Bodybuilding has many positives, it can improve your health and fitness in a variety of ways. But there is also a chance that it can harm your health, particularly if you begin to use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). In this article, I will look at answering the question “Will bodybuilding affect fertility?”.
Natural bodybuilding performed correctly should lead to a natural increase in testosterone levels, which can help improve fertility. However, overtraining, or aggressive calorie deficits can harm testosterone production. Taking anabolic steroids can harm fertility as it disrupts normal testosterone production.
In this article, I will explore how bodybuilding can influence fertility both positively and negatively.
Many men who take up bodybuilding will experience a change in their fertility levels. Whether it is a positive one or a negative one depends on their current fertility levels, and how they approach bodybuilding.
Building muscle, dropping body fat, and focussing on sleep quality and nutrition will often see a rise in testosterone. This can help to improve fertility. On the other hand, overtraining, extreme dieting, and steroid use can severely affect testosterone production and therefore fertility.
There are many causes of low fertility in men and women. I hope any ladies who may be reading this can forgive me for focussing this article on men. Male and female fertility are two completely different subjects, though they can often have similarities.
The most common cause of infertility in men is low testosterone production. This can be caused by a number of things:
Other than genetics, you can probably see how bodybuilding can improve your testosterone levels. Reducing body fat, increasing muscle mass, improving diet, and reducing stress. Which is why many infertile men who embark on a well-programmed diet and exercise program have seen improvements in their testosterone and fertility.
As you can imagine, many infertile natural bodybuilders can expect to see a significant increase in their fertility levels as their training progresses. Provided they are actually drug-free (see below). But it is not quite as simple as all that.
Exercising too hard and not recovering properly (known as overtraining) can actually lead to a reduction in testosterone. Overtraining can lead to increased stress (cortisol production can shoot up), bad sleep, mood changes, and even weight gain/muscle loss.
All of these side-effects can affect testosterone production, which has a knock-on effect on your fertility.
To avoid overtraining, focus on keeping your training volume manageable, and ensure that your recovery from each session is effective. Sleep more, eat more protein, have proper rest days, and consider supplements such as creatine that can help with recovery.
Bottom Line: As I said in my article on bodybuilding and testosterone, listen to your body. Overtraining has many obvious signs and if you begin to experience them, it means that you should consider a couple of weeks of lower volume.
Another issue is calorie deficits. Cutting, the process of creating a large calorie deficit to burn fat, is an important part of bodybuilding. Whether you are natural or not. In the short term, it can be beneficial. But prolonged dieting can impact your hormones, and lead to a reduction in fertility.
Bottom Line: Try to organise your bulk/cuts so that you do not have to spend too long in a calorie deficit. A more disciplined bulk (where you gain less body fat while still gaining muscle) is the best way to prevent a prolonged cut.
The idea that flooding your body with testosterone or with drugs that mimic its effects can actually lower your testosterone levels seems a bit crazy. But you need to remember one important thing, your body’s main focus is to maintain homeostasis. It wants everything in balance.
If you artificially increase the amount of testosterone in your body, then your body will respond by cutting production. It may also begin to release an enzyme known as aromatase, whose function is to convert excess testosterone into estrogen.
Anabolic steroids are also known for affecting testicular size and effectiveness. The trope of the bodybuilder having tiny balls is actually scientifically accurate. The knock-on effect being a reduction in testosterone production and therefore fertility.
There have been hundreds of studies that have shown that taking steroids leads to infertility in bodybuilders. Here is what one study concluded:
“AAS abuse can disrupt the health of the person at multiple levels. The impact on male fertility is one of the least reported, but certainly one that clinicians should know better.”
Osta et al (2016)
Another study found that:
“Substance abuse, including AAS, is commonly associated to transient or persistent impairment on male reproductive function”
AAS stands for Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids. Transient or persistent impairment basically means that it can affect you while taking steroids, and can continue to affect you even after you’ve finished taking them.
Perhaps the most telling quote comes from a 2017 study published in the journal of Sports Medicine:
“Anabolic androgenic steroid use results in profound and prolonged effects on the reproductive system of athletes and recreational users and potentially on fertility.”
There will be bodybuilders who take every PED that they can get their hands on and remain fertile for decades. While a natural bodybuilder who does everything they should be doing and avoids all PEDs may be infertile. Life is rarely fair, and outliers always exist.
But for most men, becoming more active, lowering your body fat percentage, building muscle, and improving your diet will help to improve your fertility.
On the other hand, overtraining, not recovering properly, and taking anabolic steroids will harm your fertility.
It’s sad but true. That’s why you really need to have this conversation with yourself before embarking on a bodybuilding journey. The fact that you’ve just read an entire article on will bodybuilding affect fertility shows that you are taking it seriously.
Sure, there are ways to get around low testosterone, and many pro bodybuilders manage it. But personally, I would avoid tinkering with my own biochemistry as much as possible. It really is your choice though.
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.