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I’ve posted before about hormonal issues that are often resolved by a ketogenic diet (PCOS and endometriosis), but I have yet to talk about a predominantly male hormonal issue: testosterone. I was recently asked to write an article about natural ways to boost testosterone for work, and thought it would be interesting to explore the relationship between keto and testosterone. Mostly, how does a ketogenic or low carb diet impact testosterone levels?
Testosterone: The Basics
First, let’s quickly go over testosterone. It’s a hormone, which is typically associated with males (though women have testosterone, too!), and is primarily produced in the testicles. The adrenal glands also produce testosterone in small amounts, and this combined with the ovaries, is where the production of testosterone occurs in women.
So, what does testosterone do? Kind of a lot. Testosterone is responsible for the typically “male” attributes we often think of – deeper voice, beard and body hair; testosterone is also responsible for muscle growth, libido, genital formation and function, bone density, fat metabolism, and hematopoiesis (creation of blood cells). Certain behavioral attributes, including high self esteem and competitiveness are also a function of testosterone.
Symptoms of Low Testosterone:
How do you tell you’ve got low T? Typically, low testosterone is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- fatigue and energy loss
- hair loss
- sexual dysfunction, and low libido
- loss of muscle mass
- increased body fat, especially in a gynoid distribution pattern (hips, thighs, gut and chest – so, man boobs)
- mood swings
How to Raise Testosterone (Naturally)
I’m not going to bother to talk about injections of testosterone, or any other steroids. There are other ways to boost testosterone:
- Strength Training – when you work out with weights, you end up tearing muscle fibers, which triggers the release of testosterone to repair the damage.
- High Intensity Interval Training – Studies show that HIIT workouts actually boost testosterone more effectively than steady state exercise.
- Get Enough Sleep – I’ve talked about the importance of sleep before, and not surprisingly, sleep is needed here, too. A JAMA study showed a link between sleep deprivation and an up to 15% decrease in testosterone production. If you’re not sleeping enough, simply fixing this could raise your T.
- Listen to Music – No, really. Recently, studies are suggesting that listening to fast paced or more aggressive music can actually increase performance and output (and thus raise T levels) without increasing perceived effort. Find some headphones for that music-driven workout in this article.
Keto and Testosterone: Does Low Carb Eating Impact T?
- Cholesterol is necessary for the body to produce testosterone (and other hormones), so eating a diet that is higher in fat helps to promote testosterone production.
- A study done at Mass General noted that consumption of glucose reduced total and free testosterone levels by 25%, and the effect lasted for two hours.
- Ketogenic diets are insulin reducing, which promotes testosterone production (as insulin inhibits testosterone production).
- Anecdotal evidence of keto improving T.
What to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet to Raise Testosterone Levels
This is actually pretty simple. There are a few foods/vitamins/supplements that can help to raise your testosterone. There are also some foods to avoid, many of which may seem obvious.
Keto and Testosterone: What to Eat (and What to Avoid)
- Avoid alcohol, carbohydrates and other highly processed foods, as these are likely to inhibit testosterone production.
- Soy products (particularly protein) have also shown a tendency to decrease T production, and should not be included in a keto diet aimed at increasing testosterone.
- Fat from pastured meat and dairy
- Cold water fish (wild caught – cold water fish have more fat, and therefore more omega-3s)
- Macadamia nuts
- Oils from any of the above mentioned plants/nuts
- Cruciferous vegetables (kale, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc) – these veggies support the liver detoxifying estrogen
- Soluble fiber – Don’t go crazy here, but eating foods higher in soluble fiber (artichokes, asparagus) can help decrease estrogen
Vitamins and Supplements to Support Testosterone
- Vitamin D – this is technically a hormone, and a cofactor in testosterone production
- Zinc – boosts immune system, and improves testosterone deficiency
- Selenium – helps liver detoxify, and improves testosterone deficiency
Keto and Testosterone in a Nutshell
- A ketogenic diet has demonstrated positive effects on testosterone production, due to increased intake of fat and decreased carbohydrate consumption.
- In addition to limiting certain foods, it’s important to eat plenty of healthy fats.
- Sleep is incredibly important not only for muscle repair (which promotes T), but also testosterone production
- Working out (particularly HIIT and strength training) contribute to T production