ability to respond to the circumstances in our lives.
By no means is one behavior better than the other. Each behavior has it’s place. I am a man who is comfortable with his emotions. I am comfortable feeling them and using them to react to situations in which the forebrain is not necessary. This puts me at an advantage over those who are too “heady,” people who live in their head. If you are someone who constantly lives in their head, this puts you in a dead space. The “head” or “intellect” is nothing but dead ideas that tries it’s best to join a party that it’s not invited to. The party of life dances in the river of liveliness.
Now, responding is a wonderful behavior that allows us to use the newest, most powerful addition to the human body, the neocortex. This part of the brain levels us out as human beings. This part of the brain is more intricate and powerful than a computer. In situations where emotion cannot compete, we can use our cortex to respond intelligently and favorably to any situation.
When both of these behaviors are use in conjunction with one another we have a force that can surmount any situation and circumstance.
In order to be a healthy male, it is important to have optimal testosterone levels. Testosterone is important for the mental health, physical health and overall well-being of men. This hormone plays vital roles in the human body. Testosterone is responsible for regulating fat distribution, sex drive, muscle mass, bone mass, the production of red blood cells and sperm. As men age past 30 years, testosterone decreases by about 1% per year. Keeping testosterone levels at optimal levels all throughout life, especially in older men is important as testosterone is responsible for bone mineralization and keeping bone resorption minimal. This means that slips and falls will have a significantly smaller impact if testosterone levels stay at an optimal level. Also, keeping testosterone levels optimal reduces the risk of prostate cancer. Before I dive into ways to increase testosterone levels naturally, I’m going to list the effects of low testosterone levels.
Low Testosterone Levels Can Negatively Impact Sexual Functioning:
- Reduced sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
Low Testosterone Levels Can Negatively Impact Emotional well being and Physicality:
- Emotional problems(i.e.,Depression)
- Decrease in strength and muscle mass
- Significant amount of fat gain
Some conditions that can lead to low levels of testosterone are:
- Diabetes(Type 2)
- Chronic medical conditions such as: kidney and liver disease
Now that we know the importance of testosterone, the roles testosterone plays, what low testosterone levels lead to and what conditions lead to low levels of testosterone, we can get into ways to increase testosterone levels naturally:
- Heavy compound lifts
- Managing stress
- Proper sleep
A balanced, healthy diet is vital in order to increase testosterone levels naturally. Eating a diet that contains adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats are essential to maintaining optimal hormonal balance and function:
- Sources of protein: Our bodies can produce 11 of the 20 amino acids needed to synthesize protein. The other 9 amino acids must come from dietary protein. The protein consumed through diet are broken down into these 9 individual amino acids and used to make protein necessary to support life. Some of these proteins become enzymes, some are used to repair tissue cells and others become hormones. Sources of protein include, but are not limited to: beef, chicken and fish. We can get plant based protein from peanuts, walnuts, etc but meat has a better quality amino acid profile.
- Healthy fats: Healthy fats are essential for proper hormone production and balance. Some sources of healthy fats are, but not limited to: Avocados, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, olive oil, dark chocolate, tuna, salmon and last but not least(I saved the best for last…)
- …Eggs are one of the most important sources of healthy fats because of the simple fact that it’s yolk contains dietary cholesterol which is the precursor of testosterone. For a long time it was considered unhealthy to consume the yolk of the egg which contains cholesterol because it was believed to cause heart disease by raising low-density lipoprotein(LDL) or “bad cholesterol.” It has now been shown that NOT consuming sources of dietary cholesterol such as beef and eggs is associated with increased LDL.
Going to the gym and engaging the compound lifts such as the: squat, bench press, deadlift, barbell row and standing overhead press is essential for increasing testosterone levels naturally, especially squatting. Squatting has been shown to increase the body’s testosterone levels the most because of it’s tendency to engage the largest muscles in the body, the leg muscles. When we engage in compound lifts, using the most amount of muscles at one time, we are activating the body’s natural response to stimulus which is releasing significant amounts of testosterone in order to signal muscle repair. The bigger the muscles the bigger the temporary increase in testosterone we receive. It is advisable to go as heavy as safely possible in order to get the full testosterone increasing effects. Lifting sissy weight will not produce enough of a metabolic response for our body to respond favorably.
Lowering Stress Levels
Keeping stress levels low is another essential factor in increasing testosterone levels naturally because when we are stressed, we release a hormone called “cortisol.” This hormone is responsible for catabolizing muscle tissue which slows down the metabolism and increases fat storage. This increase of fat storage eventually leads to being overweight and obese which then decreases testosterone levels in the long run. In order to combat stress, engaging in activities like meditation, exercising, reading, writing, anything that gets the mind off of stressors is advantageous. It is also advisable to cut any unnecessary negativity out of your life such as negative friends, family, co-workers, social media, TV programs, etc. The aforesaid sources of stress will impact you significantly over time. These psychic vampires wreak havoc on our lives in such an insidious way that we tend to take for granted the immense impact it has on our physiology. In order to reduce and manage stress we must be vigilant in the minor details that act as leeches to our emotional energy.
In order to increase testosterone levels naturally we need to sleep properly. One study shows that a good portion of the American adult population, atleast 15%, get under 5 hours of sleep. This same study shows that males who were sleep deprived experienced up to a 15% drop in testosterone levels. This level of sleep deprivation is akin to aging 10 to 15 years(1% drop in testosterone per year). Getting about 7-8 hours of sleep is essential to maintaining healthy levels of testosterone. Sleep is responsible for proper hormone regulation in general. While we sleep, our cortisol levels are regulated while other hormones that are responsible for repairing the body from daily rigors spring into action to get the body ready for another day. When we deprive ourselves of sleep, we are inadvertently robbing ourselves of our well-being. Another study reported that young men who were sleep deprived experienced feelings of decreased well-being which can be linked to a sharp drop in testosterone.
So what have we learned about testosterone? When we maintain a healthy diet, go to the gym and engage in heavy compound lifts, manage our stress and wrap it all up with proper sleep, we are likely to increase our testosterone levels naturally without ever needing a needle. I guarantee that some of us can stand to fine tune some or all of the above mentioned aspects of our lives, plus, these are just 4 ways to increase testosterone levels naturally. There are different kinds of eating patterns such as intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet that have produced decent results in increasing testosterone levels naturally. At a later date, I will get into the details of how these eating patterns have helped me increase my overall well-being inside and outside of the gym.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, July 10). Male hypogonadism: Tests and diagnosis.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, July 10). Testosterone therapy: Key to male vitality?
- University of Chicago Medical Center. “Sleep loss dramatically lowers testosterone in healthy young men.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110531162142.htm>.
- Vingren, J.L., Kraemer, W.J., Ratamess, N.A. et al. Sports Med (2010) 40: 1037. doi:10.2165/11536910-000000000-00000