Testosterone (T) levels are declining, and fast. Recent studies have shown that in the past 20 years there have been a 17% drop in testosterone levels amongst men.
Perhaps even more alarming, the rate of decline is increasing.
This should be no surprise since the majority of the world eats crappy food, drinks too much, doesn’t exercise and walks around like a ball of stress.
Declining T levels are merely a consequence of this type of self-destructive lifestyle.
But the truth is that even a seemingly healthy lifestyle can have hidden estrogen-promoting, testosterone-squelching effects.
Recently, I had an athlete, Ben, come to me with low T symptoms: inability to make strength gains, difficulty losing fat, feeling down, and perhaps the most dreaded symptom of all– decreased libido.
Ben is in his thirties, eats “healthy” and trains regularly. At first glance, he didn’t seem like candidates for low T. But his blood work recently came back and confirmed what I had thought—basement level testosterone. After I reviewed his training and nutritional history, his low T started to make sense.
Ben was definitely overtraining and not getting enough sleep. Both of these factors can quickly cause your T levels to deteriorate. These were the most obvious patterns that we needed to change.
But stating the obvious doesn’t make a great post, now does it? So instead, let’s reveal the well-hidden factors that were contributing to Ben’s feminization. They were primarily dietary related.
Here is Ben’s pre-Alvino meal plan: Take a good look at it, and then we will discuss why this apparently healthy diet can contribute to one’s “castration”, so to speak.
½ cup cream of wheat (measured uncooked)
6 egg whites
1 slice of whole grain bread
2 scoops whey protein
8 oz. skim milk
1 tbsp ground flax meal
Grilled chicken sandwich:
2 slices of whole grain bread
5 oz. grilled chicken breast
Lettuce, tomato and mustard
2 cups soy milk
½ cup strawberries
1 tbsp. peanut butter
7 oz. flounder
1 medium baked potato
Side salad with low-fat Italian dressing
At first glance, this diet appears to be pretty solid. It contains adequate amounts of proteins, carbs, fiber and fats, all of which are essential for a healthful diet. Even the choices of foods seem to be quite good.
There are some very subtle things in this diet, however, that would encourage decreased testosterone levels.
I’m going to break down each potentially emasculating component of this diet and tell you how to fix it. Then I will build a sample meal plan that not only will prevent the decline of the “BIG T”, it will actually encourage maximal T production. Here are the red flags of dietary feminization:
1) Wheat consumption- In the above meal plan, you’ll notice the consumption of both whole grain bread and cream of wheat cereal. These foods are touted to be healthy, but truth be told, they can cause your estrogen levels to rise, which in turn can cause T levels to plummet.
2) Low-fat- Research has shown that when total fat intake is too low, testosterone levels decrease. That’s because EFA’s, saturated fats and monounsaturated fats are needed to efficiently produce testosterone. Choose foods high in monounsaturated fats, like avocadoes, nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil, and coconut oil.
3) Low cholesterol- Adding a yolk (or two) to your egg white omelet does more that add a little flavor. Testosterone (like many other sex hormones) is made from a base of cholesterol. So in order to provide your body with all of the raw materials that it needs, you should ingest some cholesterol.
And fear not–studies have shown that eating a little dietary cholesterol does not raise serum cholesterol levels. The real cholesterol spiking culprits are trans fats, processed foods, and sugars. Stay away from those.
4) Ground flax consumption- Flax is a very healthy food. It contains fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Flax is so good for you that many consider it to be a super food.
Although flax does deserve all the accolades it gets, there is one problem with flax seed consumption and T production- the lignans contained in flax have a weak estrogenic effect.
For those of you who don’t know, lignans are a naturally occurring plant chemical that is contained inside the cell matrix of the actual flax seed. The good news is that you can still safely get your omega fats from filtered flax oil because the lignans are removed during filtration.
Women can actually benefit from the lignans found in flax, but I can rarely find a reason for a man to want to ingest something that causes an increase in estrogen. Therefore, men — stay away from the seeds.
5) Soy- Soy contains estrogenic isoflavones that can negatively impact testosterone levels. The good news is that there are many soy milk alternatives (ex. almond, hemp coconut and rice milk) to choose from that have no estrogenic activity at all.
6) Regular produce- Regular produce is laced with pesticides and herbicides. There are many detrimental consequences of consuming these chemicals, and one of them is that they have a strong estrogenic effect in the body and thus should be avoided. Instead, be sure to consume organic produce whenever possible.
7) Meat from conventional farm animals- Most farm animals are force fed antibiotics and hormones. These chemicals have an estrogenic effect and should be scraped off of your dinner plate at all costs. Instead, look for meats that are raised without antibiotics and hormones.
Now here is a revised, testosterone-friendly version of the sample diet above.
Note: all of these foods should be from organic sources.
¼ cup steel cut oats
2 whole eggs (cage free, organic and fertile)
4 egg whites (cage free, organic and fertile)
2 scoops grass fed whey protein
8 oz. raw, organic milk
1 organic banana
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp. maca powder
3 cups salad greens
5 oz. grilled free-range chicken breast
Olive oil and vinegar dressing
2 cups rice milk
1 scoop rice protein
½ cup strawberries
1 tbsp. almond butter
1 tbsp. maca powder
7 oz. salmon (wild caught)
1 medium yam
2 cups broccoli
3 caps of ZMA before bed.
This meal plan will allow Ben’s testosterone levels to peak in no time. In addition to going organic and swapping estrogen promoting-foods for testosterone-raising foods, we did a couple things worth noting.
1) Exchanged the dinner salad for a serving of broccoli. Broccoli (along with cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts) belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family. These vegetables contain 3 active ingredients (indole 3 carbinol, indole 3 acetate and diindolymethane) that effectively inhibit estrogen metabolism. Be sure to include them in your meal plan.
2) Added maca to the shakes- Maca is a cruciferous root vegetable that is renowned for its hormonal optimizing effects. To help regulate your endocrine system, thus optimizing T production, get this supplement in powder form and add it to your shakes.
3) Added ZMA. Zinc is essential for testosterone production. Unfortunately, zinc deficiency is extremely common. Since even a mild zinc deficiency can quickly lower your T levels, supplementing your diet with zinc is an insurance policy for optimal T production.
Zinc has been shown to be best absorbed when delivered as ZMA, which is why I recommend its use. Additionally, ZMA contains magnesium, which, although it may not have a direct effect on T, is still a great supplement for hard-training athletes. Take 3 capsules at night, right before bed.
In addition to following these dietary guidelines, Ben needed to alter some of his lifestyle behaviors. The three most important of these were getting adequate sleep (8 hours a night), reducing stress levels (through mediation and relaxation techniques) and lifting heavy weights without overtraining.
Ben is now feeling like a new man. And you can too, if you follow these guidelines!
Dedicated to you success,