Improve Your Hormone Levels

As I promised a few weeks ago, I’ll provide some simple steps you can take to improve your hormone levels.

Just to reiterate, your hormone levels dictate a large part of your health, performance, and body composition.

For the actual details about healthy hormone levels and effects, please refer to my post about testosterone.

Without further ado, here are the safest and most effective tactics to manage healthy hormone levels:

• Make sure you are consuming a nutrient rich diet.
Any nutrient deficiency has the potential to negatively impact hormones, but the biggest culprits will be zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D, and magnesium. I’ll do a post explaining which foods have the most nutrient value later on but, for now, I’ll just recommend oysters, liver (if you can stand the flavor and have a high-quality source), avocados, eggs (particularly the yolk), and plenty of naturally-raised, well-treated meats, full of the fats and proteins your body needs to manufacture testosterone.

• Consume dietary cholesterol on a regular basis.
The best sources are eggs, shrimp, and fattier cuts of beef (grass-fed of course!). Cholesterol is a precursor to testosterone production. Keep in mind, the cholesterol you eat will only raise your HDL a little and have hardly any effect on triglycerides (the “bad” cholesterol in the blood).

• Avoid over-consuming carbohydrates.
Starches and sugars will cause insulin spikes in the blood. Your muscles can only store so many carbs before the insulin forces carbs to be stored in fat cells. This insulin will also disrupt normal hormone signaling.

• Get 8-9 hours of sleep a night.
During the first few hours of sleep, your body will release the largest amount of human growth hormone, allowing your body to recover from the day. I know everyone says they can get by with 6 hours…but your body composition, mental performance, and energy levels will always be better with a proper 8 hours of sleep.

• Lift something heavy a few times a week.
This will stimulate the body to produce testosterone to recover from the stimulus. Again, keep in mind that heavy lifting isn’t what produces bulky muscles…that would be higher repetitions (8-15) for multiple sets (3-4) with very little rest (30-90 seconds).

• Do some high intensity interval training.
Refer to my post from a few weeks ago. This has the potential of benefiting hormones more than any other exercise.

• Avoid alcohol.
Or at least try to moderate your intake. Alcohol will convert testosterone to estrogen within the body.

• Avoid stress.
This might be the most difficult but cortisol, released when you’re stressed, will lower testosterone levels. Some of the easiest things you can do are to limit your caffeine intake and take time during the day to stare off into nature or distract yourself from the stresses of our modern lives.

One final method for increasing testosterone levels is to supplement directly with hormones (a.k.a. steroids). However, this is a much more controversial and potentially unsafe method that I’ll save for another post.

Give all these things a try and see if you notice an improvement in body composition, strength, recovery, or just general mood and energy on a daily basis!

My Paleo Diet

Welcome back all! In today’s post I’ll summarize what I mean when I say I eat a paleo diet. Then, I’ll discuss the issue of strict adherence to any specific diet.

Eating paleo, I focus on food quality. I maximize my intake of “nutrient dense” foods. I minimize my intake of foods with an unfavorable nutrient profile or foods that cause negative reactions in the body.

Nutrient dense foods contain a substantial amount of essential fats, amino acids (proteins), vitamins, and minerals. “Essential” means the body cannot produce them on its own.

Unfavorable foods would be refined flour or pasteurized, homogenized skim milk. These foods are “enriched” or “fortified” because they are nutrient-deficient naturally, or undergo processing that destroys their nutrient content. Companies add vitamins and minerals to bring more value to these products.

A food that causes a negative reaction in the body would be corn oil because it contains a high amount of polyunsaturated fats that can harden the arteries and raise triglycerides causing atherosclerosis. Also, certain foods contain anti-nutrients that bind with other nutrients inhibiting proper absorption. Finally, some foods, such as grains, contain elements that can cause inflammation.

To simplify, here is a list of foods I focus on: meat, vegetables, and eggs from local, reliable farms; wild-caught seafood; fruits; tubers; healthy fats; and dairy. These foods tend to be most nutritious (and flavorful!) when compared to things like grains or processed foods.

The premise of the “Paleolithic Diet” was that humans haven’t evolved since the invention of agriculture (about 10,000 years ago) resulting in modern day health issues and food sensitivities. Although there is legitimate science supporting this claim, I think it’s too rigid to say that every food grown since the advent of farming is problematic for everyone.

For example, many people produce the lactase enzyme throughout their entire life, allowing them to digest dairy. People with autoimmune conditions may suffer from the inflammatory effects of certain nightshades (tubers, peppers, etc) while other people have no issue consuming these foods regularly.

I do, however, always recommend the paleo diet as a starting point. After a month or two of eating the most nutritious foods possible, that contain the least amount of problematic elements, reintroduce foods as desired.

Try consuming dairy for a week then remove it again. Try introducing oatmeal and pull it back out. Track all changes in health and performance. To give a personal example, I tolerate dairy from a digestive standpoint, but my complexion is only completely clear when I am not consuming it.

At the end of the day, the pros and cons of everything have to be weighed. If you consume whole foods, as they grow in nature, you are already prolonging and improving your life. And if not, it’s never too late to start!

The problem with adhering to any strict “diet” is the development of extremism. People become entrenched in beliefs, which are tied to emotions, and lose sight of the fact that science is progressing every moment.

Look at the news – one week eggs are as dangerous as cigarettes and the next, it is recommended you eat 2-4 egg yolks a day!

I love when I learn something new even if it negates a “fact” I knew before. If I discover something I’m eating is doing more harm than good, I’ll eliminate it and, conversely, if I find out a particular food I’m not consuming can improve my life, I’ll start including it in my diet.

I think this issue of strict adherence is most prevalent within the paleo and vegan community. However, I am hopeful. We’ve seen the emergence of pescatarians that consume seafood but avoid animal flesh and ovo-lacto vegetarians that eat dairy and eggs. Even within the last couple years we’ve seen an evolution (ironic based on the founding argument) within the paleo-sphere that now allows more personal choice through the reintroduction method I mentioned earlier.

As a final note, I think it’s important to base your food intake on your goals and activity level.

When the body is at rest, fat is the primary fuel source and, as intensity increases, the body shifts to burning carbohydrates. Thus, on my recovery days, when the most I do is walk, I focus on healthy fats, meats, and veggies. But, on the days I’m lifting heavy and trying to promote muscle-growth, I add a liberal amount of carbs, in the form of potatoes and fruits, to every meal.

Find an approach that works for you.

Maybe start strict to eliminate soda and candy cravings and reach a satisfying level of health and performance, but then tinker. Try reducing carbs and increasing fats or vice versa. Try a bit more or a bit less protein. No two people are the same so there will always be a need for experimentation.

I’m thinking for the next few posts I’ll discuss the 3 macro-nutrient groups – proteins, carbs, and fats. I touched upon these here but would like to explain the importance of each so you can decide what intake ratios make the most sense for you.

I’ll close with a relevant quote by Sosan I just stumbled upon:

“If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything.”