Fat, Testosterone and Your Anabolic Potential

By George L. Redmon, Ph.D.N.D.

Men switching to experimental diets which contained less fat with a higher polyunsaturated /saturated ratio (P/S ratio) and more fiber saw a significant decrease in serum total testosterone concentrations from 22.7{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} to 19.3{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22}. Furthermore serum free bound testosterone fell from 23{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} to 20{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22}.

The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry

Despite the contention that protein is the most critical nutrient the body needs to keep anabolic process working overtime, the fact is many new and some seasoned veterans may be hampering their body’s natural ability to build lean muscle tissue without focusing on another critical factor. The fact that is often overlooked is one of the major determining factors that govern your body’s ability to promote the growth of lean muscle tissue. That feature is the balance and absolute level of anabolic versus catabolic hormones in your body. As you know catabolic hormones like glucocortcoids (up-regulates muscle wasting ), glucagon (accelerates metabolism of amino acids), and somatostatin (inhibits release of growth hormone) encourage the destruction of muscle tissue, while anabolic hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, insulin and IGF-1( insulin growth factor-1) and estrogen promote growth and muscle mass development. As a point of clarification here, while not considered anabolic in nature concerning growth, estrogen is considered a weak androgen and participates in growth hormone production and has a direct effect on bone health.

Will The Real Problem Please Stand

The definitive problem here centers on studies showing a strong negative correlation between protein intake and pre-exercise testosterone levels in athletes that have increased protein intake to build more muscle mass, while limiting their intake of fats. Studies indicate that this practice actually hinders testosterone release and in essence limits your body’s ability to maintain what could be referred to as a state of anabolic dominance.

Testosterone: Growth’s Most Dynamic Catalyst

This stuff, meaning testosterone commonly referred to as “T”, is your body’s most prolific anabolic trigger. However, from all of the cumulative data to realize testosterone’s full anabolic potential, current research indicates that proper intake of the right fats/cholesterol enhances testosterone’s production and muscle building capabilities more so than the variables associated with protein and its positive impact on growth. This fact was confirmed by Dr. Jeff Volek and researchers at Penn State University who found a strong correlation between fat intake, testosterone production and subsequent growth. New research indicates that to build mass and keep those testosterone levels pumped up, at least 30{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} of your calories should be composed of good fats. Bottom line here, paradoxically, dietary cholesterol appears to have a greater impact on gains in lean body mass than simply increasing protein intake.      

The Testosterone Story

The body maintains a delicate balance of testosterone via an inborn feedback communication system between the brain and the testes.  When levels of testosterone drop below normal, the brain signals the testes to make more.  When ranges reach normal, the brain sends a signal to the testes to reduce its production. On average, adult males manufacture about 40 to 60 times more testosterone than their female counterparts. It is this dynamic hormone which drives the variation of physical strength between the sexes.  Ninety five percent (95{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22}) of testosterone is primarily produced in the testes of males, while estrogen the predominant hormone found in women is created in the ovaries. Females also produce testosterone in the ovaries, but in much smaller quantities than men. Smaller amounts of testosterone are also secreted by the adrenal glands in both men and women. Due to its physiological effects, testosterone is classified as a virilizing   (masculine) sex hormone and an anabolic hormone due to its ability to increase bone mineral density, libido (sex drive), muscle strength, recovery, sexual maturation, and wound healing. Testosterones role in the development of lean muscle tissue is well documented, as well as its ability to increases metabolism and stimulate the release of fat from lipid cells, referred to as lipolysis. This was validated by researchers at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands who reported that excess fat cells in the body elevate estrogen levels, with a corresponding reduction in testosterone production. Testosterone also stimulates protein synthesis which is why increasing protein intake without a plan in place to enhance testosterone production disrupts the internal anabolic equilibrium these two compounds generate. Testosterone also revs up energy production, essentially assisting the body in its attempts to help you maintain an internal state of youthful vim and vigor.

Healthy Levels

As a point of reference here normal levels of testosterone may vary from one person to another. The general consensus is that a normal range of testosterone for males is from 300 to 1000 ng/dl.  Females are 70 ng/dl (nanograms per deciliter of blood ).  As a point of reference here, a nangoram is one billionth of a gram. A gram (gr) is equal to 1000 milligrams (mgs). Unfortunately as with most hormones, around 30 years of age your “T” levels begin declining about 1{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} a year. While this appears harmless, a blood serum score below 350ng/dl increases your chance of dying from a heart attack and or derailing your sexual prowess. Conversely, checking your “T” levels every few years is a good thing.

The Fat Cholesterol Testosterone Connection

Over the last several decades health officials have suggested avoiding fats as they had been linked to causing heart disease. However, new data indicates that cholesterol and certain fats are actually beneficial to health and actually promote heart health. Paradoxically, Jonathan V. Wright, M.D. the author of Natural Hormone Replacement reminds us that without enough fat and or cholesterol the body is severely hampered in its efforts to make steroid hormones like testosterone. The fact is, the body synthesizes testosterone from the fat you consume. Fats when compared to proteins like whey or egg and there varying breakdown and assimilation times, regulate “T” production in similar fashion. For example, ironically, polyunsaturated fats like those found corn , flaxseed, soybean and sunflower oils appear to have a negative impact on testosterone production. This was established by researchers from data extrapolated in the study cited from the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry in the opening caption above which shows the impact certain fats have on testosterone production. These researchers also found that the male participants in this study also had reduced production of the hormone androstenedione, which the body uses to make testosterone, when they switched from a diet rich in saturated fats to polyunsaturated ones.  On the other hand mono-saturated and saturated fats inhibit SHBGactivity and increase production of what researchers refer to as free testosterone. In fact, researchers at the Department of Medicine and Clinical Research at the University of California in a study appearing in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reported that subjects on a diet of 100g of fat daily for 2 weeks as compared to a low fat diet of 20g of fat daily had a significant decrease in SHBG activity. Minimizing SHBG (sex hormone-binding-globulin) activity, a protein that binds to testosterone in the bloodstream plays a key role in testosterone’s ability function as the body’s anabolic enforcer.

Free T (Testosterone), Not Willy

As cited, testosterone is the body’s principle anabolic or male hormone. However, the majority of it circulating in the bloodstream is inactive. This is a direct result of SHBG attaching to it essentially escorting testosterone throughout the blood stream. Testosterone also hooks up with the protein albumin in the liver which also prevents testosterone from working its magic. However, the attachment to albumin is much weaker and chemically breaking the bond is much easier than that of SHBG. I am sure you have surmised that freeing as much “T” from this bond is critical to maintaining an internal state of anabolic dominance , as free testosterone is the most active form and is unbound to other molecules.

Free Is Always a Good Thing

Free testosterone can readily enter cells and active or turn on anabolic receptors to transmit its anabolic instructions. While free “T” is dynamic and strikes quickly it makes up only 2{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} to 3{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} of the body’s total testosterone level. It is the right fats that take the lead in dislodging testosterone from the clutches of these proteins.

Please Note: when health officials measure testosterone concentrations in the blood, free testosterone is calculated from total testosterone and SHBG levels.

The Good Fat Brigade

While the current nutritional trend centers on reducing fat from the diet, sports nutrition and resistance training experts suggest stepping up your intake of good fats to realize your full anabolic potential. The good fats (non-saturated fats) are classified as monounsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.  As a point of re-clarification here, although polyunsaturated fats are considered good fats their impact on testosterone production appears to be minuscule. However, mono-saturated fats enter the   bloodstream faster and are flushed out of the system quicker than other fats and have the greatest impact on “T” production as well as generating more free testosterone.  To boost circulating testosterone levels make sure you include healthy portions of the following good fats:

* Canola Oil                    * Avocadoes                   * Meats (naturals)

* Peanut Oil                    * Whole grains                * Fatty Fish

* Olive Oil                      * Liver                            * Shellfish

* Nuts and Seeds            * Whole Eggs                 * Salmon

* Peanut Butter                * Flaxseeds                     * Oysters

* Shrimp                         * Cheese                         * Chicken Breast

You may also want to make sure you are consuming some red meat, lean beef, pork and some dairy products that aren’t fat free.

Please Notedespite these new findings it is important to have a safe balance here of your saturated fat intake. Additionally trans- fats regarded as natural born killers will do the same to your “T” production. Theses fats you should be avoided like the plague.

The Beef Protein Connection

Dr. Jose Antonio the President of the International Sports Society states that beef protein has gotten a bad rap mainly due to its high fat content. He however reminds us that this fact depends on the type of beef you consume.

He suggests that to remember the type of beef with the highest fat content is to follow the alphabet when making your choice. For example ground beef is 70{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} lean/30{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22}fat, ground chuck 80{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} lean/30{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22}fat, ground round 85{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22}lean/15{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} fat, and ground sirloin 90{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22}lean/10{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} fat. Nutritional research also indicates that the fat content found in beef is comprised of only a small {690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} of polyunsaturated fats versus higher concentrations of mono-saturated and saturated fats.

Please Note: While beef is also comprised of a small amount of trans-fats researchers at the Mayo Clinic maintain that the trans-fats that naturally occur in beef aren’t harmful like the artificially made trans- fats found in processed foods.

Bottom line here, beef contains all the essential amino acids that promote growth. Furthermore, researchers at McMasters University in Canada recently reported that subjects eating a six ounce serving equaling 170g of 85{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} lean ground beef resulted in significant changes in the rate of protein synthesis or creation following exercise. Based on fats role in the manufacture of testosterone and its presence in beef, you may want to consider beef as a viable nutrient to assist you in reaching your bodybuilding goals. Dr. Antonio suggests working beef in to your regimen about 2 to 3 times a week.

A Little Help From Some Friends

Some good sources of fruit and vegetables known to increase testosterone levels are apples, cantaloupe, figs, bananas, pineapple, leafy greens, tomatoes, broccoli, collard greens, cauliflower, cabbage, watercress and kale.  Many of these vegetables called cruciferous vegetables are rich in compounds known as indoles.  Indoles are touted for their ability to reduce or negate the effects of the female hormone estrogen (water retention, bloating, inhibiting “T” production and fat storage). Also make sure you reduce your intake of simple sugars as they inhibit the production and release of testosterone, especially right before sleep when the body naturally releases quite a bit of “T” into the bloodstream. Also remember, reduce stress every chance you get. Stress as you known generates excess cortisol, the hormone that destroys muscle tissue. The other problem with stress is that it interrupts the communication system between the brain and the testes. Stress will shut down testosterone production in the testes much like kryptonite shuts down superman.

Please Note: Resistance training that you are engaged in also boosts testosterone production. However, research has shown that it is those sets of 5 power reps or so that challenge your limits that stimulate T secretion, verses the 20 or so unchallenged reps.

The Supplement Connection

Today, bodybuilders utilize a variety of trade and mass marketed supplements to increase testosterone production, and some well established individual supplements to keep testosterone at youthful levels. The most well known and widely used ones are branch chain amino acids, DHEA (  dehydroepiandrosterone ), fenugreek, L- arginine,  Leucine, L-orthinine, long jack root (eurycoma longfolia),   tribulus terrestris, zinc, ZMA (zinc and magnesium aspartate ) and Yohimbe. While not known for their anabolic capabilities Vitamins C, E, B-6, and Panothenic Acid (vitamin B-5) all support testosterone production. Furthermore, the mineral magnesium is gaining global recognition for its link to testosterone production via its positive impact on SHBG by researchers at the Institute of Endocrinology in Prague. Also in a related study, the herb Eurycoma longfolia cited above reduced SHBG activity by 30{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22}. Moreover, the category of products like Andro-Shock, known to both boost testosterone and suppress the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, are also highly utilized.

The Unknown Soldier

 While known for its immune boosting and ability to preserve eye health, Vitamin A has a definitive impact on testosterone, although not well publicized. Vitamin A plays a key role in regulating testosterone production.  Reliable and consistent data shows that vitamin A within the testes increase testosterone secretions and a number of anabolic growth factors, such as IGF- binding protein, andogen-binding protein, transforming growth factor-beta and a protein known as steroidogenic acute regulatory protein. This protein plays a critical role in transporting cholesterol into the mitochondria (the body’s energy factories) to be transformed into steroids.  Vitamin A also works as an aromatizing agent in the testes, reducing the formation of estrogen.

Some Final Fat Thoughts?

According to researchers at the Mayo clinic fats should comprise 7{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} to 10{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} of total calories or 15g to 22g per day on a 2, 000 calorie diet. To maximize your “T” production and your anabolic potential sports medicine researchers contend that the dietary intake of fat should be comprised 30{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} to 40{690aabf473ee9cb8b4fc656c49d18b478e1090738caf1b9c11215dfe446bbf22} of your total calories. The difference here is the disparity of total calories of bodybuilders per day which in some cases as progression occurs can reach 3000 to 4000 daily. The other factor here to sustain the up-regulation of your testosterone production, you will have to shift the bulk of your intake of fats to the good guys, the ones that are actually heart protective, as the facts are clear, without them, the body is incapable of making testosterone, one of your most prolific  anabolic triggers.


Antonio, J. Protein Power: All Proteins aren’t Created Equal. Found on line at: bodyforlife.com/ library/articles/nutrition/protein-power-not-all. Accessed on 06-06-13.

Barclay, L., Vega, C.  Low testosterone levels linked to increased mortality.  Medscape Medical News.  Found online at:  www.medscape.com/viewarticle/54397  Accessed on 05/25/13.

Chandler, R.M., Byrne, H.K., et. al., Dietary supplements affect the anabolic hormones after weight training exercise.  Journal of Applied Physiology.  1994; 76(2): 839-845.

Davis, S., Tran, J.  What are normal testosterone levels for women?  Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.  2001; 86(4): 1842-1843.

Ho, D.  A Guide to Fruits That Increase Testosterone.  Found online at:  http://ezinearticles.com/?A-Guide-to-Fruits-that-Increase-Testosterone&id=160613. accessed on 05-18-13.

Hoffer, L.J., Beitins, I.Z., et. al., Effects of severe dietary restriction on male reproductive hormones.  Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.  1986; 62(2): 288-292.

Greenwood, M., Kalman, D., Antonio, J., Nutritional Supplements in Sports and Exercise. Humana Press: Totowa New Jersey, 2010.

Lansin, D.  Control of fatty acid and glycerol release in adipose tissue lipolysis.  Compteus Rendus Biologies.  2006 Aug; 329(8): 598-607.

Longcope, C., Felderman, H.A., et.al. Diet and sex hormone -binding globulin. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2000; 85: 293-296.

Martin, M.E., Vranckx, R. et.al. Modifications of the properties of human sex steroid-binding protein by nonesterified fatty acids. Journal of Biology and Chemistry. 1986Feb; 261(6): 2954-2559.

Muscle Bulletin Articles.  Is your low-fat diet lowering your testosterone levels?  Found online at:  www.musclebulletin.com/articles/archives/176-30k  Accessed on 05/27/13.

Riechman, S.E., Andrews, R.D., et.al. Statins and dietary serum cholesterol  are associated with increased lean mass following resistance training. Journal of Gerontology: A Biological Science and Medical Science. 2007 Oct; 62(10): 1164-1171.

Robinson, R.J., Burd, N.A., et.al., Dose –dependent responses of myoibrillar protein synthesis with beef ingestion are enhanced with resistance exercise in middle-aged men. Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism. 2013; 38(2): 120-125.

Shores, M.M., Matsumoto, A.M.  Low serum testosterone and mortality in male veterans.  Archives of Internal Medicine.  2006; 166: 1660-1665.

Van den Beldaw, de Jong, F.H., et.al. Measures of bioavailable serum testosterone and estradiol and estradiol and their relationship with muscle strength, bone density and body composition in elderly men. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2000Sept; 85(9): 3276-3282.

Volek, J.S., Kraemer, W.J., et. al., Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise.  Journal of Applied Physiology.  1997; 82: 49-54.

Volek, J.S., et. al., Effects of a high-fat diet on post absorptive and postprandial testosterone responses to a fat-rich meal.  Metabolism.  2001; 50(11): 1351-1355.

Wang, C., Catlin, D.H., et.al. Low fat high fiber diet decreases serum and urine androgens in men. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2005 Jun; 90(6): 3550-3559.

Wright, J.V., Morgenthaler, J.  Natural Hormone Replacement.  Petaluma,

CA: Smart Publications, 1997.

Leave a Reply