Dieting is notorious for its testosterone lowering abilities. And usually, the bigger the calorie deficit, the bigger the drop in testosterone.
The most extreme example are natural bodybuilders. When they step on stage at under 5% body fat, they usually experience near castrate testosterone levels.
Why this happens is fairly simple: when you don’t eat enough to support your body’s metabolic/hormonal mechanisms, it eventually has to shut or slow down some of them.
As the reproductive system is not essential for short-term survival, that’s one of the first ones to slow down to spare energy for more vital functions of the body.
The most basic correlation between nutrition and testosterone is this:
Malnutrition or a deficit of calories = Lower T
Maintenance or a surplus of calories = Higher T
Now, this is true most of the time, but not always.
If you’re chubby or overweight, then being on a slight calorie deficit can actually increase your testosterone levels.
This is because body fat produces an enzyme called aromatase, which converts testosterone to estrogen. By lowering your body fat percentage you decrease the activity of this enzyme which means more testosterone is left unconverted.
In research, a lower body fat percentage is strongly correlated with higher testosterone. However, only up to a point. Once you start getting below 8% body fat, T levels usually begin to decline.
It’s all a pretty complicated process, but we’ve broken down the tactics into three main pillars.
Here are the steps for you to eat for high natural testosterone:
Step 1 – Eat the Right Amount of Calories for You
If you’re above 12% fat, then use a slight calorie deficit in order to get in the range of 8-12%. Once you get there, continue with maintenance calories or do mini cut and bulk cycles in that body fat range.
If you’re already between 8-12% then just eat a maintenance amount of calories, or a slight surplus if you intend to build more muscle.
Bulking actually boosts testosterone levels in the short-term when you’re lean. But after you get above 14-15%, T levels start to decrease because more and more testosterone is converted to estrogen through aromatization.
Check out this calculator to see how many calories you should eat for maintenance, losing fat or lean bulking. All you have to do is input your current bodyweight in that field and choose how active you are.
Step 2 – Get an Adequate Amount of Micronutrients
After getting lean, the biggest thing you can do for you T levels is correcting any vitamin and mineral deficiencies you may have.
You’d think that with the current obesity epidemic, any average Joe’s vitamin and mineral reserves should be easily topped-up, since we’re cramming foods to our mouths more than ever before. But actually, a large portions of the US population are deficient in multiple key micronutrients.
Here are some numbers from a 2014 study.
Depending on the state of your current micronutrient balance, you could double or even triple your testosterone levels by just correcting micronutrient deficiencies.
Fixing deficiencies all starts with eating more real ‘whole foods’ instead of processed crap.
I’m talking about foods like: eggs, grass-fed meats, pomegranates, berries, potatoes, avocados, and so on. A proper ‘whole food-based diet’ alone covers the intake of many key micronutrients.
Despite what a lot of marketers say, you CAN get optimal vitamin and mineral levels through diet alone. You have to eat a variety of veggies, fruits, starches, and animal products and spread them well throughout the week.
But look I get it…you probably looked at that and said “Well shit… how am I gonna do that?”.
You probably barely have time to grab a decent lunch let alone cook every meal at home. So what you can do instead is have an OK diet but supplement with a good mutivitamin.
The AnabolicMen store sells a mutivitamin called Raw One from a company called Garden of Life for this purpose. But you can get any good multivitamin supplement from your local pharmacy.
I emphasize “good multivitamin.” Make sure it’s not under dosed or you would be wasting your money.
The bodybuilding world has an obsession with protein because amino acids are the building blocks of muscle.
The thinking goes: the higher the protein intake the better the rate of muscle growth.
But that’s false.
Eating protein doesn’t stimulate muscle growth, training does. Amino acids just need to be there to permit the growth to occur.
Step 3 – Optimize Your Macronutrient Ratios
Now, we established that your total calorie intake plays a big role in raising or lowering your testosterone. But something most people don’t know is that the macronutrient profile of the food you consume plays a major role in determining your hormonal balance.
Protein is actually the least important macronutrient for T production. Research shows that fats and carbs are much more important for your endocrine system.
For this reason unnecessarily high protein diets are indirectly detrimental for T production. If your calories are fixed, an increase in protein consumption will always accompany a decrease in both fat and carbohydrate intake. And that’s bad for your T levels.
To support your endocrine system it’s best to eat enough protein to maximize muscle growth but not more.
Eric Helms who extensively studied the protein needs of resistance trained lean athletes in a deficit, found the ideal protein range to be 0.8-1.3 grams per pound of bodyweight or 1.8-2.9 grams per kilogram.
For our purposes, you should aim for the lower end of that range, meaning 0.8 to 0.9g per pound or 1.8 to 2 grams per kilogram. This way you leave more room for fats and carbs.
The high fat, low carb diet is often claimed to be ideal for T optimization but actually, what works best is eating a balance of fats and carbs.
There are two crucial factors to look for when focusing on dietary fat intake:
- The actual amount of dietary fat you eat.
- The ratio between different types of fatty acids.
Several studies have shown that when diets lower in total fat intake, are compared to diets higher in total fat intake, the higher intake groups always have more testosterone, and less SHBG in their blood serum.
In another study two elite ice hockey teams were put on different diets for a period of 7 months. One team received a diet containing 40% fat and 45% carbs, whereas the other team ate a diet with 30% fat and 55% carbs (protein intake was identical). Both during and after the study, the researchers saw that the higher fat intake group had higher free testosterone levels, along with lower sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) levels.
Research shows that the type of fat you eat is also important.
In this study diets high in saturated fat and monounsaturated fat, significantly increased testosterone levels. Whereas the diets high in protein, or the diets high in polyunsaturated fats, both reduced testosterone levels in a pretty much dose dependent manner.
So eating 35-40% of your daily calories from mostly SFAs and MUFAs would be our recommendation for optimal testosterone production. No more than that because you have to leave some room for carbohydrates and protein too.
Carbs don’t stop you from losing weight and are actually very important for testosterone production.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is the hormone that basically starts the whole cascade of events that eventually leads to testosterone synthesis, adjusts its pulsation rate according to the glucose levels of the body.
When there’s high amount of glucose present, the hypothalamus inside our brains releases more GnRH, and thus your body synthesizes more testosterone.
As glucose is mainly generated from carbohydrates, it’s quite obvious that low-carb diets also mean lowered blood, muscle, and brain glucose levels, leading to slower release of GnRH, and therefore also lower testosterone.
This has been shown in research over and over again.
For example in this study, the researchers divided their subjects into 2 groups. The other group ate a high-carb low-protein diet, whereas the other group ate a high-protein low-carb diet. Fat intake and calories were identical. Ten days into the study, the results showed that the high-carb group had significantly higher free testosterone levels (+36%), lower SHBG levels, and lower cortisol levels when compared to the high-protein low-carb group.
So you should be eating plenty of carbs but not all sources are equal when it comes to boosting testosterone.
Chris divides them into 2 groups.
- Starchy tubers and veggies: potatoes, yam, pumpkins, beets, carrots, turnips, squash, etc.
- Grains: wheat, rice, cereals, pasta, corn, bread, etc.
If your goal is to eat the testosterone boosting carbs, you should eat most of your carbs from the group 1, and less from the group 2.
The reason for that is because grains contain a lot of gluten, and gluten is known for its prolactin increasing effects (study, study). Prolactin on the other hand is known for reducing testosterone levels. This is not the typical anti-gluten craziness – it’s just you should avoid excess prolactin to optimize testosterone.
So, in conclusion here’s what you need to do to optimize T through your diet:
- Be in the range of 8-12% body fat, or even 8-14%
- Get an adequate amount of micronutrients
- Split your macros like this: 25-30% protein, 30-40% fats, 30-40% carbs
Just like in yesterday’s post “How to Increase Testosterone Naturally” we have prepared a free ebook for you on eating and testosterone. Click the cover below to check it out: