When it comes to muscle building, one of the first things that pop into a male athlete’s or bodybuilder’s mind is testosterone. In the recent years, experts and the supplementation industry alike tout the importance of testosterone in the male physique and health. From building muscle mass to promoting your mental health, the big T is so much more than meets the eye. But, what exactly is testosterone?
What Is Testosterone?
Produced primarily by the Leydig cells, the big T is a 19-carbon steroid hormone. Even though men are linked to this hormone by producing significant amounts in the testes, women also produce testosterone in their ovaries. Both sexes also produce smaller quantities of the hormone in the adrenal glands. However, experts claim that men produce ten times as much and the results of this analogy are obvious.
Being a “steroid”, testosterone is part of the androgen family next to DHT, DHEA, androstenedione and androstenediol. All these androgens are popular for their potency to affect the male sexual drive and characteristics. In other words, testosterone does its hormonal job by performing the following functions:
deepens your voice
promotes sperm production
boosts penis, scrotum and testes during puberty
enhances your libido
promotes muscle protein synthesis and, therefore, your muscle mass
stimulates hair growth
regulates the fat distribution in the male body
and many more.
Testosterone And Anabolism: Yay Or Nay?
Apart from contributing to all these man-related functions, testosterone is also one of the most effective hormones in terms of anabolism. In fact, testosterone promote protein synthesis as soon as the hormone’s molecules enter the androgen receptors in muscles. The same principle applies to skeletal muscle growth. Testosterone molecules attach themselves to the skeletal androgen receptors and up their game by bosting their strength and density.
That is the reason why testosterone supplements are widely popular in the fitness community, especially among bodybuilders. By promoting muscle mass gains, bodybuilders achieve their fitness goals even faster. However, this practise comes at a cost. As your body gets used to synthetic testosterone, it gradually decreases the natural productions to maintain healthy levels. As a result, when you stop taking T supplements, your body still doesn’t produce enough of this hormone leading to health issues.
How The Male Body Produces Testosterone
As mentioned earlier, the majority of testosterone levels is produced by Leydig cells which are found in the male genitals. It comes as no wonder the big T doesn’t just appear in the male body. Instead, a sequent series of reactions leads to the productions of this hormone, and it all starts from the brain.
The Brain Stage
Ever heard of the hypothalamus? Well, this part of your brain has the shape of an almond and bridges the gap between the nervous and the endocrine system. The hypothalamus releases a hormone known as gonadotropin and here is where the journey begins.
The Pituitary Gland
If you were to take a closer look at the hypothalamus, you’d notice that there is an endocrin gland sticking out from the bottom. Known as pituiary, this pea-sized gland is triggered as soon as gonadotropin, GnRH for short, steps into the game. In its turn, the gland releases the Leutinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH).
From the moment LH and FSH are produced, they are released into your bloodstream. From then on, they are off on a journey until they reach your northen regions. As soon as they make it to their destination, LH and FSH alike infiltrate into the Leydig cells.
The Leydig Cells
Once into the Leydig cells, LH converts cholesterol into testosterone keeping your fat concentration at bay and FSH stimulates spermatogenesis (sperm production).
What’s truly admirable, though, is that the moment your brain realizes that your testosterone concentration is high enough, it slows down the release of LH. Hence, the name “feedback loop”.
How Testosterone Affects The Male Body
You are probably wondering what happens to testosterone as soon as it is produced, right? Let’s just say that it keeps itself busy. How? Let’s take a look.
From the moment freshly-produced testosterone enters your bloodstream, it wanders around free without being attached to any other element in your body. That is why most people call T as “free testosterone” at this point. At the same time, the liver produces a carrier protein known as Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, SHBG for short.
Binding To Carrier Proteins
When SHBG or Albumin (yet another carrier protein) and testosterone cross their paths, they tend to bind. This union is not beneficial for testosterone as it deprives the opportunity to enter various cells. Sometimes up to 98% of the free testosterone attaches to carrier proteins and, therefore, remains inactive.
Binding To Androgen Receptors
The rest of the free testosterone just wanders around in your bloodstream and lurks for androgen receptors. These receptors are usually activated after intense physical activity, think weight lifting or cardio. So, as soon as the receptors activate, free testosterone quickly make their way there and attach to them.
Affecting The Male Body
From the moment this union takes place, testosterone filters its way to the male DNA affecting various functions (check above). If the testosterone binds to androgen receptors in your face, then you grow facial hair or muscle structure. When the union takes place in your muscle tissue, you boost the protein synthesis and so on.
The Final Verdict
You may think that it is way too soon to worry about what is testosterone, but keep in mind that the hormone is gradually losing its potency from the moment you turn 30. According to experts, testosterone levels peak during puberty, but go downhill as you get older. Dietary adjustments and reasonable consumption of T supplements can prevent the effects of this decline on the male body. However, the golden rules lies in moderation.