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Can You Build Muscle With Low Testosterone? (The Answer)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Last updated: January 18, 2023

Testosterone is critical for muscle growth and many other performance-related functions, but that doesn’t mean building muscle is impossible with low testosterone.

To educate my clients and readers on this particular topic, I compiled what I know from literature and my professional experience and discussed my notes with an endocrinologist.

He also recommended a few more interesting papers on the interplay between low testosterone and muscle building.

Here’s what you should know.

Quick Summary

  • Testosterone plays a key role in muscle growth, and the deficiency of this hormone may lead to muscle loss, erectile dysfunction, and fat accumulation.
  • Eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep enables the body to produce more testosterone and increase muscle mass.
  • In the absence of testosterone, estrogen promotes fat storage in the thigh, abdomen, and chest area.

Is It Possible to Build Muscle with Low Testosterone?

Performing an exercise indoors

Yes, it’s possible to build muscle with low testosterone. Adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and sleeping enough should enable you to support natural protein synthesis and recovery after exercise.

Keep in mind that all these factors, coupled with natural testosterone boosters, can elevate your testosterone levels and support your muscle-building efforts.

Normal testosterone levels for a man range between 300-1000 nanograms per deciliter [1].

Anything below this could lead to issues such as: 

  • Sexual health issues like low libido and erectile dysfunction
  • Muscle loss
  • Decreased bone density
  • Fatigue
  • Mental health issues such as unhappiness, stress, and depression

By elevating your testosterone levels, you not only avoid these issues but also accelerate lean muscle mass growth and avoid unnecessary fat gain.

“In the absence of testosterone, the hormone estrogen takes over. Estrogen puts fat where you least want it: on your chest and around your belly.”

- Chris Iliades, MD

The build-up of body fat results in even lower testosterone levels, building a feedback loop of low testosterone and more fat.

We’ll get into the ways out of this loop shortly.

For now, let's explore further how the absence of this male hormone depletes muscle tissue.

How Testosterone Deficiency Shrinks Your Muscles 

Exhausted bald person catching his breath

Testosterone is key for muscle growth. Its role in stimulating protein synthesis while inhibiting protein degradation leads to muscle hypertrophy (muscle enlargement) [2].

This means that with low T, you might be actually losing muscle mass.

No Muscle Maintenance

With low testosterone, your body’s ability to maintain muscle dwindles.

Here’s how.

You see, muscle cells have special receptors known as androgen receptors that bind testosterone [3].

By binding on these receptors, the male hormone helps maintain the strength and integrity of muscle fibers.

Conversely, with low testosterone, there is no binding or maintenance, often leading to muscle wasting (muscle loss).

Increased Fat Accumulation

Having a hard time to close his pants

Research has shown that low T levels trigger visceral fat accumulation (abdominal fat storage) [4].

The continual accumulation of fat in your gut leads to the production of an enzyme called aromatase.

This enzyme turns the little amounts of testosterone left into estrogen, leading to increased fat storage in the thighs, abdomen, and chest areas [5].

Low Energy and Motivation

Low testosterone levels might make you feel tired and depressed.

And with exhaustion and unhappiness, you just aren't motivated to do healthy things like eating right or exercising regularly to lose fat and build muscle.

It can be a vicious cycle if you’re not careful. But thankfully, there are ways to treat testosterone deficiency and start building lean muscle.

How to Improve Your Levels

There are two legal ways to improve your testosterone level for building muscle mass:

Let’s explore each one in a bit more detail.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy

Oral pills and testosterone replacement therapy injection

Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is a medical intervention for treating hypogonadism (low testosterone) [6].

Testosterone is administered via these methods:

  • Oral
  • Injection
  • Topical application
  • Pellets
  • Intranasal (nose spray)

Because of the side effects that come with TRT, it should only be after a doctor's directive.

Now, while TRT is effective as a treatment method for low T, I always advise my clients to opt for natural ways to boost testosterone levels.

Natural Ways To Boost Testosterone

Man holding supplement, fatty fish, egg yolk

Below are a few ways you can support your body’s natural testosterone production.

1. Vitamin D

Multiple research over the years has proven that vitamin D is a natural testosterone booster, depending on the context.

In a weight loss experiment, part of the participants were given vitamin D supplements daily for a year in addition to following a weight loss program [7].

At the end of the study, males who received the supplement had higher levels of testosterone than the rest.

There are many good sources of vitamin D [8].

You can get it naturally from: 

  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushroom

2. Zinc

According to research, zinc plays a significant role in regulating serum testosterone [9].

So, adding zinc-rich foods that can help you get your testosterone to healthy levels [10].

Zinc-rich foods include: 

  • Poultry
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Lobster

3. Protein

According to researchers, protein aids in raising testosterone levels, in addition to being crucial for muscle growth [11].

To achieve this boost, you need to add protein-rich foods to your diet [12].

These include:

  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Legumes
  • Dairy products

4. Exercise

Exercising inside the gym

A 2015 study revealed a correlation between low testosterone levels, increased body fat, and weight gain [13]. It showed that losing weight can reduce the risks that come with low testosterone.

Hence, an exercise program that includes high-intensity workouts, strength training, and aerobic exercise can help boost your testosterone levels.

However, you should be careful not to overdo it because overtraining can negatively affect testosterone levels and may impact your sexual health [14].

5. Enough Sleep

Scientific studies show poor sleep can negatively affect your testosterone levels [15].

A good night's rest can help with fatigue, moodiness, and sexual health issues like low libido, which are often attributed to low T.

Natural Testosterone Boosters

Fit person holding testosterone booster pills

Testosterone-boosting supplements consist of natural science-backed herbs and nutrients that support the body’s natural testosterone production.

They aren’t as effective as some medications, but in our extensive testing, they proved to yield comparable results over the long term and without any major side effects.

FAQs

How Much Testosterone Is Needed to Build Muscle?

About 75-100 mg weekly is the amount of testosterone needed to build muscle according to Clinical Practice Guidelines recommendation [16].

Do Skinny Guys Have Less Testosterone?

No, skinny guys do not necessarily have less testosterone. Unless there are other medical conditions at play, there is no relation between the two. In any case, obese men tend to have low testosterone levels.

Boost Your Testosterone Levels Naturally to Gain Muscle

Getting enough sleep, weight training, and diet all contribute to healthy testosterone levels needed for optimal muscle building.

But for faster results, I always advise my clients to add natural testosterone-boosting supplements to their regimens.

We’ve extensively tested the products on this list and have included only the top that yielded the best results.

Pick the best one for your needs to see the difference it will make over the next couple of months.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2725306/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21058750/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30356739/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296126/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11399122/
  6. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/l/low-testosterone
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21154195/
  8. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8875519/
  10. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/zinc/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2129168/
  12. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/
  13. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/obr.12282
  14. https://www.webmd.com/men/features/exercise-and-testosterone
  15. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1029127
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2964430/
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