Make building muscle and burning fat easy – and send your sex drive soaring with these T-boosting tips
To build a bigger, stronger and leaner body, and to make your transformation as easy as possible, you need your hormones to be on your side. But what are hormones, and why are they so important?
Put simply, hormones are chemical messengers that deliver instructions to your cells and organs that control your physiological and metabolic activities, ranging from managing your hunger and appetite, to your memory, mood and motivation, to your levels of tiredness and wakefulness. You can read our full feature on how your hormones dictate your health and happiness here.
The T factor
When most of us are asked to name a hormone our minds turn to testosterone, the primary male sex hormone that’s responsible not just for your sex drive and reproductive health, but also how quickly and efficiently you build muscle and burn fat. It also has a big say in your bone health by improving bone mass and strength, and it’s the reason men grow beards and body hair. Women, whose primary sex hormone is oestrogen, also have testosterone but their levels are around eight times lower than men.
But while the T count in women is meant to be low, men’s levels are in freefall: the amount of testosterone produced by the typical man was 17% lower in 2007 than it was in the 1980s, according to the Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology And Metabolism, while the number of men suffering from low testosterone is set to increase 38% by 2025.
Low T levels not only makes building muscle and burning fat far harder, it also has a wide range of other detrimental physical and mental effects, from man boobs to depression, that you want to avoid. From around the age of 30 testosterone levels begin to decline, by around 1-2% a year, but there’s a few simple lifestyle changes you can make to keep your levels sky high to look, feel and perform at your best.
Don’t skimp on sleep
Anyone who suffers from a few nights of poor sleep knows that it zaps your energy levels, and any motivation to train hard and eat well goes out the window. That’s the result of your hormones going haywire to try and get your mind and body back in balance, and testosterone levels in particular take a real hit when you don’t get enough kip. In fact, just one week of restricted sleep – getting around five hours per night – reduced subjects’ daytime levels of T by a whopping 15%, according to research by the University of Chicago.
Aim for around eight hours of sleep per night, and do yourself a favour by not drinking caffeine after lunch, putting your laptop or phone away an hour before you want to turn in, and keeping your room as quiet and dark as you can.
Hit the weights
Lifting weights is the best way to improve body composition, the technical term for increasing lean muscle mass while reducing body fat levels. And a key part of the reason why is that pumping iron increases testosterone – and the smarter you train the bigger your spike.
A training plan based around compound lifts (those that work multiple muscle groups at once, such as the squat and bench press), where you perform a moderate to high number of reps with a relatively heavy load, and keep rest periods short – exactly like the workouts in New Body Plan – are the most effective for increasing T levels, causing the biggest jump 15 to 30 minutes after training, according to the journal Sports Medicine.
These sessions also increase other anabolic (or muscle-building) hormones, including human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1, which is great news for your better-body ambitions.
Lose weight, but eat fat
One of the best ways to elevate T is to lose excess body weight, because men who are obese have testosterone levels half those of their average-weight peers, according to the journal Clinical Endocrinology. But trying to lose weight by cutting out dietary fat isn’t the answer because fat is needed by your body to manufacture hormones, including testosterone.
A lack of dietary fat from a very low-fat diet will therefore significantly reduce levels of free testosterone with one study, published in the same journal, finding that men who went on a low-fat and high-carb diet suffered a 12% decline in testosterone levels.