Boosting T levels is a topic that arises for most athletes due to the incredible host of benefits that come with higher testosterone levels. This is especially so for men over 30 who may start to notice the effects of declining T levels. For those who practice BJJ, a sport that requires a lot of physical strength and energy, it is a reasonable concern as elevated levels result in increased sports performance.
Testosterone is a male sex hormone and anabolic steroid found in humans and some animals. Also known as an androgen, testosterone is responsible for the development and maintenance of male characteristics. It’s what makes a man a man, biologically speaking.
It also plays an essential role in a person’s health and overall wellbeing that can often be overlooked, but these are crucial areas, especially in terms of athletic performance. We most often associate testosterone with libido, but it is equally important for our muscle size and strength as well as our bone health and strength. Low levels are associated with weight gain, low energy, depression and mood swings, and thinner bones.
Testosterone production surges during puberty and levels will decline gradually after age 30, which is entirely normal. It’s also important to note that 25% of men over 30 have what is considered medically low hormone levels, but that number jumps to nearly 40% for men aged 45 and above. There is a wide range of acceptable levels, ranging between 280 and 1,100 nanograms per deciliter in men. Levels can be assessed through a simple blood test, and anything below 300 will usually warrant further examination.
While most men, especially those under 45, usually have little cause to worry, preventative measures are always better than requiring diagnostic care. While some fighters have notoriously turned to steroid use to enhance their recovery and performance, it is possible to boost testosterone naturally within the body.
Here’s everything you need to know to get T levels under control:
Sleep and Recovery
Sleep is one of the most underrated cures for many of our ailments; it is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. When we sleep, our body begins to repair itself, including muscles and tissues.
It also reinforces cardiovascular and immune systems and helps to regulate metabolism. Additionally, our circadian rhythm (our body’s internal clock) is crucial for the regulation of hormones, including cortisol, human growth hormone, and of course, testosterone.
Without sleep, or with compromised sleep, these vital functions will be impaired.
7-10 hours of sleep is recommended by experts to ensure you reap the full benefits. Studies have shown that even a week of 5 hours of sleeping time can reduce T levels by as much as 10-15% in young men. However, adding even just one additional hour can result in incremental production increases.
Rest and recovery are paramount to an athlete’s performance. In an ideal world, we would all sleep an average of 8 restful hours and not have any disorders to interrupt that. In reality, life can pose many challenges to this but better sleep hygiene such as no screen time after 10 pm, no phones in the bedroom, and having a wind-down routine can help with mild to moderate sleep issues. For moderate to severe issues, it is worth contacting a professional for advice.
Diet and Nutrition
Our diet is simply what we eat on a regular basis, and nutrition is simply foods that are necessary for our health and growth. Our diet must consist mostly of nutritiously dense foods to give our bodies the best fuel possible so it can function at peak levels. Supplements (which we will cover later) are great additions to a healthy diet but should not be used to replace one. It is always better to eat real foods that contain the macronutrients and micronutrients that are essential to the body’s daily functioning.
Vitamin D has excellent testosterone-boosting properties, but almost half of the US population is deficient in it. The quickest way to get your daily dose of vitamin D is to take a walk or lay in the sunshine, not that hard right? Alternatively, vitamin D can also be found in mushrooms, tuna, and eggs. If you are in a country with low sunshine days or even in the winter, a supplement, in this case, is recommended.
Healthy fats, particularly saturated fats (SFA) and monounsaturated fats (MUFA) result in higher testosterone levels in the body. SFAs are typically found in animal products like red meat, eggs, and dairy but are also found in coconut oil. However, please be aware that SFAs are to be consumed in moderation as they can be unhealthy in large quantities. MUFAs are found in fruit and vegetables like olive oil and avocados.
Zinc is an essential mineral that is found in our cells. It helps to maintain immune system health and aids in protein and DNA synthesis. It is also crucial for testosterone production and has been successfully used to treat hypogonadism (low testosterone). A daily zinc intake increases the levels of free testosterone in the body, however, supplementation may not be necessary as it is available in a wide variety of foods including beans, beef, crab, nuts, and oatmeal. Zinc cannot be stored in the body so must be ingested daily.
Vitamins A, C, E also purportedly have T boosting properties, but there is not enough research as of yet to provide conclusive results. Overall, a whole-food-based diet was still the best way to approach our health and nourish our bodies to function at peak capacities, including hormone regulation.
Avoiding estrogen-rich foods such as soy products like tofu and edamame may also be beneficial. Avoiding animal products from free-range and organic suppliers as commercially raised animal products tend to be higher in estrogen due to growth hormones they are fed.
Both endurance and resistance training increase testosterone levels. Strength-based workouts such as lifting weights will have a greater effect on your testosterone production. However, these effects are temporary unless you adhere to a consistent exercise routine. Research has demonstrated that resistance exercises help increase both short and long-term testosterone levels and growth hormone.
There is no evidence to suggest that cardio-based exercise, like running, has any effect whatsoever; however, high-intensity interval training (HIIT)has been proven to boost T levels.
Consider adding regular strength and conditioning classes to your training schedule in addition to your BJJ to reap the full rewards of your physical activities.
Reduce Stress Levels
The male reproductive system, including hormone synthesis, is influenced by the nervous system. The autonomic nervous system, responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ response, also triggers testosterone production.
However, this can be negatively affected by stress (especially chronic stress), which causes cortisol to be released by the adrenal glands. Although this helps to regulate blood pressure, it also causes a reduction in testosterone, so it is advised to manage stress levels in an effort to prevent this from happening.
Reducing stress levels is also applicable to your BJJ practice. While rigorous training is in the nature of the sport, it is important not to overtrain your body either. General fatigue, overuse or persistent injuries, slow healing, and a decline in your performance are all indicators that you may be pushing yourself too hard and need to take a break or train less often for a while.
Supplements are by no means meant to replace a healthy diet, but they can fill in the gaps to help overcome nutritional deficiencies as well as other beneficial properties. There are several that have been studied and have shown that they have a positive effect on T levels.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic plant with benefits that include reducing inflammation and increasing overall wellbeing, Studies have shown that not only does it boost testosterone levels, it also contributes to increased muscle strength and size and overall exercise performance. It is most commonly taken in pill or liquid form.
Ginger is a flowering plant whose root has incredible health-boosting properties. It helps to reduce inflammation, improves digestion, and relieves nausea. A daily ginger supplement can increase T levels. Ginger root can be juiced, or taken in capsule form.
Fenugreek is another natural herb that aids in hormone production. It is a clover-like Mediterranean herb commonly taken in capsule form. Research has shown to increase both testosterone and strength levels.
Testosterone levels in American men have been in an overall decline over the years, however, many of the contributing factors are due to lifestyle choices that are relatively easy to change. As BJJ athletes, it is natural to feel fatigued at some point throughout your training.
It’s always worth getting bloodwork done with a medical professional to understand the full picture, however, there are many alternative ways to boost testosterone without taking extreme action such as hormone replacement treatment (HRT). Try to address lifestyle choices as best as possible to increase overall wellbeing as well as your testosterone levels.