Carbohydrates and Testosterone: Non-Essential but Still Important
By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Mon 24 September 2018
Medical Review by Dr. Vlad Belghiru, MD
Carbohydrates have been unfairly bashed in the media for the last few years.
Nowadays, many people are dumb enough to believe that increased carb intake would make them gain weight and that the “most evil of them all” – sugar, would be the reason to the current obesity epidemic.
Funny thing. Since weight loss has been proven time and time again to be all about caloric balance, not about omitting or adjusting your macronutrients. And sugar ain’t that bad either, as it’s been shown to stimulate metabolic rate due to increased thyroid hormone production (fructose especially is highly effective in these regards1).
Good example of the importance of energy balance for weight loss success, is the story of Professor Mark Kraub, who lost 27 pounds by eating a diet of Twinkies, little Debbie snacks, Oreos, sugary cereals, and Doritos chips. How? He was on a calorie deficit.
But enough about the carb myths, let’s move into the more important topic of carbohydrate intake and its importance for testosterone production.
Carbohydrate Intake and Testosterone Levels
Simply put, carbohydrates are the most important macronutrient to consume for hormonal health.
Mounting pile of evidence shows that to be true in subjects who exercise and in subjects who remain sedentary.
Even the neurons in the brain responsible for releasing the master hormone (GnRH) that triggers the whole cascade of events that lead to testosterone being produced in the gonads, adjust their pulsatile release of the gonadotropin-releasing hormone accordingly to the blood levels of glucose2. Diazoxide, a drug that suppresses insulin release and thus prevents glucose uptake into the cells, is also notorious of its effect in lowering both free and total testosterone in men3. This again highlighting the importance of simple carbohydrate in the production of T.
Enough with the speculative studies though, in the following ones, we can see the clear positive influence dietary carbohydrate consumption has on testosterone.
Study by Volek et al4. for example saw that when their resistance-trained subjects consumed more protein and less carbohydrates, their testosterone production was suppressed in a dose-dependent fashion (the bigger the ratio of protein/carbohydrate, the larger the drop in testosterone).
Anderson et al5. saw similar results with sedentary subjects. Their study examined hormonal parameters in subjects who were put on diets that were nearly identical in terms of caloric intake and dietary fat intake (20% of calories), but differed dramatically in the amount of protein and carbohydrate (10% protein 70% carbs vs. 44% protein 35% carbs). The results showed – as to be expected – that testosterone and DHT were significantly lower in the high-protein low-carb group, whereas their cortisol (stress hormone) was also significantly higher. In other words, carbs had an androgen boosting, stress suppressing effect.
Athletes have for long understood the importance of carbohydrates for performance. And no wonder, research clearly shows that carbs powerfully modulate one of the most impactful measurements of hormonal exercise performance; the free-testosterone to cortisol ratio (fTC).
Study by Lane et al6. had one group of men consuming lower-carb diets (30% energy from carbohydrate) and other group eating higher-carb diets (60% energy from carbohydrate), during three consecutive days of intensive exercise (70–75% maximal oxygen consumption, 60 min/day) followed by one day of rest afterwards. The subjects who ate more carbohydrate, had significantly higher free-testosterone levels accompanied by lower cortisol thorough the study period.
So more carbs equals more testosterone?
Yes, to say it in a simple manner. There is however some room for debate on what type of carbs you should be consuming for best testosterone response. Increased intake of gluten-rich grains for example, has been shown to increase prolactin in few studies7,8, and prolactin is notorious for its testosterone lowering effect9 as it suppresses GnRH release10. Some grain-products also tend to increase endotoxin and serotonin production (due to intestinal inflammation and being high in tryptophan), which can negatively impact dopamine and testosterone production11.
If you ask me, best types of carbohydrates for hormonal optimization come from root vegetables (potatoes and such), white rice, fruit & pressed fruit juice, milk, and even cane sugar (yes, stop being so afraid of simple sugars).
How much carbs should I be eating?
Obviously this number is slightly different for each individual, but a good number to work with would be 40-60% of your daily calories, depending on your ratios of different fats (as explained here) and your protein intake (which is explained more in detail here).
Conclusion on Carbohydrate Intake and Testosterone
So how important is your carb intake for male hormonal health?
Extremely important. The most important of all macronutrients in fact…
…Maybe on par with importance with maybe caloric intake (which is also hugely important).