While the primary aim for bodybuilders is to create a massive and aesthetic physique, this is achieved by increasing testosterone levels as much as possible. But can bodybuilding cause low testosterone? I decided to find out.
Drug-free bodybuilding is unlikely to lead to low testosterone unless the bodybuilder is overtraining. Bodybuilders who use anabolic steroids can definitely expect lowered testosterone levels in the future as steroid use disrupts natural testosterone production.
In this article, I will take a look at whether there is a link between bodybuilding and low testosterone.
For most people, natural bodybuilding will increase testosterone. However, with any form of intense training, you are walking a tightrope between not training enough and training too hard. Bad recovery strategies and an overloaded program can lead to overtraining.
I know that a lot of bodybuilding “experts” claim that overtraining does not exist. But many of them are taking anabolic steroids – which massively help you to train harder for longer (which is why they are popular).
Training at too high an intensity for too long can begin to affect testosterone production, as can staying in a calorie deficit for too long. When calories are very low, and saturated fat in particular, the body will stop producing testosterone at the same levels.
Bottom Line: Bodybuilding can cause low testosterone if it is not structured properly and recovery is bad. But most natural bodybuilders will experience an increase in testosterone from the increased exercise, metabolism, and better diet.
Overtraining is pretty self-explanatory, it is where somebody is training too hard and not getting adequate rest and recovery. Without being able to recover properly, your body begins to fall apart. Strength and performance will drop, your muscles will hurt more after sessions, and you’ll experience more fatigue.
Hormonally, you will see an increase in cortisol. Now, cortisol has many benefits, but too much cortisol has many negative effects. It can affect sleep, appetite, mood, and it can also lead to a reduction in testosterone.
A 2002 study by Urhausen & Kindermann looked at the effect of overtraining on hormones saw an increase in cortisol production and a reduction in testosterone.
Another study in 1993 looked at the effect of overtraining on fertility. It noted that:
overtraining reduces T levels, which is highly correlated with an increase in levels of cortisol and possibly a subsequent decrease in sperm concentration 74 days later.
Roberts et al (1993)
Any form of exercise or sport can lead to overtraining. But bodybuilding is notorious for its high volume workouts, and its all-or-nothing attitude. Just look at any Bodybuilding workout from the 90s. They often mention training twice per day, seven days per week.
Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said in Pumping Iron that he missed his own father’s funeral as he was training in the gym. Turns out that this story was told to him by another bodybuilder, but as you can see. Bodybuilding glorifies overtraining.
That is mostly because bodybuilders tend to supplement with anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). But more on that later.
Bottom Line: Bodybuilding and overtraining often go hand in hand. Overtraining can certainly lead to reduced testosterone and raised cortisol. However, the changes are not irreversible. A few weeks of rest and recovery should see your hormone levels return to normal.
Bodybuilding often involves bulking and cutting cycles. During a bulk, the bodybuilder will eat more food to create a calorie surplus (more calories in than out). During a bulk, the bodybuilder will focus on gaining size and strength, while also gaining body fat.
After bulking, the bodybuilder will go into a cut. This is where they lower calories significantly to create a calorie deficit. This allows them to burn fat while maintaining as much muscle as possible.
There are many benefits to staying within a calorie deficit, but only for a short to medium period of time. With bodybuilding, cuts can get very low in calories prior to a show. At this point, your testosterone levels can begin to drop. A study in 2010 found that long-term calorie restriction can reduce testosterone levels in men.
As with overtraining, the effects are easily reversible. Just stop staying in a calorie deficit, after a while your testosterone levels will return to normal.
Bottom Line: While cutting for prolonged periods of time can lead to a loss in testosterone, most bodybuilders don’t cut for long enough for this to be an issue. It is also easily fixed.
It’s a funny one, anabolic steroids are designed to increase the amount of testosterone (or similar hormones) in your body. So how can taking them lead to a loss in testosterone? Well, there are many complicated, scientific reasons. But let’s keep it simple:
Injecting testosterone and similar drugs into your body stops your body from needing to produce its own testosterone. Your body can also increase the production of an enzyme called aromatase. This little bastard is designed to convert excess testosterone into estrogen!
While you are taking the steroids it’s not that big of a deal, but once you stop? You’re going to have some issues. See, now you don’t have the large quantity of testosterone entering your bloodstream you are going to see a rapid loss. Your body still isn’t producing testosterone, and there is still enough aromatase converting testosterone into estrogen.
There are ways to counteract this, but if untreated, anabolic steroids will cause low testosterone.
Bottom Line: Anabolic steroids can cause low testosterone by interrupting the body’s natural testosterone production.
There are many ways to reverse low testosterone levels. The most important one is to sleep more! Studies have continually found that men who sleep longer have higher testosterone and growth hormone levels than men who don’t get much sleep.
Eating a diet that is high in saturated fat is another good way to increase testosterone. Studies have shown that men who eat a diet that is higher in saturated fat have higher testosterone levels than men who eat less (vegetarians and vegans for example).
If you believe that you are suffering from overtraining, then a couple of weeks with a reduced volume and an emphasis on recovery can help your testosterone levels to recover.
Natural testosterone boosters get a bad rep, and they are pretty useless at increasing your testosterone. However many natural testosterone boosters are good at restoring your testosterone levels. A subtle yet important difference. If your T levels are low, then you could consider some natural testosterone boosters. Multivitamins may also be useful.
Bodybuilding itself does not lower testosterone, and in fact, should lead to an increase in production. However, there are many ways that a bodybuilder could end up with low testosterone. Overtraining, cutting, and steroid abuse can easily lead to a disruption in testosterone production.
Keep this in mind when creating your training programs, and if you are looking to take steroids. If you enjoyed this article, then why not check out my other articles on Bodybuilding? Does bodybuilding cause acne? Affect your height? Cause hair loss? Can bodybuilding lead to increased strength or fat burning?
Good luck with training!
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.