One idea circulating for a while is that skinny fat men suffer from lower testosterone levels. The claim makes sense because testosterone plays a vital role in how we look, and skinny fat folks show visual signs of low T levels:
- Low muscular development
- High body fat percentage
While we certainly need research to confirm the idea, nothing stops us from investigating our testosterone and implementing tactics to optimize levels of the hormone.
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Testosterone And The Skinny Fat Physique: Is There a Link?
I’m not claiming that every skinny fat person suffers from low testosterone levels. There could be numerous reasons for being skinny fat, chief among which are lack of an exercise routine and poor eating habits.
With that said, it never hurts to have your testosterone levels examined by an endocrinologist. Blood work can show your testosterone levels right now, and a specialist can give you actionable advice to fix any potential issues.
The Importance of Adequate Testosterone Levels
Testosterone is an androgen hormone with numerous essential functions in the human body. Men produce most of their testosterone in the testicles, while women synthesize much smaller amounts in their ovaries. On average, men have ten to twenty times more testosterone than women.
As an androgen hormone, testosterone promotes characteristics like:
- Physical development
- Body hair
- A deeper voice
- The development of an Adam’s apple
The hormone is also vital for training recovery, muscle growth, and fat loss. Aside from the visual differences between men and women, testosterone is important for:
- Sexual health
The Consequences of Low Testosterone Levels
The idea that skinny fat men suffer from low testosterone levels will begin to make sense in the following paragraphs. As discussed above, the hormone is important for our physical and psychological well-being. Hypogonadism (impaired production of sex hormones) affects millions of men worldwide and is characterized by symptoms such as (1):
- Difficulty in building muscle and getting stronger
- Increased body fat percentage, especially in the midsection
- Sleep problems
- Lack of confidence or decisiveness
- Memory and concentration issues
What’s worse is that testosterone production tends to decline with age. According to some research, testosterone production drops by up to 1.6 percent annually, and men begin to experience it in their thirties (2). The decline might not seem that bad from year to year, but it can add up significantly over the years. For example, if a person’s testosterone levels are at 500 ng/dL at age 35, an annual average decline of 1.5 percent would reduce T levels to around 390 ng/dL by 50.
But Wait, What If I’m In The Normal Range?
In one 1996 paper, researchers split 40 healthy men into one of four groups (3):
- Group 1 did resistance training
- Group 2 was given 600 mg of testosterone weekly and trained
- Group 3 was given 600 mg of testosterone and didn’t train
- Group 4 was control (no testosterone administration or training)
The training program used by the subjects wasn’t your traditional gym split but consisted of some squats and bench press three times per week. The experiment itself lasted for ten weeks.
Unsurprisingly, group 2 gained the most muscle mass (13 lbs), and group 4 gained no muscle. But you might be surprised to learn that group 3 gained more muscle than group 1 (6.6 lbs vs. 4.4 lbs). That’s right, subjects that were given testosterone and did not train gained more muscle than those who worked out. The exogenous testosterone administration raised the subjects’ levels roughly five times from around 500 to between 2,400 and 3,500 ng/dL. It’s safe to say that testosterone works. But what about elevating it within the normal range?
According to research, the healthy testosterone range of men aged 19 to 39 is 264 to 916 ng/dL (4). The bottom of this range is almost 3.5 times less than the value on top. So, the question is, would it matter how much your testosterone is if you’re inside the range? In other words, can you expect to build more muscle and get stronger if your testosterone climbs to 500, 700, or even 900 ng/dL?
While we need more research in the area, I’m inclined to say yes. In one paper from 2001, researchers found a dose-dependent relationship between testosterone administration, the hormone levels in the body, and lean mass gains (5). Specifically, subjects whose testosterone levels increased from 300 to 550 gained around three kilograms (6.6 lbs) of lean tissue in 20 weeks.
Five Ways to Boost Your Testosterone Naturally As a Skinny Fat Man
Here is a brief look at five actionable ways to boost your testosterone naturally:
- Avoid overtraining
- Eat nutritious foods
- Get enough sleep
- Limit alcohol and stress
- Avoid excessive dieting
As you can see, none of these tactics includes purchasing testosterone-boosting supplements. I recommend some supplements for skinny fat individuals, but not to increase levels of the hormone.
Let’s take an in-depth look at each:
1. Avoid overtraining
Regular training is an excellent way to improve your quality of life, build muscle, and get stronger. The only problem is, doing too much can lead to overtraining and adverse effects like:
- Trouble sleeping
- Prolonged muscle soreness and weakness
- Drop off in training performance
- Digestive issues
- Loss of appetite
Overtraining can also suppress testosterone production, regardless of the modality. Some research finds that cardio and weight training leads to more significant drops, whereas other papers suggest that resistance training alone can suppress testosterone (6, 7). In any case, what seems to matter most are the overall volume and intensity.
Push yourself hard but avoid excessive amounts of training that lead to symptoms of overtraining.
2. Eat nutritious foods
Unsurprisingly, our nutrition plays a role in natural testosterone production, and a deficiency in some key nutrients can lead to low levels of the hormone. Consuming a wide range of foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy is essential for covering your nutritional bases. Tracking your macronutrients can also help you maintain a balanced diet and get enough carbs.
It’s also important to get enough zinc and magnesium as a deficiency in either mineral appears to lower natural testosterone levels (8, 9). Supplementation is one option to prevent a deficiency, but you should also consume foods like:
- Dark chocolate
Also, according to research, soy foods and products don’t seem to impair testosterone production in men (10). The effects only occur when eating excessive amounts of soy products, which most people don’t.
3. Get enough sleep
Sleep is a physiological process that plays a crucial role in our health, well-being, and longevity. Research also suggests that sleep is vital for normal testosterone production, though findings have been a bit mixed so far.
In one paper, men experienced a testosterone drop of ten percent during a week of sleep restriction (11). Another study found that staying up for 33 hours straight led to a 27 percent drop in testosterone levels (12).
In contrast to the above, one study from 2012 found no adverse impact on testosterone levels after five nights of sleep deprivation (13).
We all have unique sleep needs, but research shows that every hour of additional rest can result in significantly higher testosterone production (14). According to most guidelines, we should aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night.
4. Limit alcohol and stress
Excessive alcohol intake and chronic stress can suppress testosterone levels in men. In one study, young and healthy men consumed 1.5 grams of ethanol per kilogram of body weight (15). Their testosterone levels dropped by an average of 23 percent within 10 to 16 hours.
It’s worth noting that alcohol likely suppresses testosterone temporarily, but drinking regularly can lead to longer-lasting testosterone drops and an adverse impact on body composition, athletic performance, and well-being. So, it’s important to limit alcohol intake and avoid drinking too often.
Chronic stress also seems to suppress testosterone levels, leading to more stress and further drops in levels of the hormone. Good tactics for managing stress include:
- Exercising regularly
- Finding time for hobbies and leisure
- Spending time with friends and family
- Spending time in the sun and outside the city
- Meditating daily
- Getting enough sleep
5. Avoid excessive dieting
While helpful in controlling your body fat percentage, dieting can have adverse effects when overdone. According to research, long dieting periods and rapid weight loss are linked to drops in testosterone levels.
For example, in one paper, researchers followed a natural bodybuilder for six months before and after his competition (16). As he dieted down to stage-ready body fat levels, his testosterone levels dropped from 9.22 to 2.27 ng/mL, which is a 75 percent drop. His testosterone rebounded in the months after the competition as he increased his food intake and body fat percentage.
Of course, being at a high body fat is also correlated with lower testosterone levels (17). So, it’s essential to aim for a healthy medium, which tends to be between 12 and 16 percent body fat for most men. Read this post for more diet-related tips.
Diet when you have to but avoid rapid weight loss and excessively long periods of caloric restriction. Neither will be good for your testosterone levels.
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