Having difficulty losing weight and no energy to work out? Weight gain in men can be one of the signs of low testosterone. Here’s how to shed weight and feel better.
Men are contingent on the male hormone testosterone for everything from helping to build muscle to giving facial hair and a deeper voice. Research also shows that weight control can be added to that list.
“Testosterone has a critical function in metabolism,” says Abraham Morgentaler, MD, an associate clinical professor of urology at Harvard Medical School and director and director of Men’s Health Boston. “Multiple studies have shown men with low testosterone have a higher percentage of body fat than men with high testosterone.
Additional signs: Guys who take medication to severely depress testosterone levels as a treatment for advanced prostate cancer quickly gain fat and improve body fat, based on Dr. Morgentaler.
The testosterone-weight connection also goes the other way. A review of weight loss and its effects on testosterone released in the Western Journal of Endocrinology found that weight loss alone — with no testosterone treatment — has been associated with increases in testosterone levels.
Also, a 2013 German observational study published in the journal Obesity found that weight loss was an extra incentive for men with low testosterone who had been carrying testosterone replacement therapy. The men took testosterone supplements for five years and lost a mean of 36 pounds and 3.5 inches off their waists.
The Low Testosterone-Weight Gain Mystery
Low testosterone induces increases in body fat, especially in the midsection.
But why does this occur? “The specific biochemical mechanism by which testosterone causes this shift is unknown,” Morgentaler describes.
But it turns out that not only does low testosterone appear to cause weight gain in males, the opposite also seems to be accurate: Obesity is among those risk factors for lower than normal levels of testosterone. Physiologically, the connection between low testosterone and weight gain in men can develop into a vicious cycle.
“Body fat includes an enzyme which converts testosterone to estrogens,” states David Samadi, MD, chairman of the urology department at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Having additional estrogens triggers the body to impede its production of testosterone. The less testosterone you create, the more stomach fat you accumulate, and so on.”
For guys who have reduced testosterone, extra body fat can worsen the condition: “Fat speeds up the metabolizing of testosterone,” Dr. Samadi states. “Therefore, the more fat you carry around, the faster you’ll burn through the low testosterone levels within your body”
But not all men with low testosterone are obese, and the symptoms differ from person to man. “Being obese can impair your ability to make testosterone and may lower already low testosterone, but you don’t have to be obese to be influenced by low testosterone,” adds Samadi.
Irrespective of weight, men with low testosterone are more likely to have less muscle than those with normal amounts. “Even in men with low testosterone that are not obese, it’s likely they have an increased proportion of body fat,” Morgentaler states.
A Recipe for Couch Potatoes
One other important reason low testosterone is connected with weight reduction in men is that the symptoms can take away the incentive to work out. “Among the subtle symptoms of low testosterone is that it often reduces motivation,” Morgentaler says. “Men characterize this feeling as if they’ve become a couch potato. Staying fit and trim requires energy and drive, and if those are lacking, it’s easier to gain weight.”
Even if you’re ready to drag yourself to the gym, low testosterone could indicate that you have less stamina to get through your workout and see results, which is discouraging.
Tips for Managing Weight With Low Testosterone
To fight weight gain with low testosterone, the advice would be the same as for many others trying to lose pounds: Eat less and exercise more.
Strength training or another kind of resistance exercise is especially important. “This type of exercise helps build more muscle faster and activates testosterone production,” Samadi states. “Additionally, your body burns more fat for energy during resistance training, helping to promote healthy weight and fat distribution.”
Fixing low testosterone can boost overall energy, easing fatigue and prompting one to get moving and lose weight. Though testosterone supplements should not be used to help men with symptoms of low testosterone drop pounds, if you have measurably low testosterone, then treating it should make weight loss easier. “Regular levels of testosterone promote fat loss, increased muscle mass and strength, and stamina,” Morgentaler says. “Also, workouts are better, and men feel encouraged by this so that they do them more often.”