Testosterone: The Science of Building Lean Muscle
by Justin Woltering
If you've been bodybuilding for long, you probably understand how important genetics are for gaining mass and getting lean. But have you ever thought what that specifically means? What genes make it so easy (or so hard) to get big? Are some people just genetically doomed to stay small and weak? What it is about the biggest guys that helps them get so strong? Testosterone!
While we certainly can't attribute every bit of muscle-building success to a single hormone, testosterone is THE key to unlocking your true potential. Those gifted mesomorphs you see in the gym – the ones who can eat whatever they want, train half-assed, and still grow – they're like that because they naturally have super-high testosterone!
Fortunately, your own testosterone-producing abilities aren't set in stone. Even if you look and feel like a low-T guy right now, there are plenty of tweaks you can make to your diet, training, and lifestyle to boost your natural production. Here a few of my favorites.
Far too many bodybuilders focus only on macronutrients – proteins, carbs, and fats. This is why bland, colorless meals like chicken and rice are so common, and why some lifters don't bother to ever eat vegetables. The truth is, though, that vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients are absolutely crucial in the production of testosterone and other hormones. Your body needs specific materials to produce them, and you can't cover your bases if all you eat is meat.
Some of the most important micronutrients include iodine, selenium, sodium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D-3 – and we're barely scratching the surface! To up your intake of all these vital nutrients, start eating tons of fresh vegetables with every meal. Most veggies contain hardly any sugar or starch, so more is almost always better.
Another way to boost your micronutrient intake is to spend some extra money on grass-fed, pasture-raised animal products. Beef and eggs can be fantastic sources of B-vitamins and healthy fats, but only if they're fed their proper diets!
Eat your Fats!
Low-fat diets are truly terrible for the natural bodybuilder. Study after study has shown a positive correlation between fat intake and testosterone production, so get your grub on with steaks, eggs, and fatty fish! Contrary to popular belief, saturated fat is actually good for if it comes from quality sources, so don't be afraid of butter or coconut oil, either. It's the hydrogenated trans fats you've really got to avoid.
Carbs: Do you Really Need Them?
If you're going to be eating more fat, do you really need all those carbs? Carb needs and tolerance vary wildly among individuals, so you're really just going to have to test things for yourself. In general, I find it best to limit carb intake to the pre, intra, and post-workout periods – the times when you know your body can put them to good use. Don't gorge on potatoes and rice all day, but don't go too low on carbs, either – at least not for days on end. Ketogenic diets can be useful for fat loss, but in the long run they will lower your production of thyroid hormone – one of the primary controllers of testosterone.
Getting Lean and Mean
You might not want to hear this if you're already on the chubby side, but body fat is a testosterone killer. More specifically, high levels of body fat will cause you to CONVERT testosterone into estrogen. You'll end up with low T and high E – a double-whammy for BURNING muscle and BUILDING fat. If you want that next mass gaining phase to really go well, focus first on getting lean.
The Cycle of Stress
There's a good reason why high-T, confident guys don't stress much. Both chronic and acute stress raise your cortisol levels, which in turn leads to less testosterone production. Low T and high cortisol make it easier to get upset, and you end up in a stressful cycle that'll kill your gains. Stress really is a killer, so try to chill out! Minimize the negative influences in your life, and practice meditation and other calming exercises.
Lift like Natural
There's a lot to be learned from professional bodybuilders, but you'd do well NOT to model your training after theirs. Doing endless sets and reps with hardly ever a day off is a great way to overtrain and wreck your hormone levels. Most people won't cross that threshold, but there is a point where you'll see diminishing returns from hard, heavy training.
More importantly, you need to focus on the heavy, compound lifts quite a bit more than most pros. Squats, deadlifts, and presses in the 4-6 rep range – that's the stuff that'll really boost your natural T! In fact, a full body routine or powerlifting split will probably be best for optimizing your hormones. These workouts may not seem as glamorous as body part splits, but they definitely deliver results.
Justin Woltering is a distinguished fitness expert, author, sponsored athlete, and top cover model. With five certifications and a life long commitment to fitness, Justin is guaranteed to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. He is an experienced fitness consultant who has helped thousands of workout enthusiasts transform their physiques with his exclusive books, videos, articles, and training tips.