How Exercise Routines (Or Lack of One) Affect Your Testosterone Level
Do you persistently feel unusually tired or sluggish? In both men and women, low testosterone levels can be a reason for continually feeling fatigued or weak while trying to complete everyday tasks.
Although testosterone levels gradually decrease with age in both sexes, other factors also can result in abnormal testosterone levels.
Some researchers speculate that lower levels of anabolic hormones – testosterone is one – are related to decreases in physical activity. Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to understand your testosterone level and support it over time.
Research has found that more than 24% of men have a low testosterone level, but less than half of them show symptoms of it.1
We recommend that you first start with Thorne’s at-home Testosterone Test to enable you to know your testosterone level. Is it below average or is it within normal range?
It might sound counterintuitive, but purposeful exercise and forcing yourself to expend energy can actually help increase and maintain your testosterone level, which ultimately will improve your energy level.
Both men and women need testosterone, just in different amounts. Testosterone is produced in the testes in males and in the ovaries in females, and both sexes produce a small amount in their adrenal glands.
Normal testosterone ranges are higher in men and are responsible for “male-like” physical characteristics, such as greater muscle mass, more body and facial hair, deeper voice, and male-pattern baldness.
However, it is also important for women to maintain a healthy testosterone level. In both sexes, testosterone maintains strong bones, increases muscle mass, produces new red blood cells, regulates libido and mood, and stimulates the release of other important hormones.
So if you have less than an optimal testosterone level, then consider switching your exercise routine.
1. Not exercising
Not exercising or having a sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased likelihood for having a low testosterone level.
It's hard to say which is driving which, but obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and diabetes are all factors for low testosterone, while on the flipside a low testosterone level increases the likelihood of having diabetes, metabolic syndrome, bone fractures, and other undesirable chronic conditions.
Luckily, in many instances, adding exercise, losing weight, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can increase a low testosterone level.
Endurance or aerobic exercise in moderation can help do the trick. Endurance exercise is usually considered exercise in which you can maintain continuous movement at a lower intensity for an extended period – like cycling, jogging, running, swimming, or using a stationary elliptical.
In overweight men who don’t currently exercise, it can take as little as 12 weeks of 40-60 minutes of walking or jogging 1-3 days a week to increase levels of both free and total testosterone.2 Many health professionals agree you can even see a positive effect early on.
Women can also see benefits with endurance exercise. With as little as one endurance session, women, ages 19-69, who cycled at a 75% maximum heart rate for 40 minutes saw significant increases in testosterone, estradiol, and growth hormone.3
Such an acute response can help support long-term muscle and tissue changes and help you on your way to improving resting hormone levels.
3. Weight lifting
Weight lifting or resistance training is another great option. Anabolic hormones – testosterone, insulin, and growth hormone – are all elevated for 15-30 minutes after the right type of resistance exercise. What’s the right type of exercise?
Try lifting high volumes (meaning a large number of repetitions) at moderate-to-high intensity, and only give yourself short rest breaks so you can be sure you’re stressing the large muscle groups.
Focus on your legs, back, chest, and shoulders, because these muscle groups tend to produce the greatest acute hormonal increases compared to smaller muscle groups. Low-volume, high-intensity sets with long rest intervals also work.4
Try to lift weights 2-3 times each week to stimulate hormone production, maintain muscle mass, and gain strength.
4. HIIT training
HIIT training or high-intensity interval training is a relatively recent exercise category. CrossFit training is a good example of HIIT training. Exercises might include rotating burpees, shuttle sprints, jump squats, or planks lasting 30 seconds to a few minutes, with a total workout lasting about 30 minutes.
These exercises tend to use only body weight as resistance, and they have an aerobic component, which enables fat burning and increased aerobic capacity.
In a study of 60-year-old men, six weeks of HIIT training increased free testosterone, as well as improving athletic performance.5
5. Excess exercise
Like many things, excess exercise can be too much of a good thing. Prolonged endurance exercise, like ultra-running, while it can provide numerous cardiovascular health benefits, can also be associated with an overtraining syndrome that disrupts the endocrine system.
For women, overtraining can lead to the “female athlete triad” – with its adverse effects on bone health, the menstrual cycle, and energy.
Men can experience what is called “exercise-hypogonadal male condition,” which is characterized by low-normal or clinically low testosterone levels and male infertility. This can occur in 25% of men who engage in extreme volumes of exercise.6
Therefore, it’s best to get regular, adequate exercise, while monitoring your testosterone levels at regular intervals as you engage in longer and more intense endurance routines.
Time of Day
Testosterone levels naturally fluctuate during the day; in males, the levels tend to be highest in the morning hours between 8 and 11. So what time of day is best to exercise to support your resting testosterone? It depends on you and the type of exercise.
In the early morning, when your body temperature is still relatively low, your natural testosterone level is at its highest, even though your mental alertness might be low.
If this is when you have time to exercise, then weight training might be your best bet, so you can capitalize on your higher testosterone levels for muscle-building benefits and not need the mental alertness required for HIIT coordination.
Fasting low-to-moderate endurance exercise might also be a good choice in the morning, because it helps burn fat and improves body composition, both of which could be impacting your testosterone level.
Although the highest pain tolerance tends to be in the afternoon, you might go through the after-lunch energy slump. Two or more hours after lunch might be the ideal point when your mental and physical function are in a good balance and energy is recovering, providing the best window of opportunity for HIIT exercises or endurance training.
In the evening, your body is physically ready for exercise. Coordination, stamina, and body temperature are high, lung capacity is ideal, and your body feels loose but strong.
However, you can be mentally exhausted at the end of the day. As evening approaches, your cortisol level drops naturally to its lowest level, which can be ideal for exercise. Thus, evening is a good time of day for any type of exercise: HIIT, weightlifting, or endurance exercise. Some research indicates exercise at this time of day can have a great impact on improving testosterone levels.
At night, the body initiates a power-down sequence that prepares you for sleep. Any exercise too close to shut-eye can affect your melatonin level and your ability to recover properly.
Ultimately, the best time of day to exercise is when it’s best for you.
Most experts agree the optimal window is between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., when your body is most prepared. But no matter when you exercise, doing it rather than not doing it, will enable you to reap full body benefits, including supporting testosterone level.
Your diet, including supplements, plays a large supporting role in helping you reach your exercise and weight goals. Having appropriate nutrients available to your body before, during, and after a workout helps your muscles repair and rebuild.
Support your exercise routine with Thorne’s Sport Performance products, whether you are an athlete or not, so you get the most out of your workout.
Before a workout, consider Thorne's Beta Alanine-SR to fight muscle fatigue, and Creatine for muscle power output.* During a workout, keep your electrolytes in balance and energy systems operating optimally with Catalyte®.*
2. Kumagai H, Yoshikawa T, Zempo-Miyaki A, et al. Vigorous physical activity is associated with regular aerobic exercise-induced increased serum testosterone levels in overweight/obese men. Horm Metab Res 2018;50(1):73-79.
6. Hackney A, Aggon E. Chronic low testosterone levels in endurance trained men: the exercise-hypogonadal male condition. J Biochem Physiol 2018;1(1). pii:103 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29882545