Get the best body composition and health by eating a diet that optimizes hormone levels. From a sports performance perspective, meat is an essential part of the ideal diet, but so are abundant vegetables and certain fruits. Research shows that the best approach to diet, especially for strength and power athletes, is to combine the best of both vegetarian and omnivorous eating!
You’ll get the optimal hormone response for body composition by including the following in your diet:
1) Grass-fed, organic and wild meats.
2) A daily dose of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and bok choy
3) A daily dose of high-antioxidant fruits such as blueberries and raspberries
4) Adequate fat that includes a majority of omega-3 fats as well as saturated and monounsaturated fats
5) Protein to meet your body composition and health needs. Higher protein and low-glycemic carbs will produce best results, but based on age, gender, and goals, protein needs will vary.
6) Supplement to avoid deficiencies in nutrients that will alter optimal hormone production and keep you from making gains from training. Everyone needs to get enough B vitamins, omega-3 fats, vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium. Vegetarians need to pay special attention to B12, calcium, and iron, especially females.
What Does It Mean To Have Optimal Hormone Levels?
Optimal hormone levels for body composition and success in strength and power sports come from having adequate anabolic hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone (GH), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), while minimizing the cortisol stress response. You want to create an anabolic environment during and after exercise, and for nutrition can help keep the whole endocrine system working like a well-oiled machine.
For example, higher cortisol is okay in the morning to get you going, but you want it to be low after training and in the evening so you can sleep. You need melatonin and serotonin up at night to be able to sleep deeply so that growth hormone can do its magic to repair tissue and muscle overnight.
Your cells need to be as sensitive as possible to insulin because if they are, insulin will actually improve the anabolic effect of food and training. But, too much insulin is a bad thing because your cells will become resistant, and you will get fat.
You need adequate testosterone for training drive, tissue repair and recovery, and you want to minimize estrogen for metabolism and overall health. This is true for men as well as women, but women have more estrogen and much, much less testosterone than men. Still, ladies will be leanest and healthiest if you support estrogen detoxification and get the small boost in testosterone that is available to you through diet and training.
Why Is Meat Necessary For Optimal Hormone Levels?
It is possible that a very carefully planned vegetarian diet could produce optimal hormone levels for strength and power athletes, but we have no research-based evidence of this. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence that omnivores have higher testosterone than vegetarians, and it’s certainly easier to get all the nutrients from meat, such as creatine, carnitine, omega-3 fats, glycine, taurine, and carnosine, which will give athletes a competitive edge over vegetarians. Greater work capacity, strength gains, faster recovery, more explosive power, and better endurance capacity are all benefits of these animal-derived nutrients.
Research suggests there is something about the protein from meat that leads to greater muscularity, leanness, and the outcome of better athletic performance. For example, a study that compared strength and muscle gains in men doing resistance training who were either on a vegetarian diet or an omnivorous diet, found that the meat eaters lost 6 percent fat mass, gained 4 percent of muscle, and increased Type II fiber (these necessary for strength and power athletes) by 9 percent relative to the vegetarians.
It’s possible that aside from elevating testosterone, the reason meat eating promotes optimal muscle development is that animal protein is of a higher quality than that which is gotten from vegetables. Research suggests that even if the amino acids in the vegetarian diet are in the same ratio and quantity as an omnivorous diet, the body is just not as efficient at using them to make the amino acid derivatives that are so essential for muscle growth, tissue repair, and hormone production.
Any imbalance in the amino acids, which is very common since the most important ones are found in extremely limited quantities in vegetables (for example, glycine and glutamine), can throw off the homeostasis in the body. A common outcome for vegetarians is elevated homocysteine, which is a serious risk factor for heart disease, and decreased muscle mass development.
Not only do you want to avoid an imbalance in amino acids, you want to make the most of the protein you eat. The higher the protein intake—especially if protein intake exceeds carb intake—the lower the total testosterone. But, it’s not that simple, because what really matters is the amount of testosterone that is not bound to sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG makes testosterone unavailable for anabolic purposes and SHBG will be much higher when you eat more carbs, and it’s also much higher in vegetarians. The key is to get quality animal protein for low SHBG and higher free testosterone. ?
Eat Fat and Cholesterol for Optimal Testosterone Levels
Testosterone is made out of cholesterol in the body via a complicated process, meaning eliminating cholesterol with low-fat eating will lower your anabolic environment. Eating enough cholesterol is not a problem for most people, and this is not a situation in which more is better. You just need some cholesterol.
Eating healthy fats is the best way to get it and raise testosterone. A number of studies have shown that eating between 30 and 40 percent of the diet from fat, of which the majority is monounsaturated and saturated, will produce the highest testosterone levels.
Vegetarians tend to consume less fat overall, and they eat significantly more polyunsaturated fat, which is not beneficial for testosterone production. Low saturated fat and high polyunsaturated fat in the typical plant-based diet is a primary contributor to lower testosterone.
Eat Low-Glycemic Carbs For Results with GH, IGF-1, and Estrogen
Eat low-glycemic carbs such as vegetables, nuts, and some fruits to support an anabolic fat loss environment. All staples of a healthy vegetarian diet, the high vegetable, fruit, and nut intake is the reason for reports that vegetarians eat more nutritious diets or have lower disease risk. Think about how the average omnivorous Westerner eats—nonorganic grain-fed meat (possibly fried), lack of veggies and fruits, refined carbs, lots of processed and additive-filled foods—and you can see why the average vegetarian diet results in less disease and lower body composition.
Athletes will have best results by rounding out diet with green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, berries, some fruit, nuts, and seeds because they help detoxify estrogen, while supporting GH and IGF-1 levels. Estrogen is a problem for both male and female athletes because of all the environmental estrogens we are exposed to that enter the body and act like regular estrogen, hampering anabolic response, metabolism, and performance.
Excess estrogen can lead to cell damage and cancer development and is linked to increased risk of breast and prostate cancer. Another reason science often finds vegetarian diets to be healthier is that they can help eliminate estrogen, and a better body pH, which is preferable for health.
You also want to block an enzyme called aromatase that turns testosterone into estrogen in the body, and this is best done by ensuring you have adequate zinc, b vitamins, selenium (a mineral), and green tea and citrus flavonones (antioxidants). Eating to block aromatase requires the best of an omnivorous diet since bioavailable zinc comes from animal sources, selenium from animals, nuts, and fish, and the rest from plants.
Low-glycemic carbs are best for GH and IGF-1 because when you eat high-glycemic carbs and have a big insulin spike, the body stops producing GH. When insulin and blood glucose are low, the body will produce more GH, which will trigger the liver to release IGF-1 (muscle also releases IGF-1 during training when you do eccentric-enhanced lifts or manipulate tempo).
The take away is that there are nutrients only found in animal sources that will enhance performance for strength and power athletes, and that can help everyone achieve optimal body composition and hormone balance. Animal protein is more bioavailable as seen by increased strength and mass gains in various studies, making an omnivorous diet a good choice, especially if you include the best of vegetarian nutrition. Loyal vegetarians can do the same—supplement with the best nutrients (creatine, carnitine, glutamine, etc.) that give your meat eating competitors the edge.
Read about strategies to prevent nutrient deficiencies on a vegetarian diet in Vegetarians Beware: Nutrient Deficiencies
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