I’VE heard it said by women hundreds of times in relation to lifting weights that they don’t want to get “too bulky” or “develop big muscles”.
In my week 2 blog update I went into some detail about the importance – for women and men – of having muscles.
And when you consider that from the age of 30, when testosterone levels begin to drop, most of us will find it more difficult to retain muscle mass (on average we lose about 10% every 10 years as we age) and the importance of lifting weights as part of our lifestyle becomes even more critical.
The fact is – no matter what you’ve been led to believe – that for women to become “too bulky” or “develop big muscles” is incredibly difficult and, in many cases, impossible unless they take growth hormone or are genetically advantaged.
Why that is so comes down to one hormone in particular, testosterone. This hormone not only determines, pre-birth, whether we are female or male (we all start out as females, hence the nipples), but it’s the hormone which boosts metabolism and keeps us leaner.
Adult males have about seven-eight times as much testosterone as adult females. It’s a steroid hormone that in men is naturally secreted from the testicles and in women the ovaries. A small quantity comes from the adrenal glands.
Ben, one of my crew on the Amazing 12 Chichester program out of Core Results Gym, asked me the other week what testosterone does and so I’ve put together a chart (above) highlighting its many functions.
I’ve also created a second diagram (below) which shows what can cause our testosterone levels to fall, what are the possible consequences of low testosterone and the many natural ways in which we can increase testosterone.
I wouldn’t recommend taking testosterone (steroid) supplements unless medically advised to do so. It can cause health complications and a list of side-effects. Testosterone is one of many hormones in our bodies and these hormones – estrogen, insulin, cortisol, leptin, testosterone, thyroid and growth hormone – all work together.
If one set of hormones is unbalanced it will affect all the others.
Take even more seriously that everything – from how we perform physically, our moods, our strength, our thinking, our health, our digestion – comes from optimal, balanced hormonal function.
So if you think hormones don’t matter, think again. They are in charge!
For those of us who overeat or have weight and excessive body fat issues, it is not because we can’t stop ourselves eating, but more a case of the hormones which regulate that decision-making being out of balance.
As doctor Mark Hyman says, “Our hormones have been hijacked by Big Food – the giant food corporations.”
Hormone expert Sara Gottfried, a doctor and author who overcame her own weight issues and is an expert on the subject, adds, “hormones dictate what your body does with food.”
So if you can’t get leaner or crave sugar or lack sleep or have fluctuating moods or often feel overwhelmed, the chances are that your hormones are out of whack.
Extra belly fat can be an indication that one or more of hormones is out of balance. These hormones regulate our metabolism. When the metabolism is broken, our bodies go into fat-storage mode as the food we eat is stored instead of used for energy.
Sleep plays an important role here, too, because when we sleep well it influences positively the hormones which control our appetites and increase metabolism. No hormone is more adversely affected by poor sleep than testosterone.
Another reason for lowered testosterone is the massive exposure in today’s world to estrogenic compounds. Many of these comes from plastics and pesticides and chemicals found in our food sources (particularly meat and non-fermented, genetically modified soya), the water we drink and pollution.
The trouble with meat that isn’t from grass-fed animals or animals consuming a natural diet is that the toxins in their diets enter ours. Our livers don’t know what to do with these toxins and put it aside as fat.
The more abdominal fat we have the faster we are likely to age and the greater we are at risk of heart disease and diabetes. Tummy fat can indicate that we have either high estrogen or low testosterone or low DHEA (adrenal gland hormone) or high insulin or high cortisol (the stress-induced hormone).
Estrogen dominance makes overweight women store more fat instead of burning it. It does this because our microbiome, the collective DNA of the microbes living in our gut, begins to extract energy for storage instead of fuel.
Also, the higher our insulin levels, the more fat we store and the more inflammation in our body.
Cooking and then consuming industrial seed oils, for example, is incredibly inflammatory. What this means in relation to testosterone is that we end up producing more of what are called aromatase enzymes that in men cause testosterone to be upgraded to estrogen and the opposite in women.
What’s also interesting is that testosterone is produced from cholesterol, which is manufactured naturally in the body but also derived from eating healthy fats (like coconut oil, avocados, unheated olive oil, ghee, nuts and seeds etc. As said already, avoid vegetable oils like soy, canola, safflower, cottonseed and corn).
The real enemy is inflammation although there is still mass contention in the science and nutrition world on the subject of what causes it.
For example, the cover story on this week’s New Scientist magazine is all about cholesterol and whether the war on cholesterol has been in vain.
The article talks about how for “30 years, cholesterol-reducing statins have become some of the most widely prescribed drugs” after the connection between cholesterol and heart disease became widely accepted in 1984.
However, one independent Danish researcher claims, “the cholesterol campaign is the greatest medical scandal in modern time.”
What’s clear is IF cholesterol is associated with heart disease, it’s not the sole contributor. Half of all heart attacks and strokes occur amongst apparently healthy people with normal or low levels of ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.”
Studies have also shown that the side effects of taking statins have caused patients to become more sedentary and adopt less healthy diets, mainly because, thinking they are cured, they become complacent.
Complacency can, of course, affect us all. It’s the beginning of the slippery slope.
There is no way around it. Mistreat or neglect your body and, eventually, it will hit you back.
Adriano is determined to not allow that to happen when he finishes the Amazing 12 this time (he did it first in 2015). He’s driven towards staying fit so he can keep up with his young son. So we’ve been devising a plan for a continued training and nutritional program after the A12 has finished.
Ben, too, is eager not to see his hard work go to waste. He has aspirations to take up boxing. But Ben’s biggest challenge is getting to grips with eating and diet. So far he’s struggled with the A12 guidelines and preparing food as it is not something he has ever had to do.
A lack of understanding of what foods do, where they come from and what to do with them is at the root of why we make poor food choices.
This week has been Ben’s toughest by far. He’s felt tired and that’s most likely down to (a) not eating enough and (b) not eating enough of the right foods. Ben also struggles with sleep.
Unquestionably, he’s getting stronger, but not eating according to the A12 guidelines will not only limit the effectiveness of the program and losing fat, but he’ll end up burning muscle, too, and his recovery between sessions will suffer.
“I’m just not feeling it,” he said earlier this week. “I feel weak.”
As off-colour as he felt, Ben still performed well. The reality is that the Amazing 12 program doesn’t get easier as it goes on, but you get stronger. That’s how most good training programs work.
To cap his week, Ben ended up pulling a muscle in his chest, which I am hoping is not serious. I prescribed rest until it was assessed. He missed his first session and was gutted.
Jo, too, had an up-and-down week. At the end of week six, however, she had lost 11lbs in weight, 4% body fat and told me she could fit into a pair of jeans she hadn’t been able to wear in ages.
Stacey had lost another 3lbs and was only 2lbs short of having lost a stone from the start of the program. “I’m one happy lady,” she told me.
To stay happy and healthy, we need to be like our hormones and work together on all fronts and not just those we prefer. It means, for starters, consuming the right foods and in the right proportions and quantities, moving our bodies often, doing some form of resistance training and drinking lots of clean water.
The Amazing 12 Chichester offers more than just a training program to enable you to uncover your true self and physical potential. It’s a journey of learning not only what you are made of, but also about the importance of progressive resistance training and a healthy lifestyle. The next Amazing 12 Chichester wave will be in April/May. Want to know more or book your place, contact me at Claude@Intelligentstrength.co.uk