Muscle Management

Enhancing physique through diet

By Ed Baker

Many athletes and recreational trainees seek a muscular, lean, powerful physique as well as more strength, speed and power. We have looked at the role of hormones in previous articles, namely, insulin and its role in the regulation of blood sugar and adipose tissue. Here we address another important hormone: testosterone.

What is testosterone?

Testosterone (TST) is a steroid hormone from the androgen group this means it is a hormone that can enter a cell and react with it to cause changes that affect male sexual characteristics such as the growth of reproductive tissues. It also affects secondary sexual functions such as muscle growth, bone growth and hair growth. In addition to this, TST has a huge impact on wellbeing, mood, appearance and behaviour.

Many readers will be aware that TST compounds are widely used as performance-enhancing drugs by both athletes and bodybuilders, often with severe consequences. As we all know, taking drugs is illegal, unethical, immoral and dangerous. However, in order to take advantage of the many benefits of TST, there are natural and safe ways every trainee can use to optimise their own endogenous production of this special hormone.

This applies to male and female readers: whilst men produce up to 20 times more TST than women, females are more sensitive to the effects. That being said, given the levels of hormone production in males, these tips will inevitably have a greater relevance for male readers. Sorry, ladies...but there will be something relevant to you the next issue.

Essential routines

The tips presented here on nutrition and TST levels are supported by research and should offer readers some fresh options to consider. However, it is assumed that readers have already established a training regimen to support TST and that, before concerning yourself with the details of dietary fine-tuning, you have the following gym routines in place:

1. Use compound movements: Squat, Deadlift, Clean, Bench press [1]

2. Lift heavy and explosively: >85% 1RM [1]

3. Take adequate rest between sets at least 2 minutes [2]

4. In relation to the above point, take advantage of the increased recovery and use a higher volume of sets, 48 sets [2]

5. Increase your sleep levels [3]

Why raise TST levels?

Increased TST levels are associated with greater strength, power, speed and muscle mass [2]. Low TST levels are associated with low mood, poor sexual function and higher mortality rate in elderly men [4]. In addition, TST has an inverse relationship with cortisol, a stress hormone released in response to exercise, among other things. When cortisol is up, TST is down and modern life produces high levels of cortisol, which is associated with muscle breakdown and higher body fat levels. If you are in a pattern of early rising, full-time employed, drinking lots of coffee, living in the city and performing long cardio sessions several times per week, then naturally increasing TST levels should be a primary concern.

Below are five dietary strategies to raise your TST levels naturally:

1. Eat grass-fed beef: As examined in Issue 3, studies have found a link between vegetarian diets and low TST, with researchers recommending high-quality red meat as a solution [5].

2. Include beneficial fats like omega 3s: Good fats found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and eggs reduce the harmful effects of exercise such as inflammation and cortisol production, improving the TST:cortisol ratio [6].

3. Increase zinc intake: Zinc is crucial to TST production and particularly effective at raising serum TST levels after highly fatiguing exercise. Many athletes are deficient in zinc so seek out good sources such as oysters, veal, liver, beef and lamb; plus sesame, pumpkin and watermelon seeds [7].

4. Take vitamin C post workout: 1g of vitamin C taken after training will significantly reduce cortisol and thereby improve TST levels [8].

5. Take daily vitamin D: 30004000 iu of vitamin D, once daily, will improve your TST levels. Effectiveness has been demonstrated across populations even for men in their 20s who are deficient [9].


In the absence of hard, heavy training and a good night's sleep, tweaking your diet will not turn you into Rambo. However, with the basics in place, significant gains can be made safely, naturally and relatively easily by incorporating these tips into your everyday routine you just need to persevere. Good luck!


1. McCaulley GO, McBride JM, Cormie P et al. Acute hormonal and neuromuscular responses to hypertrophy, strength and power type resistance exercise. Eur J Applied Physiol, 2009, 105, 695704.

2. Vingren J, Kraemer W, Ratamess N et al. Testosterone physiology in resistance exercise and training: the up-stream regulatory elements. Sports Med, 2010, 40, 10371053.

3. Andersen ML, Tufik S. The effects of testosterone on sleep and sleepdisordered breathing in men: its bidirectional interaction with erectile function. Sleep Med Rev, 2008, 12, 365379.

4. Gail AL, Barrett-Connor E, Bergstrom J. Low serum testosterone and mortality in older men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2008, 93, 6875.

5. Raben A, Kiens B, Richter E et al. Serum sex hormones and endurance performance after a lacto-ovo vegetarian and a mixed diet. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1992, 24, 12901297.

6. Smith G, Atherton P, Reeds D et al. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr, 2010, 93, 402412.

7. Neek L, Gaeini A, Choobineh S. Effect of zinc and selenium supplementation on serum testosterone and plasma lactate in cyclists after an exhaustive exercise bout. Biol Trace Elem Res, 2011, 144, 454462.

8. Davison G, Gleeson M. The effect of two weeks vitamin C supplementation on immunoendocrine responses to 2.5 hours cycling exercise in man. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2006, 97, 454461.

9. Pilz S, Frisch S, Koertke H et al. Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men. Horm Metab Res, 2011, 43, 223225.


Ed Baker is a Strength & Conditioning Coach at Performance Hertfordshire, UK.

Please contact Ed with your comments and queries:
Twitter: @performherts

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