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How Important Is Protein For Your Testosterone Levels?

When it comes to weight training, most people confidently assume that protein and testosterone share a mutually beneficial relationship. However, what if you were to find out that protein may not have your male hormonal profile’s wellbeing at heart? Yes, the research is in, and the way (and when) you may taking your protein needs to be reconsidered.

Before we delve into the intriguing results of those studies, it is important to note that protein is still very essential to your muscle building process. Without sufficient intake of good protein sources, you will never be able to synthesize new muscle tissue. With that in mind, let’s go on an adventure into muscle science.

Diets High In A Protein Vs. Carbohydrate Ratio Is Not Superior For Muscle Gains

Though we have been “brainwashed’’ for years that all things protein is god, a study published by   the Journal of Life Sciences that was conducted on 7 men revealed findings that were controversial to say the least. What were these findings?

For one, was the fact that the group consuming higher carbohydrate intake possessed superior total testosterone levels, coupled with a lower total level of the highly catabolic hormone cortisol. At first impression though, this sounds like a muscle dream vacation. However, upon closer inspection there were a number of variances for supporting hormones as well.

For example, the binding hormone SHBG(which binds to sex hormones) is elevated in the higher carb group, meaning that the increased testosterone levels are not readily free, or only with a small difference (7% in this study). Though more research needs to be conducted to verify when exactly free testosterone is liberated, it is worth noting the overall increase on the higher carb diet. The same was true for cortisol as cortisol binding globulin also increased.

In other words, the different diet ratios are almost equal when it comes to free testosterone levels.

Post- Workout Protein Supplementation Is Overrated: It Does Not Directly Improve Hormonal Levels after Your Workout

This one is likely to ruffle some feathers, but a study conducted in 2015 was able to reveal that consumption of a post workout protein shake (consisting of 20g protein, 6g carbs and 1g fat) did not result in superior levels of signaling proteins such as Akt, mTOR, p70S6k, and RPS6 or highly anabolic hormones, including insulin, growth hormone and testosterone, when compared to blood levels from the group given the placebo.

What are these Fancy Signaling Proteins Exactly? In a nutshell:

– Akt- also known as protein kinase B, is an enzyme which promotes protein synthesis, cell multiplication and at the same time inhibits cell death. It also signals for glucose to be shuttled into storage. Its activity is induced by insulin and IGF-1.

– mTOR- another kinase which plays an important role in cell survival, protein synthesis, auto-programmed cell death and replication of genes. 

– p70S6K- an enzyme which signals protein synthesis and cell replication to ensue.

– RPS6- a ribosomal subunit involved in translation of proteins (directly determining which proteins are synthesized) and regulate cell size, replication rate and glucose balance.

While you can still consume your protein shake immediately post-workout, you can also choose to opt for a solid post workout meal instead. The anabolic window may be a myth after all, if this study indicated anything, being strongly supported by this other study indicating that overall daily protein intake may be a more important growth factor than timing.

However, a note must be taken that the study involved relatively training naïve men, who may very well react to overall protein intake as opposed to precise timing, which may be important for experienced athletes. More studies are definitely needed to confirm these findings and include experienced athletes.

Let’s be very clear; the results of these studies do not signify that protein is not important, it rather implies that timing may not be as strict as we make it. However you get your protein is fine, be it from solid food or protein supplements. When it comes to a “window” it does not necessarily exist. If it does, it lasts anywhere between 4-6 hours.

High Protein Consumption Does Not Boost Testosterone Levels: Fat Intake And Total Caloric Intake Does

It’s been seen a million timed before, athletes and bodybuilders who substitute out super important fats, and to a lesser degree carbs, for more protein. This by itself is bad, but it is worse when the protein source is comprised of artificial supplements, and not good animal protein.

To put this in perspective also, the most perfect protein consumption amounts to nothing significant if hormone levels are poor. And that could very well happen on such a diet high in protein and missing out on fats.

This is why the following study shine some light on what we may be doing wrong. The cohort of this study included 12 men having experience with resistance training, who trained bi-weekly for a period of 17 days, and who had blood levels of cortisol and testosterone measured at fixed intervals peri-workout.

The exercise of choice were the bench press and the jump squat, and demonstrated some effects you might have come to expect, but also others that were surprising. These include:

– Testosterone levels increased after each exercise session; confirming the fact that weight training is a powerful anabolic stimulus.

– The catabolic stress hormone cortisol showed decreased blood levels following performing the jump squat exercise. The reason for this is likely attributed to the negative-reciprocal relationship testosterone and cortisol share. As one increases. The other decreases. In the case of the jump squat, the increase in testosterone levels was very high, causing a net drop in cortisol levels overall.

That wasn’t all the study examined however, as it also sought out the effect that diet (your macros in particular) had on blood testosterone levels. It was found that:

– Subjects that consumed higher levels of fat during the day prior to working out had significantly higher blood testosterone values when measured before the workout. This can be useful for boosting motivation and drive before your exercise session.

– Fat intake is extremely important for optimal testosterone production. Since hormones are synthesized from cholesterol, following a lower fat diet inhibits your ability to achieve optimal levels of testosterone. Be sure to include plenty of healthy saturated fats and omega-3 & 6.

Aim for saturated and monounsaturated fats. These include animal proteins, coconut oil and avocado, olives and seeds.

Of particular interest when trying to achieve greater muscle mass while remaining lean is an omega 6 fatty acid known as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). It has been found in studies to promote a significant increase in post-workout testosterone levels, very useful at times when muscle repair needs to resume. CLA is found naturally in red meat or can be supplemented, so you have a choice when opting for it.

The key is to not force fat intake the hour prior to your workout, but concentrate consumption to the entire day before you work out. So, if you train at 3PM, get in most of your daily fats at lunch and breakfast, and optionally a snack.

High Protein Intake May Be Beneficial In Older Men

Older men are lucky in the sense that higher protein intake may boost their testosterone levels, contrary to what happens in younger men. A study conducted at the University Of Massachusetts Medical School on 1500 men found that men who consumed the lowest amounts of protein had high levels of SHBG, which reduces free testosterone levels. However, the men in the study consumed very low amounts of protein (<80g/day), too low even by moderate standards (which according to common belief is somewhere around 150g for men of average weight)

At this time, these effects have not been demonstrated in young men, since men in the study ranged from age 40-70.

Conclusion

Though protein remains an important part of the muscle building process, it is not the answer to boosting your hormone levels. If your testosterone levels are significantly below what they should be, natural and botanical sterols can be a god send. They are without the negative effects of dangerous synthetic hormones, and are still exceptionally good at promoting anabolism.

Consume saturated fats; they are one of the fastest ways to improve your physique and provides an excellent energy source. Even more, coconut oil could become your favorite saturated fat. MCTs are converted easily into ketone bodies in the liver, offering a fast and efficient way to kick off the morning.

Ensure you cook with primarily coconut or olive oil, and not any random vegetable oil as those may be loaded with Trans fats. About two hours before your workout, consume your last fat heavy meal or snack, an avocado being an excellent option.

Eat real foods at meal times, and don’t go overboard with protein supplements, a little can go a long way. Have a few eggs for breakfast, along with good medium chain triglycerides (such as found in coconut oil) and you will be on your way to a lean, muscular body!

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References:

Diet-hormone interactions: protein/carbohydrate ratio alters reciprocally the plasma levels of testosterone and cortisol and their respective binding globulins in man. [Life Sciences. 1987]- PubMed- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3573976

Protein supplementation does not alter intramuscular anabolic signaling or endocrine response after resistance exercise in trained men. [Nutrition Research. 2015]- PubMed- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26428621

The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis [Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013]- JISSN. Retrieved from http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-53

Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise.[ Journal of applied physiology. 1985]- PubMed- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9029197

Effect of conjugated linoleic acid on testosterone levels in vitro and in vivo after an acute bout of resistance exercise.[ Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2012]- PubMed- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22614148

Diet and Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin. [Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2009] JCEM. Retrieved from http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jcem.85.1.6291

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