To most people, carbohydrates are bad because they lead to excess weight, obesity, inflammation and diabetes. You would think that excluding carbs from your diet would lead to eternal health. But nothing could be further from the truth. While excess carbs, especially the refined types can lead to various health problems, you still need carbohydrates to lead an active, healthy life; much like you need fat and protein. But what are the effects of carbs on testosterone?
What happens if your diet is very low in carbohydrates?
Carbohydrate is one of the three macro nutrients required by the body. Any major action involving carbohydrate or any other macronutrient requires that you think about all the three; carbohydrate, fat and protein. This is because the body normally uses each for particular functions. For this reason, a balance between the three is necessary in order for your body to correctly use each macronutrient for the functions it is best suited. Carbohydrate is the choice source of energy, followed by fat, while protein is the energy source of last resort.
If you are an active individual, restricting your carbohydrate intake can lead to the following issues:
- Increased production of the stress hormone, cortisol
- Reduced production of thyroid hormones
- Depressed immune function
- Loss of muscle mass
- Low testosterone production
Importance of carbs to testosterone production
While it may not be obvious, carbohydrates have a crucial role in the production of testosterone. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is the body’s main source of energy. But besides providing energy, glucose is required for the production of the testosterone precursor hormone known as gonadotropine-releasing-hormone (GnRH). This is the chemical from which the T-hormone is produced. It follows that as long as there is adequate glucose in the bloodstream and barring any other problems, adequate GnRH is produced and therefore production of Testosterone is maintained at healthy levels.
Effects of calorie restriction on testosterone production
Eating an overall healthy diet consisting of the right proportions of the three macronutrients besides micronutrients ensures that your body has healthy testosterone levels. However, if you eat a low-carb diet for a length of time, your body will be forced to produce the glucose necessary for its survival from the available sources, including protein from body tissues such as muscles.
In such a state, the critical thing for the body is survival. Unfortunately, production of GnRH and testosterone is not a survival function. This means that consistently eating a low carb diet leads to reduced production of the precursor GnRH and therefore, the hormone testosterone.
One study illustrated this perfectly. Male athletes were divided into two groups and their T levels measured at rest before the test procedure. For three consecutive days, one group was put on low-carb (30 percent carbohydrate) diet, while the other was put on 60 percent carbohydrate diet. Both groups had intense workouts for 60 minutes a day. At the end of the three days, their testosterone levels were measured again at rest. The study found that T levels had dropped by 43 percent in the low-carb diet group while Testosterone levels in the control group remained unchanged.
Another study found that following a high carbohydrate diet for 10 days (70 percent carb, 10 percent protein) had the effect of increasing total testosterone concentration by 28 percent. This did not happen with a high protein diet (35 percent carb, 44 percent protein).
If you fear that you will put on excess weight by eating more carbs, look at your carbohydrate source. Note that eating refined carbohydrates contributes to excess weight and obesity. Choose healthier carbohydrate foods such as whole grain, fruits and vegetables instead.
This study found that taking a high carb diet for 10 days led to a substantial increase in T levels. This increase did not occur when the same men were fed on a low-carb diet for an equivalent 10-day period. Besides, the low carbohydrate diet caused a rise in cortisol. Total number of calories and amount of fat were kept constant during the tests.
While following a low-carb diet may seem like one way to get lean muscle and probably boost your T levels, nothing is further from the truth. Carbohydrate, just like the other major nutrients; fat and protein, are necessary for good health. Your body needs energy to carry out its many functions which include physical activity and maintenance of body heat, etc. But carbohydrates also have a critical function in T production. As a source of glucose, it is involved in the production of the testosterone precursor GnRH which is necessary for production of testosterone. The important thing is balance. And while everyone is unique; in general, you should get two times as much of your calorie requirements from carbohydrate as from protein.