I've been delayed in posting about this not because I haven't wanted to share the information but rather, wanted to make sure that I put it together fully instead of a quick post. My hope is that some of you find value in this with your journey and health goals.
Background info: I competed at the IPE Masters Cup last summer (June 2022) in the pro men's bodybuilding category and had what I thought was a very good prep and got to my best conditioning. For reference, I was 46 years old at the time, went from 10% bodyfat at 158lbs to 5% bodyfat at 142lbs over about a six month time span. The very next week after my competition I went in to get my hormone levels checked and they were in the tank. I knew this would happen as it's normal after an intense training and dieting phase due to many factors (prolonged calorie deficit, reduced recovery and increased cortisol levels to name a few). However, I wanted to see how low they were. Turns out my total testosterone was at 76 ng/dL (range of 240-950) and free test 1.75 ng/dL (range of 4.26-16.4). I started from 841 ng/dL.
Experiment Goals: There were two primary goals I was looking to achieve. First, to see how quickly I could get my levels back up to where I was before I started the contest prep diet to help with my muscle gaining progress along with the other many benefits of normal testosterone levels. Second was to see what would be the minimum length of time to get my levels back to baseline before I should start another contest prep diet.
Methods: Immediately I started on my reverse diet plan, which is the goal to not just bring up metabolism, but also to help bring up testosterone and right size hormones. This included nutrition, lifestyle, training and supplementation focus. Below is an overview of the factors I did and focused on.
Nutrition: I increased my calories back up to maintenance levels right away, specifically raising carbs and fats, bringing fat up to about 35% of my calories (since fat levels can directly impact hormones). In addition to the macro increase, I doubled down on the food quality. I did this by upping my high quality fats (fish, MUFAs), and increasing fruits/veg (source at each meal). I also focused on more whole food sources vs ultra processed options along with minimizing refined sugar foods.
Lifestyle: Anyone who knows me has heard my focus on sleep. This is something I've been continuing to build on and maximum, both quality and quantity. Coupled with that is keeping caffeine and alcohol intake low. These not only help with recovery but most importantly from the focus on increasing testosterone, reduce cortisol. Taking walks outside to get natural sunlight and fresh air is also an emphasis and benefit to this process.
Training: Listening to the body and allowing for recovery. Periodize my training blocks so that I'm taking regular deloads, continuing to train intensely but not to the point that I outpace my recovery time.
Supplementation: I started to take some products to help to both stimulate my natural production of testosterone but also suppress my cortisol levels. First is a product called Hormone Optimizer from PHAT Muscle Project. This helps to support total and free testosterone levels along with lowering cortisol and estrogen. Disclaimer on this, while I'm currently a PHAT Muscle Project sponsored coach, I started taking these products before I was sponsored. Additionally I used NuEthix Jumpstart EC for the first three months which helped get the endocrine system back in balance. I also supplement with NuEthix Cort-Eaze, which lowers cortisol.
Results: After my initial test, I got my labs taken again at the three month mark. At this point, my total test was 574 ng/dL and the free test was 11.1 ng/dL. Fast forward to 6 months after my initial tests and my current testosterone is at 792 ng/dL (240-950) and my free test is at 14.1 ng/dL (4.26-16.4). At all times, these tests were done in the same conditions, fasted in the morning before training.
Conclusions: In a six month time frame, while not completely where they were at the beginning, I feel like my testosterone is back to where it was when I started my contest prep diet. For myself, this would mean that I could start back on a contest prep diet if I wanted to at the six month post contest. However, I believe that I now need to spend time training with my levels back to baseline to make improvements on my physique. Secondly, during my next contest prep diet, I will take measures to help keep testosterone from dropping as much. This includes taking the supplements (Hormone Optimizer and Cort-Eaze) throughout my prep, along with trying to minimize caffeine intake as well.
Recommendations: Let me say that these are my results as everyone is different in all aspects. That being said, I would highly recommend that everyone monitor their hormone levels by getting regular bloodwork done, especially before a dieting period and afterwards as well. Annually checking this is a best practice. Length of time between diets can vary as well based on how extreme the deficit is, time of deficit and starting/ending position of levels. I do believe that the four factors I focused on above can make a positive impact for any individual.