Ever been overzealous with a diet or training program? If so, you may recall having low sex drive, moodiness, hunger, sluggishness, and possibly even digestive issues.
Maybe you thought you were supposed to get used to suffering during a diet and training program. But if that's the case, then what's the plan once you reach your goal? Is that sustainable?
If you haven't thought it through, start now. To get sustainably lean you need to pay attention to your body's biomarkers: sex drive, mood, energy, appetite, and digestion.
If you can optimize these things WHILE getting lean and/or building muscle, you'll be far more likely to stay consistent with the behaviors that give you the physique you're after. And it's reciprocal. Optimizing these biomarkers may be precisely what'll help you get lean and muscular.
So let's get into each one...
Those who have a high sex drive typically feel healthy, are in a good mood, and have high levels of energy. So which hormones are responsible for sex drive?
If you thought to yourself "testosterone and estrogen and the balance between the two" you ALMOST hit the nail on the head. However, the one everyone forgets about is the androgen, DHT (dihydrotestosterone).
Together these three hormones regulate your sex drive. Low levels of each – or an imbalance amongst the three – can decrease sex drive. For instance, testosterone levels in men that are less than 300 ng/dl (normal range 300 to 800).
Low levels of DHT in men taking 5alpha-reductase inhibitors (5ARIs) such as finasteride and dutasteride (used to combat hair loss) have been shown to have adverse sexual side effects reported at rates of 2.1% to 38% in clinical trials.
So now that we have a little more clarity on these hormones, let's tie them together. Testosterone is well known for its muscle and strength-building capabilities, primarily via increasing nitrogen retention and muscle protein synthesis.
DHT increases force production in type 2x (fast-twitch) muscle fibers and decreases it in type 1 (slow-twitch) muscle fibers. DHT has also been found to increase protein synthesis and transport essential amino acids into type 2x muscle fibers.
If you have a low sex drive, there could be an imbalance between these hormones that can dramatically affect your results. To help get them back in order, you need to have a carefully planned-out nutritional and training protocol that tracks this and then tries to better optimize these hormones.
Adopt a monitoring system of your sex drive on a scale of 1-5. Do it either on a weekly or daily basis. Giving it a 1 means it's bad and 5 means you feel like an 18-year-old on Mountain Dew.
What this qualitative data measures is where in relation this marker feels from where it previously was before you started the training or dieting phase.
If sex drive increases, then that's the right approach for you. But if these markers drop to anything below a 3 during the course of the program, then this should tell you that changes are needed.
First look at the following areas to see if there's anything that needs improvement. Aim to get these things in check during the course of your diet or training program and you'll give your body its best chance at keeping sex drive high:
Get enough sleep.
Get a bare minimum of 7 hours per night. Only sleeping 3-4 hours a night is not hardcore; it's a recipe for low T and a soft body. So practice good sleep hygiene, place phones on night-mode an hour before bed, don't fall asleep with the TV on, and consider sleep-aid supplements like magnesium to ensure a good night's rest.
Consider taking 15-30mg of zinc daily.
If your diet isn't rich in foods containing zinc, this could be a missing mineral from your nutritional program. Some studies have found that 30mg per day can increase free testosterone, and in male rats it's been shown to increase sexual competency.
If you want optimal results, go easy. I suggest only 1-2 glasses of a quality red wine per week.
I know this one can be hard to do because external factors can cause stress to creep in without us knowing it, but you have more power over your emotions and feelings than you probably think. Try working up to meditating for 20 minutes twice per day.
These are best practices. They should be looked at first along with a comprehensive blood test if low libido has been a persistent issue. Do these before overhauling your diet and training program... or before any form of hormone manipulation is pursued. Don't be lazy and do the work. Your body was meant to be great.
If you've ever been deep into a diet and training plan (10-plus weeks) you've likely been irritable. Prolonged periods of physical stress tend to do this. But what's happening under the hood when your mood is off for too long?
Again using a 1-5 scale, make a daily and weekly assessment. If you've been experiencing a 2 regularly, it's possible your body may be facing some thyroid dysfunction. There are links between your thyroid, leptin production, and mood.
Your thyroid plays a major role in regulating your body's metabolism, temperature, heartbeat, nutrient utilization, and activation of your body's nervous system (strength).
The two hormones primarily responsible for this are T3 and T4. If your mood has been consistently bad and you've struggled to see steady fat-loss results, then these hormones may be off.
Leptin also plays a huge role in body composition and mood. Leptin mainly regulates appetite and your fat storage in the body.
Best practices when it comes to mood:
Get enough sleep.
A University of Pennsylvania study found that when subjects were limited to 4.5 hours of sleep, they felt stressed, sad, and had a cognitive decline. Once sleep went back to normal they reported significant increases in mood. So again, you need to be sleeping consistently for 7 hours minimum per night.
Make some nutritional adjustments.
Make sure you're getting enough omega 3's. Or eat 2-3 servings of at least 8 ounces of salmon per week.
Make sure you're getting enough iodine.
It's like food for your thyroid. Consuming enough iodine will signal your body to create more T3 and T4 if need be. Some foods that are good sources of Iodine are seaweed, tuna, shrimp, dairy, and iodized salt.
Get more vitamin D.
A lack of it has also been shown to have a correlation with mood, depressive disorders, and fat loss. Get a 10-15 minute walk (showing a decent amount of skin) at least once per day or consume some dairy products. If you do all of the above and a blood test reveals you're still deficient, then supplement with D3.
This is an interesting one to track. The main contributing factor to poor energy levels – other than sleep – is the nutritional strategy you adopt while dieting.
Essentially we're referring to the foods you allow or deny yourself and the distribution of macronutrients. Someone who's on a low-carb diet for too long without any re-feeds, higher carb days, or diet breaks, will be prone to low energy bouts, especially if low carb is done on the onset of the diet.
Now, of course, those who have single-digit body fat and have dieted for an extended period will most likely have low-energy levels regardless of whether they followed proper protocol or not. But for this example, let's say you have been dieting consistently for less than 10 weeks, your body fat isn't in the true single-digits, and energy is less than 3 on your scale. Do this:
Get enough sleep.
You saw this one coming, right?
Up the complex carbs.
They're your friends, especially during a muscle-gain phase. And believe it or not, carbs won't halt your fat-loss efforts. Although they're not essential to your body's survival like protein and fat, they're the easiest thing for your body to convert to fuel and aid in protein synthesis. So why would your diet completely eliminate them if your goals are aesthetics based and you're low on energy?
Up the B-vitamins.
Though it's uncommon that an American diet would be deficient in these, people with physique goals tend to do weird things with their nutrition that can cause deficiencies. The B-vitamins help convert food to energy, so get enough foods like steak or poultry, dark leafy greens, beans, and citrus fruits that supply your body with enough to meet its demands.
These two biofeedback markers go hand-in-hand and are arguably the most important. Your gut health is connected to almost every process in your body. It's associated with your immune system, anxiety, depression, your endocrine system (hormones), and the autonomic nervous system.
Your gut is said to even have its own nervous system because of its 100 million-plus nerve endings. That's more than in your spine and your feet, combined! It's not just the amount of calories we put into the body that matters, but the quality of those calories and how the body responds to them.
If your appetite and digestion fall below a 3 on your scale, here are some best practices:
Get enough sleep.
Your body repairs itself during sleep. Less sleep increases your body's inflammatory response. Your body's inflammatory response has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease and a myriad of other digestive issues. Please get some sleep.
Get enough soluble fiber.
Soluble prebiotic fiber feeds your body's good bacteria in your gut and helps to break down food. Some good sources of soluble fiber include oats, apples, potatoes, and citrus fruits. These foods will also assist in satiation if your appetite is below a 3. I recommend getting 12 grams per 1,000 calories, or at least 25 grams of fiber (soluble and insoluble combined), per day.
Probiotic supplements and foods.
Probiotics are the good bacteria. You can try taking a probiotic supplement or eat foods that are excellent sources like high quality yogurt, sauerkraut, and fermented foods.
Drink enough water.
Water is great for both appetite and digestion. Focus on getting enough to meet your daily expenditure, training needs, bodyweight, muscle mass, and food intake. It's difficult to give you a hard recommendation because there are many variables at play, but a general rule of thumb is a minimum of 64-80 ounces for the average active person.
All of these five biofeedback markers are interconnected and should be monitored and optimized while you're going through any new training or eating phase. Here's a recap:
- Kacker R et al. Estrogens in Men: Clinical Implications for Sexual Function and the Treatment of Testosterone Deficiency. J Sex Med. 2012 Jun;9(6):1681-96. PubMed.
- Hamdi MM et al. Dihydrotestosterone stimulates amino acid uptake and the expression of LAT2 in mouse skeletal muscle fibres through an ERK1/2-dependent mechanism. J Physiol. 2011 Jul 15;589(Pt 14):3623-40. PubMed.
- Podlasek CA et al. Translational Perspective on the Role of Testosterone in Sexual Function and Dysfunction. J Sex Med. 2016 Aug;13(8):1183-98. PubMed.
- Rizk PJ et al. Testosterone therapy improves erectile function and libido in hypogonadal men. Curr Opin Urol. 2017 Nov;27(6):511-515. PubMed.
- Brodsky IG et al. Effects of testosterone replacement on muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis in hypogonadal men--a clinical research center study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1996 Oct;81(10):3469-75. PubMed.
- Gur S et al. Effects of 5-alpha reductase inhibitors on erectile function, sexual desire and ejaculation. Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2013 Jan;12(1):81-90. PubMed.
- Dissanayake D et al. Effects of zinc supplementation on sexual behavior of male rats. J Hum Reprod Sci. 2009 Jul;2(2):57-61. PMC.
- Walton KG et al. Review of Controlled Research on the Transcendental Meditation Program and Cardiovascular Disease. Cardiol Rev. Sep-Oct 2004;12(5):262-6. PubMed.
- Hage MP et al. The Link between Thyroid Function and Depression. J Thyroid Res. 2012;2012:590648. PubMed.
- Lu XY. The leptin hypothesis of depression: A potential link between mood disorders and obesity? Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2007 Dec;7(6):648-52. PubMed.
- Zarouna S et al. Mood disorders: A potential link between ghrelin and leptin on human body? World J Exp Med. 2015 May 20;5(2):103-9. PubMed.
- Hardeland R. Circadian Disruption, Sleep Loss, and Low-Grade Inflammation. Res & Rev Health Care Open Acc J. 2018 Feb;1(2).