Testicle check: even if you’re 22 years old and in the prime of your testosterone-making years, your testicles may not be pumping out enough male hormone for peak muscle growth, repeat sex sessions and all-around manliness.
To find out, take this dripping-wet T test: the next time you step out of the shower and reach for your towel, stop and stand up straight. Now look down: if you can see your testicles, congratulations, Mr T. But if a big belly is blocking the view of your jewels, it’s likely that your testosterone levels aren’t anywhere near what they could be.
Belly fat is a testosterone buster. Excess body fat makes a man look more curvaceous than cut and, if he’s really unlucky, gives him a lovely pair of man-breasts to admire in the mirror.
But that’s not all. Body fat contains aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into oestrogens, the main sex hormones in women. Having extra oestrogens floating around your system triggers your body to slow its production of testosterone. And the less testosterone you make, the more belly fat you accumulate and the more oestrogens you spew. It’s a vicious, emasculating circle
In fact, though a beer belly might seem to some like a dramatic (if unattractive) declaration of manliness, a study of 1822 men by the Boston-based New England Research Institutes (NERI) confirmed that a man’s waist circumference is the single strongest predictor of low testosterone levels. It's even more accurate than age or overall health.
Researchers have also targeted midriff weight as the strongest predictor of a condition called symptomatic androgen deficiency, or AD. It’s marked by low libido, erectile dysfunction, osteoporosis, depressed mood, lethargy and diminished physical performance.
BLOCK THE T DRAIN
Sure, you lose some testosterone naturally as you age. But weight gain can accelerate that process. When NERI researchers monitored the health of men aged 40-70 for nine years, they found that the men who became overweight or obese experienced a more rapid drop in testosterone than those who’d kept a normal weight.
Another reason to hoard your T: the hormone can help offset your tendency to lose muscle mass as you age. According to research at Boston’s Tufts University, muscle mass begins to slip by about one per cent a year from age 30 onward. That can mean a loss of approximately 150 grams of prime beef every year. But in a four-and-a-half study by US health insurance company Kaiser Permanente, men with higher levels of testosterone lost less muscle mass than men with lower levels.
Watch that muscle drain, because it also contributes to an age-related metabolic slowdown that can pad your body with almost half a kilo of fat a year. This metabolic remodelling is a change most men never see coming. Even if you maintain your weight over the years, you could be saying goodbye to what you want to keep (muscle) and hello to what you don’t need (body fat). That fateful swap could be lowering your testosterone levels even further.
But there is good news: you can reverse the tide and turn on your body’s testosterone tap by losing weight, especially belly weight. Kickstart your T production with this three-tiered approach.
Related: 6 Ways To Flat Abs
Heavy lifting, less running
Vigorous resistance exercise triggers a big burst of testosterone. Stick to weightlifting movements that hit multiple muscle groups, limit your rest between sets and keep cardio to a minimum.
This approach stimulates your body’s production of growth hormone, which helps you build more muscle faster, says certified strength and conditioning specialist Josh Bryant. It also uses up glycogen reserves rapidly, so your body burns more fat for energy.
Lifestyle bombs and boosters
Your daily habits outside the gym also wield significant influence over your testosterone levels and muscle-building ability. Many of the simplest decisions you make each day can secretly have a hand in either boosting your testosterone or slowing it down – or even stopping its production altogether. Here are a few testosterone boosters and bombers to track.
T BOOSTER: SLEEP Log your eight hours. A 2011 University of Chicago study found that averaging five hours of shut-eye decreased men’s T levels by up to 15 per cent.
T BOMBER: ALCOHOL Studies show that excess alcohol speeds the conversion of testosterone and other androgens into oestrogen. If you want to maximise your T production, fat loss and muscle gain, cut down on your drinking.
Related: Why Booze Goes To Your Belly
T BOOSTER: ERECTIONS In a study in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, eight men had their blood levels of testosterone measured before, during and after they viewed a pornographic film. Their levels were highest 60-90 minutes after the film ended, with an average 35 per cent gain in T. So to build up more testosterone, have more erections.
T BOMBER: BPA Bisphenol A, a chemical used in food cans and plastic containers, may lower your testosterone by exposing you to chemicals that mimic oestrogen in your body. Steer clear of foods in containers carrying the recycling number 7.
Food for more testosterone
Nutrients work hand in hand with hormones like testosterone to build muscle. But if you’ve been following the traditional advice for losing weight – cut kilojoules, reduce dietary fat and watch your intake of red meat and eggs – you are missing out on those critical nutrients that build T levels and foster “anabolism”, or muscle growth.
If you want to lose 10kg of fat, build major muscle and boost your testosterone, pair your workouts with these food rules from sports nutritionist Tara Gidus.
DON’T SKIMP ON KILOJOULES: men on an intense exercise regimen who took in only about 7500kJ a day experienced a 40-50 per cent drop in testosterone after just five days. “Consuming enough kilojoules prevents the body from slowing testosterone production as a reaction to perceived starvation,” says Gidus. Multiply your current weight in kilos by 100 and 120 to find your daily lower and upper kilojoule targets.
EAT A RANGE OF AMINO ACIDS: aim for two grams of protein daily per kilo of body weight – and go beyond chicken breast. “You’ll improve your odds of consuming enough of each essential amino acid by eating different protein foods each day,” says Gidus.
NAIL YOUR CARB RATIO: eat 4g of carbohydrates per kilo of body weight daily. This yields a 2-to-1 carb-to-protein ratio that’s optimal for raising testosterone levels, says Gidus.
DON’T FEAR SATURATED FAT: about 20-30 per cent of your daily kilojoules should come from fat, and not just those heart-healthy monounsaturated fats found in olive oil. Saturated fat contains cholesterol, which is a crucial precursor to testosterone production. So make sure that 5-10 per cent of your daily kilojoules come from saturated fat in foods like red meat and egg yolks. No egg white omelettes, you hear!