Research indicates that as many as 1 in 4 men over the age of 30 in the USA have low testosterone levels with only one in every twenty displaying clinical symptoms linked to this deficiency. Testosterone is a sex hormone that plays a very important role in the male human body. It is responsible for regulating sex drive (libido), fat distribution, bone mass, the production of red blood cells and sperm as well as muscle mass and strength. The relationship between testosterone and muscle growth is commonly known to everyone, regardless of whether they have ever set foot in a gym or not.
The presence of anabolic steroids, the artificial hormones that mirror testosterone and significantly boost muscle growth, in pro sports has further enlightened people of this relationship. It is general knowledge that the higher your testosterone levels, the more muscle you will be able to build during the course of an exercise program. Despite this knowledge being common, some questions still exist. What effects does testosterone have on the body? How does testosterone increase muscle growth? How do the various principles operate within the body of an athlete?
What is the primary function of testosterone?
Testosterone is a member of a collection of hormones known androgens. These androgens are responsible for triggering and directing the growth and advancement of the male sexual characteristics during puberty although they do also play a lesser role in the development of females. Androgen levels are related to sex drive, aggressiveness and muscle mass in adults. Testosterone, in particular, plays a vital role in regulating how the body responds to exercise. If very low hormone levels are detected, a medically-approved testosterone replacement may become required. In order to understand this, we need to discover how muscle is built by the body to start with.
Resistance exercise, as well as other vigorous physical activities, initiate muscle growth by triggering small traumas to the muscles. In response to this, the body adapts accordingly by healing the damaged muscle tissue, increasing both its strength and size by adding new protein strands to the muscle fibers. This process is known as protein synthesis and is modulated by a range of growth hormones of which testosterone is the most notable.
Effects and significance of testosterone
Muscle growth is directly affected by testosterone through the binding of the receptors on the surface of the muscle cells and by amplifying the biochemical signals within the muscle tissue that results in protein synthesis. By boosting protein synthesis in skeletal muscle the testosterone can increase both the rate and the extent to which muscles are able to adapt to various forms of exercise. Testosterone can further facilitate the process of general protein synthesis by amplifying the release of other growth factors. All these functions together result in a general increase in strength, muscle size and a faster recovery rate after exercise.
While testosterone plays an important role in muscle growth, it is only one contributing factor. Apart from various other growth factors, aspects such as an athlete’s age, nutrition, level of fitness, quality of sleep and discipline all contribute significantly to the body’s ability to build strong, lean muscle.