If you asked the average gym-goer what the most important hormone is for muscle growth, they’d probably say testosterone. And in this case, they’d be right.
But, of course, when it comes to muscle growth, it's not all about the hormones. You also need to train properly - and in the most optimal manner. That's why I've designed every BWS program to be an all-in-one, science-based process that’ll get you to your dream physique FAST. And best of all? It's all rooted in science. For more information:
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Study after study has demonstrated testosterone’s ability to enhance muscle growth. Take this paper from Bhasin and colleagues for example. 8 men were injected with 600 mg of testosterone over the course of 10 weeks.
This rose their testosterone levels to roughly 3x higher than the highest testosterone levels you can expect to achieve naturally.
As a result, despite performing no resistance training whatsoever, these men were still able to gain 7 lbs of lean muscle and improve their overall strength - a feat that likely would not be possible naturally.
Now this is pretty cool and all, but the real question is how would naturally increasing your testosterone levels affect muscle growth?
Well, the truth is, it’s relatively unclear at the moment. But a few studies are able to provide us with some insight.
To learn how naturally increasing testosterone can affect muscle growth, we first need to know what "normal" levels are in the first place. One 2016 study by Mouser and colleagues states that testosterone levels for adult men can range from anywhere between 240-950 ng/dl, with the average being somewhere in the middle.
And what’s interesting is that multiple studies have found that when men who were at the lower end of this range increased their testosterone to average or above average levels, they saw significant increases in muscle mass and strength. What's even more promising is that this occurred even when no resistance training was performed!
So it’s clear that if you have lower than normal testosterone levels, then increasing it can definitely enhance muscle growth.
But unless you have male hypogonadism or experience obvious symptoms of low testosterone like low sex drive or erectile dysfunction, then chances are you probably have normal levels.
The real question now is what effect would increasing your testosterone levels from average to above average levels have on muscle growth?
Although research is lacking in this area, one 2016 study showed that those at the higher end of the normal testosterone range had greater lean muscle mass and lower levels of body fat compared to those with average or below average levels.
And this finding was still significant even when race, age, activity, and protein intake was accounted for. Thus, this does support the idea that increasing your testosterone levels to the higher range naturally may very well enhance muscle growth.
And aside from muscle growth, research also illustrates that testosterone plays a big factor when it comes to fat loss.
For example, this 2003 paper showed that when researchers decreased subjects’ testosterone levels from average (600 ng/dl) to below average levels (300 ng/dl), they saw a dramatic 36% increase in fat mass.
Let’s also not forget that optimal testosterone levels are essential for a variety of other factors as well, including:
Testosterone also becomes especially important as you age since it helps slow down muscle loss. And since your testosterone levels begin to decrease by around 1-2% per year starting from sometime in your 30’s, it would likely be in your best interest to learn what you can do to naturally increase your levels of this hormone.
So what exactly can you do? Well, one popular belief is that the large increase in testosterone caused by the use of heavy compound movements is what makes them so effective. Although it’s true that testosterone spikes to a meaningful degree after compound movements, this doesn’t last very long. And in the words of researcher Dr. Brad Schoenfeld:
“While I can’t dismiss that acute hormonal elevations may play a role in the growth process, I’m quite confident in saying that if such an effect does in fact exist, it would be of small significance.”
Therefore, relying on this might not be the best approach.
But with that being said, let’s take a look at a few more effective long-term options and how much they can boost your testosterone levels.
The first and probably the most significant thing you can do regarding your testosterone levels is to stay within a certain range of body fat that isn’t too low and isn’t too high.
Research shows that as body fat levels rise, your testosterone falls and estrogen increases. Researchers have noted that this is probably because the more fat you have, the higher your aromatase enzyme activity which converts testosterone to estrogen.
So by lowering your body fat, you lower the activity of this enzyme and more testosterone is left unconverted.
As for how much of an increase you can expect to see, it will depend on how much fat you have to lose. One 2013 meta-analysis found that based on 20 relevant studies, overweight subjects were able to experience an average testosterone increase of 120 ng/dl after losing a significant amount of fat.
This was roughly equivalent to a 20-50% increase in testosterone levels - enough to take you from average to above average!
Now this doesn’t mean you want to lower your body fat to extreme levels since this can be detrimental as well.
But there is likely an optimal range that you’d want to stay in which seems to be around 8-15%, and is why I recommend staying within this range even when bulking.
The second thing you can do is to correct deficiencies in your diet. Now although to optimize testosterone levels it’s recommended that you eat a balanced macronutrient ratio of protein, carbs, and fats, most people already seem to do a good job of doing this.
Where most people fail though is with micronutrients.
And the two main micronutrients that seem to affect testosterone levels are Vitamin D and Zinc.
One 2011 study showed that 1 year of daily vitamin-D supplementation in Vitamin-D deficient males increased testosterone levels by 20% (308 ng/dl to 386 ng/dl).
Another study from the Journal of Nutrition showed that daily supplementation of Zinc in males that were deficient almost doubled their testosterone levels in just 3 months.
And since multiple studies have indicated that Zinc and Vitamin D deficiencies are in fact very prevalent (~95% deficient in Vitamin D, ~20-50% deficient in Zinc), I would advise ensuring that you’re intaking adequate Zinc and Vitamin D from your diet or through supplementation which is actually very affordable.
Good sources of zinc include (recommended 10-40 mg per day):
Whereas good sources of vitamin D include (recommended 1,000-2,000 IU's per day):
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The third thing you can do to increase testosterone in the long term is to get adequate sleep. Multiple studies have shown a strong positive correlation between total sleep time and total testosterone levels.
One study even showed that subjects who routinely slept for 4 hours a night had testosterone levels that were roughly half that of subjects who routinely slept for 8 hours a night. In fact, each hour below 8 hours of sleep seemed to drop testosterone levels by around 15%.
Therefore, aiming for around 8 hours of quality sleep on a consistent basis would be ideal.
Now aside from the previous recommendations, there are various other ways to increase testosterone but are of less significance since the increase is only short term.
For example, just being sexually aroused or conversing with an attractive woman is enough to briefly spike testosterone levels to a large degree. Whereas on the other hand, being around a woman while she’s crying is enough to decrease testosterone by 12%. But again, this effect doesn’t last for long.
So unless you’re constantly sexually aroused or constantly around crying women, these won’t have a very big impact.
Rather, I’d suggest sticking to the 3 main points I covered:
By incorporating these points, you’ll likely be able to make a meaningful difference in terms of your testosterone levels and experience the many benefits that come with it.
That’s about it for this article – hopefully this was able to clear up some questions you had regarding testosterone. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions in the comments down below. And give me a follow on Instagram , Facebook , and Youtube where I’ll be posting informative content on a more regular basis. Cheers!
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