I had a blast teaming up with my mentor, Dr. James Landis, on this article about everyone’s favorite hormone, published in the most recent volume of The Raider Patch: Magazine of the U.S. Marine Raider Association.
Authors: Dr. Rita Chorba PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS and Dr. Jamie Landis MD, PhD
Halfway through his 17th NFL season, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis suffered a torn triceps muscle during a game against the Dallas Cowboys. Sidelined for the rest of the season after surgery to repair the damaged tendon, Lewis roared back in the playoffs, leading the league for tackles that season, and helping the Ravens claim victory over the Cowboys in Superbowl XLVII.
How did Lewis pull off such an amazing comeback? Was there a magic pill that had accelerated his healing? Though he repeatedly denied allegations, rumors continued to swirl around one substance in particular: deer-antler velvet spray. Since Super Bowl XLVII, the topic of antler velvet remains a topic of discussion in various athletic and military circles concerned with increasing Testosterone and muscle growth.
Antler velvet, the soft fuzzy covering on new antler growth in elk and deer, doesn’t contain Testosterone. What it is said to carry is a high level of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1), a protein that serves as the middle-man of Growth Hormone action. That fact alone is enough to get the attention of anyone interested in muscle growth and development. Furthermore, IGF-1 has an association with the all-time favorite anabolic hormone, Testosterone.
Testosterone – the prototypical Hulk hormone
Testosterone has a long track record of improving both muscle mass and performance in strength sports. Its history has led to a somewhat onerous oversight control of prescriptions, and an outright banning among all major sporting associations. On the converse, low testosterone is linked to a host of health problems that affect vitality and performance, including widespread inflammation, weight gain, and poor heart health.
If you’re feeling run down and have been diagnosed with low testosterone, what’s a guy to do to raise his T-levels (besides hormone replacement therapy)? While most supplements marketed as Testosterone boosters don’t work, it turns out that several mundane lifestyle strategies can make a significant impact. Also, keep your alcohol consumption in check.
Here are several proven ways that you can increase your testosterone levels:
#1 Sleep: Be vigilant about your ZZZs, and nap like your grandpa
A lack of quality sleep causes a decrease in Testosterone production. If you are deficient, it may be the most effective way to get your T-levels back on track. Inadequate sleep also increases the likelihood of fat gain, which itself can impair Testosterone production. If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, make an effort to catch a quick power nap during the day. Every little bit helps.
#2 Exercise: Strike a balance with strength training
While all forms of exercise can improve your testosterone levels, strength training is especially useful. Strength training not only increases testosterone levels in the short term (e.g., 30 minutes post-exercise) but more importantly boosts testosterone and growth hormone production over the long-term by increasing lean muscle mass, improving blood sugar levels, and helping you maintain a healthy weight. If you want to maximize the Testosterone-boosting benefits of your workouts (and already have a solid exercise routine in place) choose heavy lifting exercises (80% of 1-repetition maximum) focused on the lower-body, and utilize free weights instead of machines.
Unfortunately, there is too much of a good thing when it comes to increasing your Testosterone levels via exercise. Overtraining can be quite counterproductive to your efforts. Prolonged high-intensity or stamina training increases the stress hormone Cortisol and can cause your Testosterone levels to drop. If you want to ramp up your workouts, make sure that you plan adequate recovery time into your fitness routine.
#3 Vitamin D: Get off Facebook and get into the sunshine!
Vitamin D is actually a hormone that is produced in the skin with exposure to sunlight and helps regulate testosterone levels. While your body is capable of making all the Vitamin D it needs, it’s easy to become deficient if you live far north of the equator or spend a majority of your time indoors. There are few food sources of Vitamin D, so if you suspect you may have a deficiency (fatigue is a common but vague symptom) speak with your physician about testing and treatment options.
Dietary supplements that claim to boost testosterone come and go – yet none have produced any meaningful results. A deficiency of some nutrients, including zinc and magnesium, can impair testosterone production in men with low testosterone levels, so get your levels checked by a physician. Also, if you think your nutrition habits could use an upgrade, consult with a dietician who specializes in working with athletes.
What about antler velvet? Does it increase testosterone or muscle mass?
Recall that antler velvet is allegedly loaded with IGF-1. However, IGF-1 is a protein and is more likely to be digested like any other protein you might eat. There is a possibility that a sublingual route (e.g., sprayed under your tongue) would deliver some IGF-1 into your circulation, but the short “half-life” of IGF-1 means that it loses its effectiveness very quickly in the body. If it’s protein you’re after, good old-fashioned chicken and whey powder would be much friendlier to your wallet. Finally, IGF-1 has not shown any potential as a Testosterone booster, and it probably can’t help in healing a torn triceps.
Putting it all together: a 60-minute DIY Testosterone Boost
Start with a 30-minute kettlebell, barbell, or sandbag strength workout outside in the afternoon sunshine (strength performance peaks later in the day). Afterward, grab a protein shake and catch a quick power nap. Don’t worry if you can’t fall asleep – just set the alarm for 30 minutes of downtime. Over time, your body will come to know what to do.
Consult with your physician if you continue to feel run-down because you can’t know how to alleviate your symptoms if you don’t know the cause.
Disclaimer: This information is for your education only and should not take the place of an appropriate evaluation by a licensed healthcare provider.
Originally published in: The Raider Patch: Magazine of the U.S. Marine Raider Association
Carroll W. Ray Lewis and deer-antler spray: Just what is this stuff? www.bleacherreport.com. 2013.
Daly et al. Relationship between stress hormones and testosterone with prolonged endurance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2005.
Leproult et al. Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men. JAMA. 2011.
Pilz et al. Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men. Horm Metab Res. 2011.
Shaner et al. The acute hormonal response to free weight and machine weight resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2014.