To maximize benefit from exercise, the right hormone balance is essential. Why? Because our hormones control numerous aspects of our physical well being. Hormones affect our energy levels, mood, sleeping patterns, cell repair, metabolism, bone and muscle strength making them essential for peak fitness. In this short post we focus on the ABC’s of Hormones Essential to Fitness which all of us need to know. With the odd essential exception, we plan on steering clear of words like ‘biosynthetic’, or phrases such as ‘proteolytically clipped’, using real speak where possible.
So read on ..
– Yes we sell hormone test kits, but we also like to provide unbiased, credible and sourced articles for a good read on your way home. You may also like What is Adrenal Fatigue, Debunking the Myth
DHEAs are Crucial to Fitness – Why?
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is an androgen hormone made in the adrenal gland and is the starting material or ‘building blocks’ of other hormones including two vital hormones, testosterone and estrogen. It is one of the most abundant circulating steroids in humans and we need it in the right amounts.
DHEA is still widely used as a muscle building supplement (ingredient) despite there being no conclusive evidence of its efficacy. We at least understand it’s role as a precursor hormone. We know that without healthy natural DHEA we are in a world of bother, as the hormones we discuss next up rely upon it to do their job.
Androstenedione is Crucial to Fitness – Why?
Androstenedione is the master multitask-er. It is made from DHEA in our adrenal glands and gonads (ovaries and testes), and is the raw material for other hormones including testosterone and estrogens one and two. Androstenedione is converted into testosterone through the catalytic action of an enzyme (17 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase or 17β-HSD for short) which is more than we actually need to know. It is important to know however, that having low androstenedione levels (a deficiency) will lead to reduced production of it’s aforementioned dependent hormone relatives.
Androstenedione use in the Gym
Androstenedione use as a bodybuilding supplement peaked in the 90’s but remains popular amongst the hardcore power-lifting community. Despite being a controlled substance in Australia, and used by some bodybuilders to try to increase testosterone levels, there isn’t much evidence that taking it when you don’t have a deficiency works to increase testosterone and therefore enhance muscle strength and performance. Taking it could also come with some very nasty side effects!
So Androstenedione is really just the stepping stone to testosterone, which is actually the major player here. Let’s take a look.
Testosterone is Crucial to Fitness – Why?
Testosterone is a key player here and is responsible for building body mass in the form of lean muscle, as well as burning excess fat. It is also involved in keeping a healthy number of red blood cells in your bloodstream and these are responsible for carrying iron and oxygen around your body.
The reduction in bone and muscle strength due to the age-related decline in testosterone can be offset, or at least improved by exercise, but the benefits vary depending on factors like age, BMI and our current fitness level.
Intense exercise such as squats and dead-lifts can boost testosterone levels in the short-term. “Sometimes it’s 15 minutes after exercise that testosterone is elevated. Sometimes it can be up to an hour,” says Todd Schroeder, PhD, who studies exercise and hormones in older men at the University of Southern California.
Testosterone isn’t the only hormone providing get-up-and-go though…
Estrogen is Crucial to Fitness – Why?
Estrogen is an important hormone in both sexes and is needed to boost bone mineral density and avoid osteoporosis. Our bones provide stability and our muscles grip those bones in place, firming everything up.
But there’s far more to the estrogen story.
Voluntary activity itself is stimulated by the presence of estrogen! The flip-side being that low levels can be attributed to reduced motivation, so yes it’s important to fitness. “Estrogen balance is essential for achieving and maintaining fat loss,” says Natasha Turner, ND, author of The Supercharged Hormone Diet. “An imbalance will definitely impact your ability to build and retain lean and metabolically active muscle tissue, as well as your ability to burn fat,”.
So we know our androstenedione, DHEA, testosterone and estrogens are essential to fitness. Occasional however, there’s a fifth player involved here, and its impact isn’t so welcome, read on..
Over-exercising can disrupt hormones – How?
Over-exercising (sometimes attributed, but not limited to endurance training) can actually reduce testosterone levels, and lead to physical stress. This can trigger production of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, which is made in the adrenal gland. This has a negative effect on energy levels, and the metabolism of fats and sugars.
Heightened stress can also make falling asleep difficult, and lead to disrupted sleep/wake patterns. This usually results in daytime tiredness, reduces the ability for muscles to repair, and over time will lead to sub-optimal training.
So, what can we do?
An important question especially for the middle to older age groups. Fortunately for us, extensive research over decades has resulted in some fairly simple advice, if not a little dull. Looking after our mental health, and keeping fit is the best and only thing we can do to help our hormones. Training hard and smart is advised.
Eating the right food (most of the time), sleeping normal hours and minimizing exposure to stress is normally all that’s required. As long as we adhere to our exercise plan, and follow these simple rules as close we can, we are doing right by our hormones. Provided we are otherwise healthy, optimal hormone balance results in better muscle development, increased bone strength, improved fat suppression and more stamina.
Checking hormone health is also an option:
And it isn’t as hard to do as most people think. If you’re curious or maybe even concerned about hormone levels you can always test them. Due to its unique advantages, saliva is perfectly suited for the purpose. Testing is non invasive and can be performed at home. Traceable Pre Paid express postage is used to send your sample to the laboratory here in Australia. Testing time is good considering the rigorous steps involved. Results emailed by secure .PDF which can be shared with your doctor. NATA accredited laboratory used at all times.
For more factual, informative reading check out the TestoChecker Journal
Cano Sokoloff N, Misra M and Ackerman KE (2016) Exercise, Training, and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal Axis in Men and Women. Front Horm Res. 47:27-43.
Sato K and Iemitsu M (2018) Chapter Seven – The Role of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in Skeletal Muscle. In: Litwack G (ed.), Vitamins and Hormones, vol 108. Academic Press.
Mohamad N-V, Soelaiman I-N and Chin K-Y (2016) A concise review of testosterone and bone health. Clinical interventions in aging. 11:1317-1324.
Brownlee KK, Moore AW and Hackney AC (2005) Relationship between circulating cortisol and testosterone: influence of physical exercise. Journal of sports science & medicine. 4(1):76-83.
Hooper DR, Kraemer WJ, Saenz C, et al. (2017) The presence of symptoms of testosterone deficiency in the exercise-hypogonadal male condition and the role of nutrition. Eur J Appl Physiol. 117(7):1349-1357.