Should you take a testosterone test? This question might be floating around your head for a number of reasons.
Maybe you are noticing some symptoms of lowered testosterone such as a change in mood, sex drive or weight. Perhaps you are getting a little older and you know that testosterone decreases with age, or maybe you are training hard and you want to make sure that your hormones are balanced.
This week, we are joined by LetsGetChecked case study Thomas Nordal, WNBF (World Natural Bodybuilding Federation) Pro Bodybuilder to discuss the hormonal changes that he experienced before, during and after competition season.
Thomas talks us through his experiences of of taking a testosterone test and shares some hints and tips when it comes to tackling the physical and emotional changes that are associated with training intensively.
- What Is Testosterone?
- What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Low Testosterone?
- Should You Take A Testosterone Test?
- Living With Fluctuating Testosterone?:Our Case Study
What Is Testosterone?
The endocrine system of males and females can be difficult to get our heads around. From the hypothalamus sending signals to the hormone producing pituitary gland down to the effects that these hormones have on our sex organs, it can get pretty confusing.
Before we get started on answering the question of what testosterone is, we should start with a few testosterone associated definitions.
Steroid Hormones: are produced by the adrenal cortex, the testes and the ovaries. Steroid hormones have ring structures and are derived from cholesterol. Steroid hormones are carried within the bloodstream to target various organs which to carry out a wider range of physiological functions.
Primary Sexual Characteristics: refers to the development of male and female sex organs including the uterus, vagina, penis and testes.
Secondary Sexual Characteristics: refers to the changes we might see during puberty, these include the growth of hair, the development of an Adam's apple in men, the enlargement of breast tissue in women, and changes in height and body shape.
Testosterone: is a steroid hormone that is responsible for the regulation of primary and secondary sexual characteristics. Testosterone influences your sex drive, muscular development, fat tissue distribution, the production of red blood cells, and the production of sperm in the testes.
Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG): transports hormones through the blood in its biologically inactive form.
Prolactin in Men: regulates the secretion of testosterone and the development of mature sperm.
Oestradiol in Men: regulates erectile function, libido and the development of sperm.
Free Androgen Index: is used to measure the ratio of biologically active and inactive testosterone in the bloodstream.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Low Testosterone
The signs and symptoms of low testosterone include:
- Lowered sex drive
- Increased difficulty in achieving an erection
- Low mood or mood swings
- Lower semen volume
- Increased body fat
- Hair loss
- Loss of muscle mass
- Decreased bone density
Dr. Dominic Rowley explains the importance of testosterone:
Should You Take A Testosterone Test?
Bantamweight UFC Champion TJ Dillashaw discusses the importance of monitoring his hormonal health in this video.
You should also consider putting a particular focus on measuring your testosterone levels if:
- You have or have had prostate cancer
- You are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- You suffer from Klinefelter syndrome
- You suffer from prediabetes,type 1 or type 2 diabetes
- You suffer from hemochromatosis or iron deficiency anemia
- You have a pituitary gland disorder
- You are overweight or obese
- You suffer from chronic stress
- You take anabolic steroids or protein powders
- You have a family history of hormonal imbalances
- You have an over or underactive thyroid
- You suffer from kidney or liver disease
- You have or have previously suffered from anorexia nervosa
Living With Fluctuating Testosterone: Our Case Study
Thomas Nordal is a natural bodybuilder. Thomas says that what started out as a hobby soon became a lifelong passion. As part of his training, he states that using LetsGetChecked tests are an "essential part of the toolbox."
“What can I eat to get skinny” is a typical question I get, it's impossible to answer, because it holds no value. It’s like asking what to buy, in order to get rich. The focus on health these days are on the rise, which is good, but the need for valid, study based information is on the rise.
Why did you start bodybuilding?
It started out as a supplement to playing football. Being only 170cm and quite stringy, it seemed like a good idea to become a little heavier and stronger in order for me to be able to beat the bigger guys on the field. Of course growing up in the 80’s and looking up to guys like Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Van Damme helped quite a bit as well.
When did your passion in bodybuilding start?
I have lifted weights on a novice basis since I was about 17 years old, but it was not until my 30’s that I started to educate myself in nutrition and lifting techniques. I was lucky enough to meet the right people, which introduced me to the world of competing. I stepped on stage for the first time when I was 36.
What does natural bodybuilding mean?
Natural Bodybuilding is sort of a generic term covering training and competing, without the use of any banned substances as defined by WADAs banned substance list.
Why do you think the protein market has grown so strong? Do you think this is related to the growing interest in the health and fitness arena on the whole?
While both quantity and quality of your protein intake are important factors, it has been blown out of proportion in the health market, partly due to financial interests. Today the way studies are often simplified and misquoted in the news seems to be done in order to make protein more interesting and appealing but also because we as a species thrive for the “quick fix”.
How do you think social media plays a part in the health and fitness arena?
It plays a huge part, both in negative and a positive way. The downside is the tendency to lose track of oneself, always comparing what you do, how you look to everybody else, and not always in a fair and positive way. However, it has also made it easier to be an influencer and to spread the word to more people.
What do you need to do in the lead-up to a big competition?
Actually I try to keep things as stable as possible. Getting contest ready is mostly about having the right muscle mass (which is taken care of off-season) and getting lean enough, which the diet phase takes care of. The rest comes down to minor details like the infamous “peak week” right upto the competition, where you see a lot of athletes trying all sorts of things to compensate for a poor off-season/diet including a crazy depletion in calories, cutting water and cutting salt.
What do you need to do with your diet and exercise?
Diet: reduce calories to below maintenance and increase protein intake slightly as diet progresses.
Exercise: I keep my training the same in terms of volume and intensity for muscle retention. At some point further progress normally becomes impossible and I either maintain or reduces my levels slightly. I strive to do as little cardio as possible, as it takes time, increases the need for recovery and does not add to muscle retention. Further, given you can manage hunger levels, it is easier to remove 100 kcal from you diet, that to burn off 100 calories.
Mindset: Overall my mindset is the same year round. What does changes with decreasing body fat and the corresponding changes to my hormones is mood and temper which need to be addressed and handled. I try to plan ahead as much as possible getting all major stressors out of the way ahead of time.
How does a strict diet and exercise regime affect you physically and emotionally?
Generally, I am a bit of an OCD guy so I thrive with order and following a plan, which I guess make it easier for me. I track my macros year round, so the effort I put in that process itself is not really taxing for me anymore. Furthermore I never deny myself any specific types of food both off-season or when I am dieting, as science tells us calorie in vs. calorie out is the driving factor when it comes to controlling weight.
Physically: On the positive side it takes care of me never being overweight which there is a study based consensus of being the most important factor for overall health.
On the downside, without focus on ways to satisfy cravings and spontaneous hunger, it will take its toll. Getting down to bodybuilding competition levels of body fat affects your overall ability to do the stuff you are used to. You tire easily, but with enough rest I normally do not consider this a big issue.
At the very end of a diet phase, it is common to have lower testosterone levels and this starts impacting libido, mood and patience.
Being aware of these things and understanding the science behind it is essential for me on a day to day basis. I have never found it to have a detrimental effect on my life.
At the end of a diet phase mood swings are just a normal part of your life. Things affect you to a larger degree than normal and even smaller issues can cause you to stress mentally.
You joined LetsGetChecked to be part of a case study that looked at your test results pre, during and after heavy training. How did you find this experience?
I have found it extremely interesting to have been a part of this study. I helps me quantify my own subjective discoveries and observation that I have made over time and in the future it will enable me to do an even better job both for myself, but also my clients. I am truly grateful to be a part of the study.
What major changes did you notice from a hormonal level during the study?
During the first long stint of this diet phase, I did not notice any changes from a subjective point of view. From the tests done the following was illustrated:
Testosterone rose all the way up to the start of my diet, and has dropped since, however, the level is still within normal range
Sex Hormone Binding Globulin has been on the rise for me ever since before the start of my diet, which is a focus area for me. Levels have been higher than normal throughout my time with Letsgetchecked.
Free Androgen Index was within a normal range at the start of my diet, but has dropped below normal range at the end of my diet phase, due to the increase in SHBG.
Prolactin levels rose throughout the diet regime. High prolactin in men may cause a lowered sex drive and loss of body hair.
Oestradiol stayed within normal range throughout the study.
Cortisol levels rose towards the the lead up to the competition; heavy exercise can cause a heightened release of cortisol in the body.
How did it feel to see your results laid out for you on your account?
For me it is always better to KNOW than to GUESS.
Even though some of my results here at the end has fallen below normal, it is still “normal” as to that is what you would expect in my situation. Knowing where you are makes gives you better opportunity to react and implement the correct strategy for improvements.
What advice would you give to other athletes before they begin their stricter regime in the lead-up to a competition?
Gather all the knowledge possible before you start. Educate yourself on the science behind it, but implement a practical approach. Create a plan which is realistic and that makes it possible to evaluate during the process. For me getting tested regularly with Letsgetchecked will be a part of my “toolbox” and will be a obvious addition to measuring body fat.
What steps do you take following competitions to bringing your body back to a balanced state?
My plan is to increase my daily amount of sleep, as time has prohibited me from reaching the hours that I need. Furthermore I will increase my calorie intake to above maintenance level using a reverse diet protocol.
What does health mean to you?
Well, in general I think it is a term without too much substance of definition, which gets thrown around randomly by everybody getting used to label stuff, without too much science behind the reasoning.
For me it overall stands for working with the body (physically and psychologically) and not against it, providing ourselves with the best odds in order to achieve a rewarding life throughout the span of our life.
What is your motto when it comes to knowing your health?
That is a tough one, but if we look at it from an athletes perspective, it would be: “I do not train to compete, I compete, because I train”.