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!

High Intensity Interval Training

Hill SprintsIf you read any fitness magazines or websites than you may have seen the phrase “high intensity interval training”, sometimes abbreviated as “HIIT”.

This is a method of aerobic conditioning, alternating short periods of high-intensity work with low-intensity recoveries.

An example would be sprinting up a hill as fast as you, then walking back down and catching your breath, before running up again. You would alternate this for as many intervals as you can.

The science behind HIIT is still in its infancy but, thus far, we know that 15 minutes of HIIT provides more benefits to the body than 2 hours of “steady state cardio”. Also, one high-intensity burst of power during regular cardio is not as effective as alternating high-intensity efforts with periods of recovery for the entire workout. Finally, studies have shown that HIIT increases the release of human growth hormone within the body by about 500% for two hours after the workout!
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Remember, it’s these benefits to our hormone levels that make it possible to reduce body fat while improving lean muscle mass, strength, and bone density.

My favorite thing about HIIT is the efficiency. I always tell my clients, they can take a Spinning class, for an hour, twice a week, and end up famished, ultimately overeating later in the day, or perform one HIIT session for less than 30 minutes counting a warm up and cool down.

In addition, high intensity interval training can be modified based upon the individual’s capability and equipment available.

For example, in the summer I prefer hill sprints or sprinting on a grass field. In the winter, I move indoors and perform intervals on a rowing machine or stairmaster.

A safe and effective way to start a HIIT routine is to warm up for a few minutes on a rowing machine or stationary bike, and then alternate 30 seconds as fast as you can with 30 second recoveries. Continue this until you feel like you could only complete one or two more intervals. Finally, cool down for another few minutes and do some stretching or foam rolling.

Even though this protocol is referred to as high intensity, it is entirely dependent upon the effort you put forth. For this to be effective, you want to move at a speed that you could not sustain comfortably for much more than 30 seconds…but the key word is “comfortably”. You don’t have to push beyond your comfort zone to experience the amazing results of HIIT. All you have to do is be willing to work very hard for some short intervals once or twice a week.

It’s actually important you don’t push too hard as it can cause adrenal fatigue or burnout. For this reason, I recommend clients limit HIIT sessions to once or twice a week in the beginning and always stop when they feel like they could only complete one or two more intervals at their “high-intensity” pace.

So, give it a try, play with the variables, and reap the amazing benefits of high intensity interval training!

Testosterone

Eventually I want to post one-page “action plans” for things like improving blood cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure, or normalizing hormone levels. But, before I can do that, it’s necessary to discuss these topics to learn the terms and find out what healthy numbers or ranges are.

We’ve already talked about cholesterol, so, today let’s talk about the hormone, testosterone.

Whenever I cite “maintaining healthy testosterone levels” as a reason for eating more of one type of food, or less of another, a woman within earshot will always proclaim that, as a female, they don’t care about testosterone levels.

One thing I’m realizing more and more is the power of certain words and the emotional response they elicit.

For example, “gluten” has started to develop a negative reaction from the general public. Alternatively, “low-calorie” is a very popular marketing label that makes people feel like they are making a healthy food choice.

The irony is that people aren’t sure what gluten is or that caloric content is dependent upon the amount of food consumed. “Gluten-free” does not make a food healthy and “low-calorie” foods are only low in calories if you eat a small portion.

How does this apply to testosterone?

My best guess is that when professional athletes, bodybuilders, and powerlifters started taking drugs to boost their testosterone levels to super-physiological levels, the general public’s perception of testosterone changed. Suddenly, testosterone was not a necessary hormone for life, found in every living creature, but merely a means to achieving unnatural levels of muscle and strength or boosting athletic performance.

So, what is testosterone really?

Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone but, more importantly, it is the most prevalent “anabolic steroid” produced within the body. Again, some words that may scare the general public…

Anabolic is simply the process of smaller units coming together to make larger units.

In the human body, this translates to muscles, bones, and all cells in the body rebuilding or becoming stronger.

Testosterone certainly helps with increasing muscle mass, but it is also necessary for maintaining any lean muscle mass, reducing body fat, and increasing bone density. In fact, low testosterone levels are a leading cause of osteoporosis amongst women and the aging population.

Testosterone production naturally decreases with age, and low testosterone levels become rather cyclical. This is because fat cells in the body convert testosterone into the female sex hormone, estradiol, thereby lowering testosterone levels further and creating a more favorable environment for fat to thrive and lean muscle to break down.

In addition, the interplay between different hormone levels in the body plays an important role in the development and growth of multiple forms of cancer. Simply put, high estrogen levels and low testosterone levels will stimulate the growth of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.

For these reasons, I find it very odd when women in a gym tell me they are not concerned with their testosterone levels. In my mind, the point of the gym is to provide your body with a stimulus that it will recover from; making it stronger and better in the process. And, without testosterone, the body cannot recover adequately.

I’ll wrap up my post there but be on the lookout in the coming weeks for a short and simple action plan to maintain healthy hormone levels in the body.

For now, try to differentiate the concept of athletes raising their testosterone to unnatural levels through the use of drugs and the importance of naturally-occurring testosterone in your body.