You know what they say: “Sun’s out…guns out.” Now that most enclaves of snow have melted and skis have been waxed and stowed, weekends are now spent shirtless, close to some sort of grilled meat. Dedicated skiers often find themselves in top shape during winter, but then in summer things – many things – start to soften and sag. This could be more to blame on hormonal changes then anything else (yes, yes, and whiskey). And there is one hormone in particular to pay attention to when the weather warms: testosterone.
In men, testosterone increases metabolic functions, which contributes to lower total body fat, increased muscle size, increased bone density, hair growth, sperm development, erectile function, and the promotion of libido. In women, testosterone is produced by the ovaries and signs of low levels can include a gloomy mood, reduced motivation, fatigue, decreased libido, bone loss, decreased muscle strength, and changes in cognition.
A variety of factors impact testosterone levels in both men and women, with exercise and proper nutrition exerting the most influence. When it comes to exercise, if your summertime régime consists of one arm, 12-ounce curls, and drooling over ski porn, then your testosterone levels could be dropping each day you’re off of the slopes. A progressive increase in testosterone occurs during moderate exercise that lasts between 45 to 90 minutes. In The Testosterone Advantage Plan, author Lou Schuler endorses strength training over cardiovascular endurance training (think ultra marathon) for males who want to promote healthy levels of testosterone.
Off-season workouts should involve weight-lifting exercises that train several large muscle groups, not just one or two smaller muscles. In fact, studies have shown that doing squats, bench presses or back rows increases testosterone more than doing biceps curls or triceps pushdowns, even though the effort may seem the same.
Meanwhile, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, the other hormone hazard of less exercise in the summer is packing on excess body fat which can elevate estrogen levels. Excess estrogen saturates testosterone receptors in the brain reducing the secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH), which is necessary for testosterone production. So that little I’ve-been-drinking-too-many-beers gut might not be so funny, it might decrease your performance on the hill and in bed.
In addition to excess body fat, certain foods can also cause men and women to experience high levels of estrogen and subsequent lower testosterone levels. Our food and water supplies are laden with xenoestrogens—byproducts of industrial or chemical processing that have estrogen-like effects—and estrogen compounds are fed to chickens and cattle to increase meat, egg, and dairy production. So if anything, the reason to buy organically raised meats and produce is for your hormones.
Beyond organic, there are other foods that help keep testosterone levels optimal: fiber, fats, and zinc. Focus on cruciferous veggies —think cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (that’s right, add butter), cauliflower, kale, and collard greens. These veggies act like testosterone boosters due to their estrogen-weakening compound Indole-3-Carbinol.
Next, don’t skimp on fat, but know that there’s good fat and bad fat. Your body needs dietary fat to produce testosterone, and all other sex hormones. The best ones are the omega-3 fats found in wild caught salmon, sardines, walnuts, flax seeds, and grass-fed beef. Current estimates show that up to 80% of Americans have deficient essential fatty intake. Regular consumption of fast foods increases trans-fatty acids levels, which will have a negative impact on the hormone balancing action of these good fats.
Lastly, zinc up. Multiple double blind studies have also confirmed that supplemental zinc can increase blood levels of testosterone. In addition, zinc has been shown to be useful in the prevention and treatment of male infertility. High concentrations of zinc are found in oysters (fresh not fried), beef, mushrooms, spinach, and pumpkin seeds.
While next ski season may seem a billion BBQ’s away, it’s imperative to keep training for your testosterone levels today. Regular exercise, healthy fats, organic foods, and extra oysters are just the ticket. Plus, you know what they say about oysters…