Testosterone is one of those fabled drugs that athletes love to dope with and it’s touted as the secret ‘anti-aging’ drug by doctors with older patients. As competitive athletes, it’s against anti-doping rules to take testosterone, but we can still try to increase testosterone naturally. Lets take a dive into testosterone and understand how we can increase testosterone without drugs.
Firstly, testosterone is a hormone naturally produced in the body in the sex organs of both men and women. Men tend to produce more testosterone, although there is overlap in plasma testosterone levels in men and women. There is an association between higher testosterone levels and more masculine characteristics. This is mainly due to the body’s response to testosterone.
- Increase in muscle hypertrophy
- Increase in facial and pubic hair
- Deeper voice
- Increased sex drive
But there’s more to testosterone than just these outward effects. Other benefits include:
- Increase in bone density
- Increased signalling to produce more red blood cells
- Decrease in body fat percentage
Each of these three benefits would be great for a cyclist as we routinely have lower than average bone density. Additionally, we will find a performance benefit from both more red blood cells and a decrease in body fat percentage.
There are also negative side effects to testosterone supplementation:
- Higher chance of aggressive behavior
- Fluid retention and increased urination
- Heart muscle damage and increased risk of heart attack
- Prostate enlargement
- Increased risk of blood clots
Certainly at least a few reasons to be hesitant about taking external testosterone. There is a higher chance of these negative side effects as dosage increases. With some protocols calling for upwards of 40 times the normal amount found in the body, I do not recommend supplementing with testosterone to boost levels above normal. We may all be looking to be the best athletes we can be, but please REREAD the list above for six good reasons not to use testosterone.
Another area that has garnered a lot of research is hypogonadism. Specifically, male hypogonadism is the inability for someone’s testes to function properly. Why has this received attention? Well, there was a period of time where many studies came out suggesting men had lower sperm counts and semen quality than men some half a century ago. Many countries sent out scientists for research, fearing the men of their country would fail to continue to serve the vital purpose of maintaining their population numbers.
Naturally Low Testosterone
This concern over low sperm count and semen quality seems to have been largely dismissed by other researchers, stating differences in measurement methodologies and research techniques. But, we can still gain from their published research. First, let’s understand the premise. Either environmental factors or lifestyle factors are causing a larger portion of men to have testes that are not functioning at full capacity. This could be diet induced, stress induced, even related to pollutants. Testosterone levels appear to correlate with sperm quality and functioning of the testes, as in: if we improve one, the rest come with it.
Why are we talking about hypogonadism again? There are reports that endurance athletes tend to have lower than normal testosterone levels and “altered reproductive function”. Honestly, there is a decent chance that as a cyclist you have hypogonadism.
Science’s Answer to Increase Testosterone Naturally
Because taking exogenous testosterone is unethical, unsafe, and banned under USADA and WADA, it’s not on our list of potential solutions. So, where else can we look? It’s difficult to get a human study on testosterone and the function of the testes through an ethics review board, so most studies are on rodents (mice and rats). These studies follow the same premise: if we can show an increase in plasma testosterone in mice, we can assume their testes are functioning properly, their fertility is increasing, and they are more likely to see the benefits of testosterone.
Here’s what the research says:
- Strange females increase plasma testosterone levels in male mice
- Winning fights elevates testosterone levels in California mice…
- Female-induced sexual arousal in male mice… and testosterone response
- Garlic supplementation increases testicular testosterone…
Ok, so our options are: going to bars or other social events to seek out strange females, fighting (and winning), female-induced sexual arousal (tempting…), and GARLIC???
Effects of Diet on Naturally Occurring Testosterone
It turns out: the foods we put in our mouth affect the ability of our testes to function properly. Largely built from this review paper, let’s go over how some changes to your diet can improve your testes!
Green tea has been shown to have a wide variety of health benefits, sexual function or not. It can also help reduce body weight, improve body function, and can help protect the testes from oxidative damage.
Carrots have a very high nutrient density and can boost immunity, eye health, and bowel regularity. It has also been shown to increase potency in men by increasing their sperm reserves and increasing spermatogenic (sperm producing) activity. Carrots may also be an effective and safe way to decrease the toxic effects of chemicals on the reproductive system.
Garlic is a food used in ancient and herbal medicine practices for it’s variety of phytochemicals, trace elements, and vitamins. It can help boost the immune system, reduce blood sugar, and improve cholesterol levels. Regarding sexual health, rats fed with 8g of garlic powder had higher testosterone levels in one study.
Ginger is similar to garlic in it’s ancient medicinal origins and similarly provides a massive number of beneficial compounds and trace elements. It has a protective effect against DNA damage, may decrease oxygen free radicals and is likely an antioxidant. Ginger has been shown to increase testosterone levels in rats despite being given gentamicin, an antibiotic known to decrease testosterone levels.
Capsaicin, the chemical in peppers that makes them spicy, showed decreases in total body mass and increases in positive characteristics of the testes when supplemented in roosters.
Cinnamon was given to diabetic male rats. After 65 days the rats testes and seminal vesicles showed increased weight, improved semen quality, and increased testosterone levels.
The list goes on and on! Rather than pointing out specific benefits, here is a list of a few other key foods that are easily accessible in the Western diet.
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sesame Seeds
All of these foods have been shown to decrease male infertility and improve the function of the testes in some capacity. There are other health benefits from all these foods:
- decreased total body mass
- improvements in the immune system
- lower blood sugar levels
- lower cholesterol levels
It’s almost as if a diverse, health diet is the key to proper functioning of the testes.
Conclusion – You Can Increase Testosterone Naturally
And that is the big takeaway from this article. Testosterone has benefits for cyclists and endurance athletes. The best way to ensure our bodies have normal levels of testosterone is to ensure our testes work properly. One of the best things we can do for our gonads is eat a variety of healthy foods.
But this goes even beyond that: the testes are no different than other organs; all of our organs will benefit from a good healthy diet. We want our:
- liver to produce glycogen properly
- kidneys to control our electrolyte levels properly
- heart to pump blood effectively
- brain to keep us mentally sharp and aware
All of these areas will see an improvement as nutritional density increases and food variety goes up. Go out and eat real, natural foods and your body will thank you for it by working properly.
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