Caloric deficit…Is that option lingering in the back of your mind?
You want to get lean, look good in swimming trunks.
But what is it going to do to your testosterone levels?
Is it going to lower your already low levels, or bring down your levels that you have worked so hard to increase?
Is it even the best or safest way to lose weight?
Bodyfat and testosterone levels
Your body fat starting point contributes greatly to your current testosterone levels. Fat tissue contains a significant amount of the enzyme, aromatase, that converts your testosterone to estrogen…and estrogen just promotes more fat gain!
It’s known that obese individuals have low testosterone and elevated estrogen and that a caloric deficit as low as 800 calories for 8 weeks is able to increase testosterone levels and decrease estrogen levels (R). The cause of this atrociously low testosterone is due to insulin resistance, oxidative stress, endotoxins, reduced testicular function, elevated estrogen (which is a much more potent negative regulator of steroidogenesis than testosterone itself), etc.
So, cutting calories takes care of a lot of these problems, which then help to improve testicular function and steroidogenesis.
But what about people that have moderate to low body fat and they start on a caloric deficit?
Normal non-obese people that embark on a 25% caloric deficit didn’t experience a decrease in testosterone levels over 2 years (R).
But practising calorie restriction as a lifestyle will lead to lower testosterone levels, but not DHEA-S (R).
But what about athletes?
Eric Helms and his crew did a nice study (R) that looked at calorie restriction and testosterone levels in natural bodybuilders.
They showed that testosterone levels dropped to a quarter of the original levels when they reached their desired bodyfat concentrations – that is when they were stage ready.
That’s a scary drop…but…
After increasing calories again, their testosterone returned to and exceed the baseline after three months.
They found that, although their testosterone dropped by about three quarters, they lost minimal amounts of muscle mass. Which indicated that testosterone during a cut isn’t as important for retaining muscle than total calories and protein.
When considering a caloric deficit, don’t start out too hard, because when the caloric deficit is steep enough to lose 1kg of fat per week, testosterone dropped 30% more than when losing weight at a rate of 0.5kg per week.
Additionally, testosterone doesn’t start dropping right when the caloric deficit started, but only after the first 6 weeks did it start to decrease slightly.
Tips to optimize testosterone production during the deficit
- Total daily calorie intake is most important at boosting testosterone production, so don’t stress that much about total fat intake during the cut. Carbs are more important to promote optimal recovery between workouts to sustain exercise performance for maximal muscle retention. (Recommended reading: Protein, carbs and fat intake for fat loss.)
- Be active. There is a significantly positive relationship between the number of steps per day and total testosterone levels (R). Weight training and HIIT (sprinting, cycling, rope jumping, etc.) are great ways to increase energy expenditure and androgens. Long peaceful walks are also great for relaxation, meditation, fat loss and androgen production.
- Maximize your testosterone production by incorporating as many T boosting foods, substances and protocols as possible. (Recommended read: 75 proven ways to boost testosterone production)
- Take breaks from your deficit. Not only will this help to prevent metabolic slowdown, but it will also help to reset your metabolic setpoint and keep testosterone levels optimal. A good strategy:
- Be in a deficit for 7 days and then eat at maintenance for 3 days. Rinse and repeat.
- Every 2-3 months of the deficit protocol above, take 2-4 weeks off and eat at maintenance.
- Don’t make your deficit too large. A 300-500 calorie deficit is optimal to lose fat and retain as much muscle as possible while keeping androgens nice and high, whereas a bigger deficit will lead to greater muscle mass loss and actually less fat loss.