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Hack Your Hormones: 5 Natural Shortcuts For More Sex, More Muscle, and More Power

Learn how to safely and naturally manipulate your hormone levels (including testosterone) with 5 simple workout, nutrition, and lifestyle tips.

The Sex Education That Wasn’t

photo by naosuke ii

I have fleeting memories of my junior high “sex education” class: A well-meaning but clueless PE teacher, complicated chalkboard diagrams of various glands and body parts, and lots of penis jokes followed by hysterical laughter. (We were 13, what do you expect?)

Yeah, we were just a bunch of prepubescent boys about to enter a period in our lives where much of our existence would be governed by hormones. Too bad we had no idea what the heck was going on or what the teacher was talking about.

We’re older now, but most guys still don’t understand the chemicals flowing through their blood — or how they can naturally manipulate those hormones to become bigger and better men.

This article will give you a quick primer on the things you need to know — and how to put that knowledge into action immediately with our Top 5 Hormone-Boosting Tips.

Hack Your Hormones

What The Heck Is a Hormone?

Hormones are like tiny chemical messengers that transmit information from one part of the body to another. Most hormones are produced by glands located throughout the body and are collectively known as the “endocrine system.”

Once the gland produces their respective hormones, these hormones are secreted into the bloodstream where they travel to all parts of the body looking for particular cells.

Each cell has receptor sites (imagine a locked door) for specific hormones (imagine the matching key), which can open and enter the cell. Once inside, the hormone goes to work flipping on and off switches that govern pretty much every function in the body.

Hormones don’t last forever and must be made and released at precise times to maintain optimal balance within the body.

4 Hormones To Hack

So here’s where the fun comes in: you can easily and safely “hack” your endocrine system and strategically influence certain hormones and use them to your advantage to help you build more muscle, increase your sex drive, and generally feel more powerful.

The hormones we’ll focus on are testosterone, growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and insulin.

Testosterone

Testosterone is a steroid hormone that has androgenic and anabolic effects in both men and women. It’s considered the daddy of all hormones and has many important functions like regulating libido, energy, bone health, immune function and muscular development.

Special cells in the testes convert cholesterol into testosterone when they get a signal from the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. Testosterone is then secreted in a circadian pattern. Though no two guys have the same cyclical pattern, it’s safe to assume that for most guys, testosterone levels peak early in the morning and slowly tapers off as the day progresses.

Growth Hormone and Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1

The pituitary gland makes and secretes growth hormone (GH) in a pulsating manner, much like testosterone. However, unlike testosterone, GH levels peak at night with a big spike in the first couple of hours of sleep and smaller spikes every four hours or so.

Once GH enters the bloodstream it positively affects metabolic functions, glycogen production, protein synthesis, fat metabolism and structural elements such as bone and cartilage. Perhaps the coolest thing GH does is to stimulate the production of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 triggers a chain of events that ultimately make your muscles grow.

It appears that GH mostly impacts the fat burning process, while IGF-1 mostly impacts muscle growth. So GH and IGF-1 working together lead to the greatest results in looking better.

Insulin

Insulin is a hormone secreted in low levels by the pancreas and will spike proportionately in response to increased blood sugar levels, usually following the ingestion of food and/or beverages. As the level of blood sugar subside so do insulin secretion levels.

Once insulin is in the blood it transports nutrients like glucose, amino acids and fatty acids into tissue cells. If these nutrients are shuttled into muscle cells, then the muscles will grow. Conversely, if these nutrients are shuttled into fat cells, then body fat increases.

The key is to get insulin to store more of the nutrients into the muscle cells and less into the fat cells by increasing insulin sensitivity in the muscle cells while decreasing insulin sensitivity in the fat cells. Doing this turns insulin into a powerful anabolic hormone.

Warning: 3 Things That NEGATIVELY Affect Your Hormones

Now that we’ve gone over 5 things you can do to naturally boost your hormones, let’s quickly talk about 3 things that can negatively affect your hormones.

Interestingly, the factors that decrease insulin sensitivity in the muscle cells and suppress testosterone, GH, IGF-1 levels are essentially the same.

Here are the top three things to avoid:

Stress

Overtraining, sporadic or poor sleep patterns, lack of quality nutrition, excess alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, drug use and environmental stressors are all forms of stress that will cause the body to limit testosterone, GH and IGF-1 production, decrease insulin sensitivity in the muscle cells and in turn increase stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine A.K.A. adrenaline.

Aging

All right, so you can’t really avoid this. But it’s good that you know this, too. GH and testosterone level drop significantly around age 30 and will continue to drop by as much as 10% every decade thereafter. This will decrease insulin sensitivity and decreased insulin sensitivity can escalate the aging process leading to a vicious downward spiral.

(Note: even though we’re getting older, hope is not lost. You can still boost your natural hormones significantly by following our 5 Tips above.)

Extra Body Fat

Extra body fat will cause insulin to shuttle more nutrients into fat cells. (Which you don’t want.) Also, extra body fat throws the optimal testosterone and estrogen ratio out of whack causing more testosterone to be converted into estrogen. Just another reason to stay relatively lean.

Your Homework: Follow The Top 5

Now that you have a basic knowledge of the hormones that make you a man, try following our top 5 tips. Don’t worry about trying to follow them all at once, however. That’s how plans fail.

Instead, pick just one strategy from below — the one that sounds the easiest to you — and practice it for two weeks without missing a day.

Give it a few days and you may just feel like a brand new man.

  • Get at least 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
  • Do a stress-reducing activity like meditation or yoga every day.
  • Perform regular, high-intensity exercise with short rest periods.
  • Drink a protein/carbohydrate drink within an hour after working out.
  • Eliminate or significantly reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other drugs.
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About the Author: Calvin Buhler is a Scrawny to Brawny Coach. You can find him on Facebook.

  • Tim

    Thanks for the great article – as a 40 year old guy, I’m very interested in boosting my testosterone and growth hormone levels – safely and legally!

  • olderguy

    good info-especially the aging aspect, I’m 55 and workout like a dog, once to twice per day 4-6 times per week on rotation. carbs are a serious enemy with age, not just the amount and type but when they are consumed. Might add some info on this. A quick sign of testosterone lowering is the increase in belly fat with carb intake by just a few hundred calories per day. Even though staying in a negative calorie range. Again timing, type and amount of carbs is crucial in the build muscle but stay lean game

  • http://www.facebook.com/timtrainer Tim Walker

    Great article Nate I’ve got to say that over the last few weeks I’ve read a lot of your articles and they really break down the things that are truly important when it comes to getting a great body it a way that most importantly is interesting. Keep it up as us guys don’t like to comment as much as women but be assured that many people are reading and being inspired!

  • John Underdown

    Hi Nate. Why does increasing body fat decrease body fat insulin sensitivity? Is this the same for visceral as well as subdermal body fat? Conversely why does increasing muscle mass increase muscle insulin sensitivity?

    Muscle insulin sensitivity is something I have not considered before.

    • http://www.facebook.com/CalBuhler Calvin Buhler

      Due to the anabolic power of insulin, individuals who have more body fat (or suffer from metabolic syndrome) on them should minimize insulin release because they tend to be insulin resistant, which basically means that their muscle cells are resistant to the insulin and subsequently they’re resistant to glucose as well. And muscle cells need glucose for fuel in order to grow.

      It’s like a parent who eventually tunes out their screaming toddler. The muscle cells eventually “tune out” insulin if insulin is chronically high from poor lifestyle behaviors (these behaviors are what cause people to be fat or have metabolic syndrome). People then end up with both high circulating blood insulin and high circulating glucose. Their blood is full of crud and their muscles aren’t allowing any nutrients in. All that extra glucose in the blood needs to go somewhere so insulin shuttles it to the fat cells for safe keeping.

      You see, fat cells are like the dumping grounds for anything extra floating around or for anything the body doesn’t “recognize” (i.e., toxins and other chemicals). Fat cells do this as a way of protecting the other cells in the body. Too much of this though and your fat cells will expand and eventually multiply.

      Obviously, you need insulin, but the trick is to learn how to balance the anabolic effects in muscle tissue against the fat storage effects. This can be done by increasing insulin sensitivity in the muscle while decreasing insulin sensitivity in the fat cells.

      When you’re actively building muscle (i.e., exercise, especially resistance training), your muscle cells become more sensitive to insulin, which means you can push more glucose and other nutrients into the muscle cells, where you want it.

      All of this is much more complicated than what I explained, but I think you get the idea.

  • http://www.anthonyjyeung.com/ Anthony J. Yeung

    Thanks Calvin. Quick question: I love green tea, but I’m curious about the resulting rise in cortisol levels. Also, I’m wondering if the increased fat metabolism caused by tea/coffee wouldn’t also be a positive.

    • http://www.facebook.com/CalBuhler Calvin Buhler

      Caffeine does raise cortisol levels. In fact, 200 mg of caffeine can increase blood cortisol levels by 30% within an hour. Green tea typically has relatively low amounts of caffeine, about 24-40 mg of caffeine in an 8 ounce serving (it’s dependent on the time it was harvested). Contrast this with a serving of coffee, which can have up to 200 mg of caffeine. So you probably shouldn’t worry too much about your green tea ingestion as long as you consume it in really low quantities.

      When you make reference to tea/coffee increasing your metabolism, what I believe you really mean is the caffeine content that increases metabolism. I say this because coffee with a bunch of added sugars and fats (the way most people drink it) will actually slow down metabolism.

      Yes, caffeine can increase fat metabolism by up to 10% but only for the first few hours after ingesting. Meaning, it has a temporary effect and would need a constant supply to sustain the increased metabolism. Unfortunately, the increased metabolism doesn’t work too well with habitual caffeine users. So, on the one side, it does temporarily increase metabolism, but, on the other side, in order to keep your metabolism high by using this method you would have to become a habitual user, which will ultimately negate it’s effectiveness as a metabolism enhancer and will cause an increase in cortisol.

      Sounds like a losing proposition to me, but hey, I might be a little biased since I don’t drink coffee or tea.

      • Shane

        Does the rise in cortisol apply to habitual caffeine users as well, or is it like with our metabolism, where we adapt to it?

      • http://www.facebook.com/CalBuhler Calvin Buhler

        My guess is that it’s similar to metabolism and your body learns to adapt to it, but I can’t say for sure. I’m sure there is still a rise in cortisol, but it’s probably not as bad in habitual users.

  • Lee

    I think not jacking off should be #! On the list to build testosterone back up..

    • http://www.facebook.com/bbrewster51 Ben Brewster

      actually the opposite if you want to reduce stress levels…

  • Varun Patel

    Wow this might seem really stupid of me Nate, but now when I look back at why I lost 5 kilograms of muscle in a year I realized that it must be because of my sleep cycle.
    I cut from 8 hours per night to 5 hours per night for year while eating and exercising just as much. Could lack of sleep be the reason for loss of muscle?

    • http://www.scrawnytobrawny.com/about#nate-green Nate Green

      Sounds like you found the culprit! That would definitely explain some muscle loss. How much sleep are you getting now?

      • Varun Patel

        I have increased my sleep to 7 hours per night as of the last one month. As of the last 1 week it has been 12 hours per night (because I am just recovering from a surgery).

  • Shane

    Hey guys, you say that both caffeine and alcohol reduce our anabolic potential, which makes sense. I’ve heard very different views on exactly how MUCH it will affect us though. I ask because I love a couple cups of coffee in the morning and a glass or two of red wine at night. I also love to lift weights, build muscle, and generally be a badass dude.

    Are we talking about a 6% drop in testosterone after a couple glasses of wine, and a 100% boost from hitting the gym? Or vis versa? How do all of these effects stack up? I’d hate to cut down on wine or coffee for negligible or unnoticeable improvements elsewhere.

    • http://www.facebook.com/CalBuhler Calvin Buhler

      I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen any research on an exact number with how much it drops it, but I would say because there are so many variables that play into (age, genetics, body size, tolerance level, etc.) it would be hard to pinpoint it.

  • Keith

    Recently I have been reading up on intermittent fasting and much of the literature on IF says we should be looking to lower our levels of IGF-1, not increase them, stating that high levels can lead to accelerated ageing. Can you please comment on that – thanks

    • http://www.facebook.com/CalBuhler Calvin Buhler

      I haven’t ever seen anything on that, I’ll look into it though. Thanks for sharing.

      The reality is that IF causes a release of GH and GH leads to an increase in IGF-1, so…

  • KO

    In terms of caffeine, many pre-workouts are made with caffeine. How does this play in the equation? Especially when it’s something you take right before you work out.

    • http://www.facebook.com/CalBuhler Calvin Buhler

      A lot of it really depends on the amount of caffeine in the drink. If you read my comments below, you’ll see how much caffeine it takes to increase your cortisol by 30%. You have to remember that supplement companies, in general, don’t care about your health or even your performance. What they care about is that you “feel” something when using their product and therefore you “believe” it’s doing some good so that you come back and buy their product again and again. That’s not to say that caffeine doesn’t have performance benefits because the literature is very clear that it does, but it’s a double-edged sword. So you have to weigh the pros and the cons with it and decide for yourself if it’s worth it based on your own individual performance and body transformation goals.

      • KO

        Thanks for the info Calvin. i believe, too, that there’s quite the placebo affect from many pre-workouts. But again, there are benefits ti caffeine. All in moderation I guess.

  • peternib

    Great article, written really well….. I love the way it reminds me of what I am doing well and what I can improve! I am really guilty of not taking a Yoga moment everyday…. I will try this. 4 out of 5 aint bad….

  • Arash

    Hey Nate, what would your suggestion be for people who can’t always get 7-9 hrs of sleep?? Sometimes, my lifestyle will result in sporadic and random sleeping habits. I shoot for 6 hours, but it doesn’t always happen. Am I limiting my progress if I’m still eating well and exercising regularly??