What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is arguably the most revered hormone among bodybuilding. It is a steroid hormone produced mainly in the testes of males and ovaries of females (at lower levels). It is such a well-known steroid hormone, that the term "steroid" has become synonymous with testosterone and its artificial analogues. It is both an anabolic hormone and an androgenic hormone, meaning that it is responsible for growth as well as masculine features.
Testosterone has a range of physiological effects, some of which are directly beneficial to bodybuilding and sports, while others are more so for day to day life.
Testosterone Benefits for Bodybuilding
The reason why testosterone is so important for bodybuilding and other sports, is that testosterone is technically an anabolic steroid. This means that testosterone increases bone density and muscle protein synthesis, and hence, promotes muscle growth and repair. Hence, people with higher levels of testosterone may be able to put on muscle more quickly than those with lower levels, an example of this would be the muscular difference between men and women.
Testosterone levels are generally seven to eight times higher in adult men than they are in adult women (Torjesen & Sandnes, 2004). This is the reason why men are able to notice much greater gains in muscle size from weight training compared to women. Consequently, unless healthy women use endogenous testosterone, they should have no concerns about "getting too bulky". For more information please refer to our "Should Women be Scared of Gaining Muscle?" article.
Testosterone Benefits for Men
Men need testosterone for the development of characteristic male features. This effect of testosterone is known as "androgenic". Proper development of the penis, testes, libido, and fertility is dependent on the presence of testosterone, as well as features such as deepening of the voice and growth of facial and auxiliary hair. During adolescence, testosterone is the hormone that causes growth spurts as well as oily skin and acne.
Even though testosterone is often associated with men, it is still an important hormone in women for the maintenance of bone and muscle mass.
There is some evidence to show that aggression is positively correlated with testosterone. That is, males with higher levels of testosterone were more likely to be involved with physical or verbal acts of aggression (Olweus et al, 1980). In addition to this, it has been observed that people with higher levels of testosterone also tended to take more risks in life (Sapienza et al, 2009). Though it can be argued that whether this is actually a benefit or negative is a more subjective matter.
Ways to Boost Testosterone
The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about boosting testosterone is through the use of exogenous testosterone and testosterone-like drugs (or steroids) to artificially increase testosterone levels. Although this is an effective means to increasing testosterone, it is also attributed to severe side effects and is an illegal practice as deemed by the law of most developed countries and sporting organisations. More information regarding this can be found in our "Legal Steroids" article.
There are however, many safe and legal ways to increase your natural level of testosterone production:
- Losing fat: Excess body fat has been correlated to low levels of testosterone (Hakonsen et al, 2011). This is likely a result of fat cells producing aromatase, the enzyme that converts testosterone into oestrogen. Higher levels of body fat therefore reduces available testosterone and increases oestrogen. Ensure you have a good clean diet and commence exercise. The use of fat burner supplements can also be of additional assistance for fat loss.
- Micronutrients: Certain micronutrients such as vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium are known to either increase or support testosterone levels.
- Sleep: Sleep has been determined as a major factor in circulating testosterone effects (Andersen & Tufik, 2008). Ensuring you get lots of deep sleep will help boost testosterone levels.
- Weight training: Weight training has been shown to be effective in increasing blood testosterone levels (Marin et al, 2006). This happens pretty much after each training session, so to make sure to keep lifting!
- Testosterone supplements: There is a wide selection of testosterone supplements designed to support or boost your natural levels of testosterone production. These can include ingredients such as tribulus, D-aspartic acid, and long jack which may directly increase testosterone levels within normal limits. Anti oestrogen can also be purchased as dietary supplements containing aromatase inhibitor ingredients such as resveratrol.
Andersen & Tufik (2008), The effects of testosterone on sleep and sleep-disordered breathing in men: Its bidirectional interaction with erectile function. Sleep Medicine Reviews 12: 365-379
Hakonsen et al (2011), Does weight loss improve semen quality and reproductive hormones? results from a cohort of severely obese men. 8: 24 (online)
Marin et al (2006), One session of resistance training may increase serum testosterone and triiodetironine in young men. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38: S285.
Olweus et al (1980), Testosterone, aggression, physical, and personality dimensions in normal adolescent males. Psychosomatic Medicine 42: 253-269
Sapienza et al (2009), Gender differences in financial risk aversion and career choices are affected by testosterone. PNAS, 8: 15266-15273
Torjesen & Sandnes (2004), Serum testosterone in women as measured by an automated immunoassay and a RIA. Clin. Chem., 50: 678-679