For many bodybuilders, protein consumption is practically a religion. If you’ve been working on building muscle, you’ve probably had your fair share of protein powder. Testosterone – the ultimate male hormone – has also always been associated with muscle building, but did you know that there is such a thing as too much protein, and that it can affect your testosterone levels?
You may want to rethink your notions on protein and its relationships with muscle gains and with test levels as, apparently, the mechanisms behind these two are rather conflicting.
So does having more protein make you manlier? The answer is actually best given on a case to case basis. In this article we’ll guide you through the science and present you with the important facts you need to know to optimize protein consumption and keep your testosterone levels high.
Why you need to think twice about that off-the-roof protein consumption
No, we’re not saying that protein is bad. It’s true that protein is a crucial macronutrient for bodybuilding. We all need protein to build muscle and have a functional body. However, there is an optimal level and that level is not always at the as-much-as-you-can-eat level.
Somewhere along the timeline of healthy living and legendary bodybuilding history, there started this notion that there’s no such thing as too much protein in your diet. Some people have accepted this as the norm and even forced themselves to consume 11.5g/protein per pound of bodyweight (that’s over 40% of one’s daily caloric intake!).
What’s worse is that this notion has been perpetuated by manufacturers who are more concerned about generating hype and marketing than they are about your health. It’s high time that you know the truth and we get down to the real science!
How varied diet macros affect your body
Here’s what you’ve probably been missing: protein and testosterone, the primary muscle building hormone, have a negative relationship. Don’t take it from us but from the following studies conducted by the experts, this is not broscience my friend. Brace yourself!
Study#1. The Link Between Dietary Protein/ Carbohydrate Ratios and Steroid Hormone Concentrations in Blood (Anderson. 1987)
This study investigated whether significant hormone levels (i.e. testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), cortisol and corticosteroid binding globulin (Transcortin)) were influenced by dietary differences in macronutrients.
Researchers mainly looked for differences between a high carbohydrate: protein dietary ratio, and a higher protein: carb ratio. As for the results, they found out that higher carb: protein diet resulted in higher levels of circulating testosterone.
Moreover, testosterone’s “check” hormone, SHBG, also had lower concentrations in high carb diets. SHBG transports the testosterone in your bloodstream in inactive form, which means that those hormones would not be bioavailable and produce any effects. This is not what you want.
The same diet ratio also resulted in lower levels of circulating stress hormones. Overall, these markers lead to better conditions for improved anabolism and muscle protein synthesis
On the other hand, the opposite has surprisingly been observed in the high protein group. Overall, their results draw the conclusion that higher protein intake is not associated with a superior hormone profile.
However, this does not mean that diets high in carbohydrates are the best. Rather, it means that you should not go too crazy on the protein. A high fat ketogenic diet has shown no negative effects on testosterone levels, so indeed levels of carbohydrates are not the issue.
Study#2: The Relationship Between Testosterone and Cortisol Concentration in Resistance Trained Individuals Relative to Dietary Intake (Volek. 1997)
This study refutes the belief that the “peri workout” window is the most important time to load up on protein with the aim to maximize muscle growth. However, the results show that fat may actually be responsible for one’s gains as a result of post exercise test spikes, not protein!
These findings were mainly reflected in the baseline levels they collected from subjects who consumed a diet with more calories derived from fat, who correspondingly had higher testosterone levels.
This trend has been consistent even more interestingly when testosterone was plotted against saturated fat intake and monosaturated fats. Again, this study points out on the relevance of nutrition for optimal test levels. And as in the previous study, it suggests that you don’t have to stick to the all high protein or high protein + low(er) carbs diet. Focus on healthy fats!
Study#3: Protein Supplementation Does Not Alter Anabolic or Endocrine Hormonal Response Following Resistance Training (Gonzalez. 2015)
In this study, a placebo was tested against a protein supplement consisting of 20g protein, 6g carbs, and 1g fat post workout on the hormonal response of 10 healthy, young men who engaged in resistance training.
Their results show that hormone-wise, there is no significant difference between the two groups — not in testosterone, cortisol, insulin, or even in growth hormone levels.
This cements the notion that protein is indeed crucial in bodybuilding, but there is no need to consume so much. More importantly, this study might make you consider if spending so much money on those protein powders are really worth it.
So who actually needs a high protein diet?
As hinted at in the first study mentioned, it’s older people who have a need for more dietery protein, and this is shown in at least one study. In the study, the subjects are in age ranges from 40 to 70.
The results showed that men who consumed the lowest protein also had highest levels of SHBG, the binding protein which inactivates testosterone and the other sex hormones. And with lower levels of these hormones means less are free to elicit beneficial effects on the body.
However, lets not forget the limits of the study and wait for more studies on men with a younger age range.
So when should you use protein supplements?
Ideally, protein supplements are only advised if you are unable to meet your nutritional requirements or trying to lose weight. You may use online protein intake calculators to find out, or consult a bodybuilding dietician or nutritionist.
When you have established that you do need that extra protein from supplementation, skip the protein powders and instead consume a real post workout meal consisting of real meat or eggs. Enjoy a diet of steak and eggs, which incidentally is highly recommended by legendary body builder Vince Gironda. There is no need for pre workout supplements. Make sure your diet contains ample fats, some carbs, and decent amount of protein. I recommend aiming for 0.8-1g/ pound of bodyweight in protein.
What do we focus on now?
When you break things down into it’s chemistry, you’ll notice that testosterone is in fact closely tied to fatty acids. You’ve might have heard about boosting test through the selenium in Brazilian nuts (popularized by Tim Ferriss) but another way to go is through working on omega 3’s and 6’s, particularly the modified omega 6 fatty acid known as Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). You can always conveniently pop CLA from supplements or you can also just get your CLA from grass-fed meats and butter.
When you’ve established that you’re consuming all the protein you need, it’s time to save some cash and stop buying all those protein powders.
Remember that if your daily requirements for protein does not entail a need for protein powders, a post-workout meal with a good servings of fat and modest servings of carbs and protein will suffice. It’s always better to go for real food whenever you can instead of buying supplements.
Keep in mind that animal protein is an essential part of your diet specifically for your vitamin B12 needs, red blood cell health (iron) and many other vitamins, minerals and fatty acids such as CLA.
In fact animal foods contain more nutrients than the majority of plant foods. This is especially the case with organ meats such as liver though keep in mind that animal protein alone will not give you higher testosterone levels!
About The Author
Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Check out https://www.anabolichealth.com/ to learn more about Alex and his work..