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Hormones and Diet
Part Three: Testosterone/ Dietary Plans
By Gary F. Zeolla
Note: This article was revised and expanded and incorporated as a chapter in the book God-given Foods Eating Plan.
Part One of this article looked at diet and growth hormone (GH). Part Two began a discussion on diet and testosterone (T). This third and final part will finish the discussion on testosterone and then look at possible ways to incorporate this information in a dietary plan.
Fiber and Calories
In some of the studies mentioned in Part Two, passing mention was made that a high fiber intake was associated with reduced T levels. However, it was mentioned in Part One that fiber intake is good for GH levels as it helps to stabilize bloods sugar. And fiber intake is important for general health reasons. So the main point is that an excessive amount of fiber should be avoided. In fact, the very high fiber intake of vegetarians could be another reason they have such low T levels.
Another issue mentioned in passing in one of these quotes was that restricted caloric intake lowered T levels. This is more directly mentioned in the same source as follows, "We've observed a direct relationship between caloric intake and testosterone levels" (Thorton, p.154).
So a restriction in calories can lead to a drop in T levels. This is one reason people will plateau when trying to lose weight, regardless of the type of diet they are following. The mere reduction in calories can lead to a drop in T levels, which can hinder weight-loss efforts.
The answer is to always include an exercise program in any weight loss program. The exercise will enable additional calories to be consumed while still allotting for weight loss. Also, as with GH, exercise will raise T levels. And the same type of exercise that is best for raising GH levels is best for raising T levels-high intensity weightlifting, with a focus on total body movements like the powerlifts.
Pre- and Post-Workout and Bedtime Eating
It was mentioned in Part One that it is best to limit carbs before or after a workout and at bedtime as an increase in blood sugar would blunt the GH burst that should occur at these times. But the consumption of protein was recommended for the extra boost it gives to GH.
Similarly, it would be good to consume fat at these times for the boost it gives to testosterone. So a good post-workout drink would include a scoop or two of protein powder with a tablespoon or two of some kind of oil high in MUFAs or Omega 3s like canola or high-oleic safflower oil. If carbs are consumed, they should be limited to about a third of the total calories of the drink.
It was mentioned in Part One of this article that many people plateau in their weight loss while following a low-fat diet. This was attributed in part to a lowering of GH levels. But such a diet would also lower T levels, and this would be another reason for the plateau.
And it is not just those trying to lose weight that could run into problems from lowered T levels. Many people in their efforts to improve their health will restrict their fat and meat intake, some even to the point of following a low-fat, vegetarian diet. But such a diet would be devastating to T levels, and this could be why many people simply do not thrive on such a diet.
Powerlifters, bodybuilders, and other strength athletes aren't immune to the lure of the low-fat message either. In fact, as they become more dedicated to their sport, lifters will often limit their consumption of fat in an effort to build a fat-free, muscular body. But as they become more restrictive in their fat intake, their progress slows or even comes to a grinding halt. The reason for this would most likely be lowered T levels from the reduction in dietary fat.
The answer should be obvious. A higher fat diet would help to reverse this drop in T levels. The healthiest way to do so would be through the consumption of the monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and Omega 3 rich foods mentioned in Part Two. But a copious consumption of lean meats would be helpful as well.
Combine these recommendations with those for raising GH levels in Part One, and the ideal hormone optimization diet is shaping up to be one that is moderate in carbs (with the carbs being mainly low glycemic carbs), moderate in protein (with the protein mainly coming from meats), and moderate to high in fat content (with an emphasis on MUFA and Omega 3 rich fats). There should also be a copious consumption of veggies, and some fruit.
But what would be the best way to incorporate these recommendations into ones diet? This question will be addressed next.
Moderate Fat Diet
There are two possible ways to incorporate the above recommendations into one's diet. The first would be to use a diet where the three macronutrients are "balanced" against each other, but with an emphasis on fat content. This is the plan seen in the book The Testosterone Advantage Plan, by Lou Schuler, published by Men's Health magazine.
The idea here is similar to "The Zone" diet, but the proportions are different. The basic recommendation of The Zone is for a diet composed of 40% carb, 30% protein, and 30% fat. However, a 30% fat level is lower than the fat levels that were found to be optimal for robust T levels in studies cited in Part Two. In the two studies that gave a specific percentage, the first used a 40% fat level and the second 50%.
Schuler begins by recommending a diet with an even split between the three macronutrients, with each providing about 33% of calories. He then modifies this recommendation for people with different bodyweight goals.
For those looking to "bulk up" (i.e. gain bodyweight), he recommends 40% fat, along with 40% carb, and 20% protein. For the person looking to "maintain your weight while adding muscle and losing fat," he recommends 37.5% fat, along with 37.5% carb, and 25% protein (pp. 57-59). And a 37.5-40% fat level is more along the lines of that used in the studies in Part Two. However, going a little higher might be beneficial.
The reason for the percentage changes is Schuler is operating on the assumption that 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (0.9g/ pound) "is the maximum amount of protein that a weightlifting man can use to build muscle (p.58). So he keeps the grams of protein constant, but with changing the number of calories, the percentage of protein changes and thus the percentages of fat and carbs.
However, many powerlifters and bodybuilders would disagree with this assumption. The consensus among these athletes is that at least one gram per pound is required. But still, the basic idea is sound. Consume just enough protein for optimal recovery from strength training workouts, but no more. This will provide sufficient protein for enhancing GH release without being excessive enough to blunt testosterone production.
But exactly how much this would be will vary from person to person. And percentage-wise it would again depend on the number of calories one is consuming. But it would probably be between 20-30% for most people. The best recommendation would be to experiment with different protein levels and use your progress in the weight room as a guide. If your training is suffering, then it could be due to too low of protein levels. And if your training is going well, you're probably consuming sufficient protein.
A final factor to consider is the carb level. It was mentioned in Part One that reducing carbs too low could lead to lowered IGF-1 and thyroid hormone (T3) levels. Also, too low of a crab level and you would miss out on the anabolic effects of insulin. Also to be considered is that lowering carbs too much would lead to a reduction in energy levels, especially for working out.
The best approach here would be to reduce your carb levels until you feel a drop in energy levels, and then increase it just enough to bring your energy levels back up. Remember, carbs have just three purposes: 1. to be burned as energy. 2. to be stored as glycogen. 3. to be stored as body fat. So the ideal would be to consume just enough carbs to provide for energy and for fully stored glycogen levels, but no more.
So this leaves us with the following caloric proportions:
Another possible plan would be to use a cyclic diet. In this approach, most of the time a low carb/ moderate protein/ moderate to high fat eating plan is followed. But interspersed in-between the low carb days are occasional high carb meals. In this way, the hormonal benefits of moderate to high fat and moderate protein are realized but without the hormonal drawbacks of a strict low carb diet.
There are two versions of this type of plan. The first is the "Metabolic Diet" by Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale. Details on this plan can be found in his books The Metabolic Diet and The Anabolic Solution, along with on his Metabolic Diet Web site. But basically, the plan calls for following a strict low carb diet on weekdays and a high carb diet on weekends.
The second version is the "Natural Hormonal Enhancement Eating Plan" by Rob Faigin. Details on this plan can be found in his book Natural Hormonal Enhancement and on his Extique Web site. But basically, the plan calls for low carb eating five days a week, but two days a week with 1-2 high carb meals.
So both plans have you eating low carb five days a week and high carb two days a week. But in the former, the high carb days are two consecutive days, while in the latter they are on non-consecutive days (like Sundays and Wednesdays). Also, the high carb days in the former are just that, full days of high carb eating, while in the latter it is just for 1-2 meals. However, Dr. Di Pasquale does stipulate that some will find it best to follow the high carb eating for just 12 hours. So more specially, his plan calls for the high carb eating to last anywhere from 12-48 hours.
Either of the above types of plans will work in optimizing hormones. And they would be an improvement over all the major "diets" being promoted today as far as hormone optimization is concerned. But which is best for the reader would be a matter of personal experimentation.
I present my own version of the former on this site at Cyclic Nutrition Program for Hormone Optimization. I present details on my version of the latter in my book God-given Foods Eating Plan. This book provides great detail on the health and hormonal benefits of a moderate fat eating plan.
Di Pasquale, Mauro. The Anabolic Solution for Powerlifters. N/A. 2002. For details on this book and nutrition program, see the Metabolic Diet Web site.
Faigin, Rob. Natural Hormonal Enhancement. Extique Publishing: Cedar Moutaint, NC. 2000. For details on this book and nutrition program see the Extique Web site.
Schuler, Lou. The Testosterone Advantage Plan. Rodale: USA, 2002.
Thorton, Jim. " Maximum Testosterone." Men's Health. April, 2005, pp. 146-155,182.
Zeolla, Gary. Creationist Diet: Nutrition and God-given Foods According to the Bible. 1stBooks, 2000.
For email follow-ups to this article, see
Hormones and Diet: Part Three: Testosterone/ Dietary Plans. Copyright © 2005 by Gary F. Zeolla.
Disclaimers: The material presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only. The author is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any diet, exercise, or health improvement program, one should consult your doctor. The author is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice in this article.
The above article first appeared in the free FitTips
for One and All email newsletter.
It was posted on this site November 2, 2005.
The email follow-up was added June 21, 2007.
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