While sharing some thoughts about testosterone in Guys and That Time of Year, I decided to put together a little guide on optimizing the main male hormone. Don’t think of this as an article on how to simply raise or quickly boost testosterone, think of it as a way to optimize the main male hormone and it’s rhythms by restoring the health of the person, allowing the true man to emerge…
Testosterone is on the minds of many (if not all) men these days as its exposure and the awareness of its role in men’s health has dramatically increased over the last decade. The substance that makes men manly is now widely prescribed via the medical world and overall interest in hormone therapy and testosterone boosting supplements are also climbing, some claim at any alarming rate. Many men don’t feel the way they did in their 20’s. More weight around the middle coupled with less muscle and reduced or no libido, drive and energy are pretty common and not surprising to see from men in their 40’s and beyond.
Are these men deficient in testosterone? Should they ask our doctors if Androgel is right for them? Join the countless others scouring the internet and supplement aisles for something to get back the oomph that used to be so natural? Or should we just chalk up all these dwindling things up to age, stress and life in general and learn to live with it?
Not surprisingly, I feel the problem lies a little deeper than just a lack of testosterone. I want to go back to the question: Are these men deficient in testosterone? Or are they deficient in health? Testosterone levels are a function of time and organism health. Healthy bodies don’t have hormone problems. I think the problem isn’t a testosterone deficiency (although hormone therapy will give a short term boost), I think it’s a health deficiency that has a symptom of low testosterone.
The solution to men not feeling like themselves or feeling less manly (often correlated with low testosterone) is to rebuild men’s health, after which testosterone will fall back into place.
Notice that I’m using the word “optimizing”- not increasing or boosting or even raising. That’s not what I want to focus on because that’s what gets us in trouble- focusing on raising something and managing or living by a number, instead of looking at the function of the person. We want to increase the health of the man, not just raise his testosterone just as we want to increase someone’s health not simply lower their cholesterol. Optimizing testosterone also means having it follow natural daily and seasonal rhythms, not just being high all the time. In my mind, one of the reasons why hormone therapy is sometimes problematic is that we don’t take the person’s health or hormonal rhythm into account. We supplement bluntly and blanketly, without appreciating the subtlety and beauty inherent in natural ebb and flow of human biology. Testosterone has peaks and valleys that balance out over days and the year to provide appropriate exposure and promote optimal and continued sensitivity. Being at a high level all the time is as bad as being low all the time and giving a sick man a bunch of testosterone might rev him up for a while but it’s a false sense of wellness and often overshoots his biological status, lending to many problems, one of which is a growing dependence on hormone therapy.
That being said, most men still want to feel as strong and full of vigor as when they were teenagers. The purpose of this Optimizing Testosterone guide is to cover three basic things:
1) Optimize your health, which results in testosterone finding an optimal place. This is the big one.
2) Provide a few tricks for stimulating testosterone production.
3) Discuss different supplements/herbs/etc. for boosting testosterone.
So without further adieu let’s get the journey started to finding your inner Ron Burgundy/James Bond/Wolverine/Chuck Norris/Most Interesting Man in the World…
This is the big one. Everyone wants shortcuts but the truth is you’ll only get mild benefits from other interventions if this isn’t in order. If you want to optimize your testosterone and how you feel you need to focus on getting healthy, plain and simple. Once you do that all the other things get magnified and can really help take you to the next level.
To get everything back on board and functioning well these are the main things you’ll need to address. I’ll keep it simple (as most of these deserve their own write up) mostly for reference and guidance but kind in mind that although discussed quickly the more seriously you take these the better you’ll do.
- Eat well
- Estrogen exposure
- Excess weight
- Stress Management
- Drugs (prescription or recreational)
Sleep – Get enough. The body repairs, recovers and prepares for the day ahead while you sleep. Most importantly, testosterone builds up at night so give it the opportunity to do so. Hint: limit bright lights to encourage quality and onset of sleep.
Exercise – Move your body. Sedentary guys are sedentary men. Anything you can do to move is beneficial but if you can move with intensity it helps strengthen the masculine aspect. Hint: lift weights, starting with your bodyweight, increase to as intense as you can exercise.
Eat well – Cleaner is better. Limiting junk and processed food will help the body be healthier. Guys benefit from cleaning up their diet very quickly. You don’t have to be perfect, just better. Hint: don’t eliminate fat, salt or cholesterol, they all add to your health more than hurt it.
Estrogen – Limit exposure to estrogen. Whether dietary or environmental, estrogens can be problematic, particularly if you can’t get rid of them. Hint: watch out for soy products.
Sunlight – Get outside. The sun stimulates a cascade of biological processes, one of which is optimal circadian (daily) rhythms. One of the most underrated ways to restore health is to get outside. Hint: the drone of indoor life will severely limit your vitamin D and subsequent testosterone production.
Body weight – Lose excess weight. More than 10-15 pounds over your normal/ideal weight drags down health. Hint: Fat releases a hormone that changes testosterone into estrogen so the more excess fat you have the more likely some of your testosterone is getting converted to estrogen.
Smoking/Drinking – Limit these. Both work in opposition to health when a big part of life. Hint: More than a few of these a week makes it difficult to be healthy.
Stress – Manage stress. Not eliminate it, find ways to manage it. Nothing can zap a man’s energy, libido and confidence like chronic stress. Hint: Whatever, however, whenever, find ways to relax and regroup each day/week.
Toxins – Limit and eliminate. Toxins slow the system and hinder health. The liver needs a break, particularly since it is intimately responsible for good hormone production. Hint: Toxins are everywhere so be aware of hidden sources (food, soap, deodorant, household chemicals, plastics).
Vitamins/Minerals – Get adequate levels of the micronutrients. Cholesterol, vitamin A, zinc, iron, selenium, magnesium and vitamin/hormone D are all vital for good production and management of testosterone. Hint: real food like eggs, steak, liver and salmon are nutrient dense and help nourish health better than supplements.
Drugs – limit all of them, particularly recreational. Don’t stop taking a medication just to help your testosterone but look into if it impacts health or hormones (i.e. cholesterol lowering drugs) and if it can be lifestyle corrected. Hint: this is often a big player but don’t change anything without thought or guidance.
The bottom line is by optimizing health you will optimize testosterone. Healthy men are vibrant men. Vibrant men feel like men because they’re healthy and good testosterone is a symptom of health.
A Few Testosterone Tricks
As mentioned above, the foundation to feeling like a man is restoring health. That being said, there are a few things you can experiment with that can help give you a little boost in the Burgundy department.
- Cold showers or swims – the colder the better. Daily if possible. Can pair hot sauna with cool baths for extra boost.
- Boost testosterone nutrients – vitamin A, vitamin/hormone D, magnesium, zinc and selenium can be taken in a little extra amounts as supplements or in foods high in them (i.e. brazil nuts and selenium). Just don’t overdo it.
- Have strong posture – your hormones are, in part, a reflection of your body position and language. Strong body language sends alpha male signals to the brain, resulting in more testosterone production. Stand tall, chest out and chin up.
- Intermittent fasting – skipping a meal occasionally (can pair with exercise for extra mileage). Usually takes a little getting used to but the healthier you get the easier it will be.
- Have sex, or at least an orgasm – shouldn’t be a hard sell here.
Supplements and Herbs
Two main things to convey here. First, most of the supplements that claim to have testosterone boosting properties just don’t have much research behind them or vary tremendously from person to person. Maybe some of these might have some efficacy for a few guys out there but I don’t think it’s the best idea to start getting involved with these and focus your time, attention and money on the basics. Second, any supplements, herbal concoctions, and creams might give you a boost but give you a false sense of positive. The body isn’t in the right place to be forced into overdrive. Testosterone is low because the body isn’t healthy. It’s a symptom of disorder, not the cause. Adding a bunch of testosterone driving substances to your system might make you feel better but will be temporary and shallow and may indeed be harmful.
Testosterone replacement therapy is another issue that isn’t the focus of this discussion. It may be necessary for some but I think most men should exhaust all of their resources in reclaiming their health naturally before adding hormones into the mix, no matter how tempting the commercials or someone at work might make it seem. As mentioned above, unless absolutely necessary I think you get into a tricky realm at best (and messy, frustrating or dangerous realm at worst) with some unintended consequences when adding testosterone to an organism not healthy enough to support high levels.
If you like podcasts, The Well Man’s Podcast did a nice episode on testosterone that gets to all this and more.
The Bottom Line on Burgundy-fying Your Life
1. Take care of yourself. It is your responsibility but has a high reward for you and everyone in your life.
2. Don’t skimp on the basics, they are your foundation. Sleep, eat cleaner, move well, get outside and manage your stress.
3. Health basics first, tricks second. The tricks add much more when used by healthy men.
4. Drugs are for people who can’t fix their health and this usually comes with downsides.
5. Take your time, do it right and your inner Ron Burgundy will come bursting out.
It’s not usually what people, and impatient men in particular, want to hear but for almost all men who want to feel that fire again the answer is to get yourself healthy. It takes time to do it right but it’s real when you do it and lasts as long as you stay healthy, instead of only lasting until your prescription runs out.
Thanks for reading, have a great day!