Beat the post-40 testosterone drop and maintain your virility

While testosterone drops off in midlife, there are natural ways to increase it - Getty

Testosterone is a vital hormone that’s crucial for so many functions. It is responsible for growth, repair and sexual function, so maintaining a normal level is important. Men need testosterone for strong bones, building muscle and virility. But this sex hormone isn’t just in men, women have it too, just at lower levels.

In men, testosterone levels peak in our early 30s, before starting a gradual descent from that point onwards. But now a large new research programme, from the University of Massachusetts, has shown us that male testosterone levels at the age of 54 are a staggering 22 per cent lower than just two decades ago, with scientists laying the blame on our poor diet and lifestyle.

If this is a real generational change – and testing within my own facilities would back those numbers up – we need to rapidly address the problem and raise the bar again. Our vitality depends upon it, so what should you do to reboot this essential hormone?

Eat whole grains and oily fish

Eat as little processed food as possible and aim to eat a rainbow of colours of vegetables. The scientists behind the study all pointed to processed food as the major culprit since they are low in quality nutrients and high in sugars and trans fats. Also make sure that you have plenty of magnesium, zinc and Vitamin D. These are the nutrients shown to have a positive effect on testosterone production. Up your intake of avocados, nuts, legumes, seeds, oily fish and whole grains and get plenty of direct sunlight whenever possible.

Lift weights

Hundreds of studies have shown that lifting weights increases the production of testosterone. Strength training inflicts controlled damage on the body stimulating testosterone to start the repair process. To maximise testosterone production you need to prioritise training in the ‘hypertrophy zone’. Lift as heavy as you can for reps of 8-10 and 3-4 sets, ideally done as a super-set with the opposing muscle group, working back-to-back with little rest in between. (An example of a superset would be doing one set of 10 push-ups focusing on your chest and shoulder muscles. Then, immediately do a set of pull-ups focusing on your back and bicep muscles.)

One big message that comes out of research is: don’t forget to train your legs. Upper-body-only training produces far lower demand for testosterone production, so don’t forget your squat and lunges.

Switch between walking and sprinting

You get the most testosterone benefit out of training at the two ends of the cardiovascular spectrum. So, regularly go out and get your low intensity walks for long periods of time, 60 minutes or more, and if you are reasonably fit pop on a rucksack to add some more weight and make sure your heart is working hard enough. The top end of Zone 2 and just into Zone 3 is where your heart rate needs to be – that’s low intensity continuous exercise, when you’ll be breathing hard, able to have a conversation but not easily.

Then on top of that, do high intensity training with heart rate up in Zone 5, going all out for 60-90 seconds and then recover to bring your heart rate back down to low Zone 2 before you repeat again. It’s best to use a heart rate monitor to track your heart rate, but if you don’t have one you can place two fingers on your wrist to count your heart beats for 10 seconds then multiply by six to get your full heart rate, although this is obviously not as precise or convenient. Use heart rate to measure your recovery every time so that you know your body has recovered rather than just timing it. The further into the session you go the longer the recovery will take so don’t over do it. Aim to repeat this 8-10 times but gradually build up to this level.

Don’t over-train

It is not the case that more is better. There is an optimum sweet spot for stimulating testosterone. Training harder or training more will just lead to fatigue and this has the opposite effect on hormonal health.

Planning your week of activity is essential. You need to hit all the right activities at the right intensity to create the perfect stimulus for improvement and testosterone production.

You need to strength train at least twice per week, perform low intensity cardio at least twice per week and perform HIIT training twice per week. If you’re new to this, you can see how easily you could end up exhausting yourself and over-training, so take a progressive approach and build up slowly.

Maximise your recovery

Sleep is so important for hormonal health. This is when the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that acts as a key regulatory centre, turns up the dial on testosterone production. So quite simply, if you limit your sleep, you limit your testosterone.

Getting enough sleep is stage one, but you also need to make sure you’re getting good quality sleep. There are plenty of wearable devices that now give you some good data on this. Look at how long you have managed to be in deep and REM sleep, the key phases for recovery and restoration. According to the sleep tracking company Whoop, we should have a combined 2.5-3 hours per night of the two, within a seven-hour sleep. Then, if possible, start understanding your HRV (heart rate variability) score. This gives you a great indicator of how well your body is recovering and also how hard your body can be pushed on any given day.

If you don’t have a device, consider keeping a sleep journal and documenting what you did before bed and then how you feel when you wake each morning. Over time you will likely notice trends of what is working well for you or not.

If you find you have trouble with quality sleep, start to experiment with eating earlier, cut out alcohol, try magnesium baths or supplements, and 5-HTP or GABA supplements before bed. Use your device to monitor to see if there is a positive response to the trial. If so, keep up the good habits.


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