Does Cycling Lower Testosterone Levels?
Cycling and Testosterone
Does extensive cycling reduce natural test levels?
Cycling, in particularly competitive cycling, is extremely punishing.
The body is put through many rigors, not to mention the saddle area.
If you are a keen cyclist or a professional cyclist, extensive training and road time is the center of some health concerns regarding trauma to the perineum.
This is all as I am about to embark on a cycling trip from Paris to Mont Saint-Michel, a journey of around 450km.
To make matters more challenging I will complete, or at least I hope to complete this endeavor on a fixed gear bicycle, with no brakes.
The trip will last a week, however, the first night will be spent in Paris, and the final night will be spent in Paris also.
I will be travelling by the Eurostar train from London to Paris, but not before driving a couple of hundred miles from Leeds in West Yorkshire.
Once in Paris, I will be awaiting my friend who is flying in from Norway. We will spend the night drinking and eating in Paris before waking up to to cycle the first leg.
That means we will have five days cycling which is around 90km per day. Nothing too strenuous but plenty of time in the saddle, especially when there’s only one gear and I can’t even freewheel.
Plus, there will be no opportunity to work out. I will not be taking much luggage or belongings. Just a few quick drying sports tee shirts and shorts.
So, with this in mind I was particularly interested in how all of this cycling may affect natural testosterone levels and if my body will secrete less testosterone.
First and foremost, it is clear that regular exercise such as cycling has massive health benefits.
Cardiovascular activity is good for the heart, it reduces body fat and overall metabolic function plus cognitive health.
This increases the persons quality of life and studies have found evidence that there are several physical and mental health benefits from regular exercise. 
So, what’s the big deal? Aerobic exercise such as cycling clearly has a positive effect on our overall health and life.
Research has shown that intense training in the saddle can produce Reactive Oxidative Species (ROS) which is known to harm DNA in the chondritic cells of the joints.
ROS can over power antioxidant defenses and cause oxidative stress. 
This is a reason behind arthritis and ROS can also cause gene mutations which can potentially lead to cancer.
In addition to these concerns, your testosterone levels are also at risk.
If your testosterone levels drop this can lead to fatigue, poor motivation, erectile dysfunction and even anaemia.
Studies have illustrated that lower testosterone levels in conjunction with ROS has caused the increases of abnormal sperms and lower viable-sperm count among professional cyclists.
Cyclists who were competing in the three week tour race called Vuelta a España 1999 had their testosterone levels checked, the results were that all of the cyclists demonstrated that their testosterone levels had dropped significantly during the race. 
However, an official conclusion of fertility is yet to be established.
Due to the lower body index masses of cyclists, lack of resistance or weighted exercise while being combined with this decrease in testosterone does lead to a significant loss of calcium in the bones, which is known as osteoporosis.
This has affected many cyclists, but the most well-known case concluded with Chris Boardman retiring prematurely from the sport. 
Due to the nature of cycling and the continued application of pressure to the prostate, this can then lead to chronic inflammation of the prostate.
This can be a leading factor towards malignancy and cause enlargement of the prostate known as Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy, this can develop into urinary issues such as having to repeatedly pass urine through the night.
This damage can also exacerbate the risk towards suffering from further erectile dysfunction caused by decreased testosterone levels.
Women are not immune either, reports of vaginitis, soreness, bacterial and yeast infections are common.
How Much Real Risk Is There?
Unfortunately, this is not an exact science.
A large study which involved over 5000 participants in the UK recorded no real erectile dysfunction issues, on the other hand, another study conducted in the US reported a big risk of erectile dysfunction among cyclists.
Then UCLA the got involved to see what they could demonstrate and evaluated over one hundred healthy men who were separated in to groups based upon their exercise commitments.
The three groups consisted of:
- Recreational athletes
Their evidence pointed towards cyclists showing high levels of testosterone which contradicts other previous reports.
In fact the results were significant. The cyclists were found to have testosterone levels that were about 50% higher than the other two groups.
However, another thing to note was that estradiol levels were 200% higher in the cyclists, too.
The UCLA’s theory is that the increase of estradiol found in the cyclists may have been attributed to chamois cream which is used to prevent chaffing and saddle sores.
The significance of this is that many commercial chamois creams include oils and parabens among other ingredients which can trigger estrogen production. 
Also consider hydration delivery. By this I mean what is your water stored in?
Many plastics contain phthalates which contribute to lower levels of testosterone when people are exposed to them. 
But why would this be of concern?
If you are cycling and have a water bottle mounted to your frame it is most likely that it is manufactured from plastic; this plastic will most likely contain phthalate.
Even hydration packs will probably be produced using soft PVC plastics, so check whether it is phthalate free, or if you are using frame mounted bottles see if you can use a aluminium replacement or again try to source bottles free of phthalate.
Are there any solutions available?
The importance of cycling and general exercise cannot be discredited, and while there are some risks, exercise initiates numerous biochemical changes itself which are anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer.
These changes also include decreasing growth cytokines such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF), also improving insulin sensitivity, increasing the performance of natural killer cells and lymphocytes.
While lots of training will decrease testosterone, the links between prostate cancer are tenuous, it is true that the large scale study of cyclists there was a six fold increase of prostate cancer for those who trained for more than 8 hours per week compared to those cyclists who trained 3.75 hours.
However, what is usually less known is that the cancer rate is three times lower than that of the general population for the cyclists.
In order to reduce carcinogens, the foods we eat need to be analysed.
Foods that enhance chronic inflammation such as refined sugars, processed meats, potato chips and even some cereal bars.
We should eat foods that are rich in polyphenols. Why?
Well these have direct anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties including the ability to up-regulate antioxidant enzymes, which help mop up ROS.
It is the polyphenols that provide color, taste and aroma such as fruits, vegetables and spices.
Research by The World Cancer Research Fund reported that the people who eat these foods have a lower risk of cancer. 
Also consider other foods that can increase testosterone levels by encouraging more secretion…
Foods that contain high levels of minerals such as zinc, magnesium, boron and then consider vitamins such as D3, B6, K2 plus nutrients like DIM, fenugreek and the amino acid d-aspartic acid.
These are all elements that are proven to elevate natural testosterone production.
They are found in chick peas, beef, lamb, eggs, pork turkey, peanut butter, oysters, broccoli and salmon for instance.
However, I understand that this is neither entirely practical, convenient or cheap. And, if you are a vegetarian your choices are limited further.
One item to consider, especially if you are on the road a lot is an effective natural testosterone booster which contains the extracts in high doses to keep your hormone levels at an optimal level.
Then there is the theory behind the use of chamois cream containing estrogen agonists…
While the study directed by the UCLA demonstrated evidence that cyclists’ testosterone levels were elevated, it noted that estrodiol levels were higher by a considerable margin.
Too much estradiol converts to estrogen which can have a negative effect on male health.
This can include breast tissue development, osteoporosis, loss of pubic hair, gynecomastia and even a loss of libido with sexual dysfunction that has been recorded in studies. 
As a result it may be better to source all natural creams to reduce friction.
The reports regarding cycling and testosterone have in some cases provided contradictory evidence.
Most of the studies relay reports that testosterone is diminished due to cycling and it can also reduce libido.
The one study that demonstrated a rise in testosterone also saw a much larger rise in estradiol which relates to female sex hormones and is something that a male would want to avoid.
On the whole cycling does appear to have a negative effect on male sex hormones (testosterone), however, cycling also has many other health benefits such as lowering inflammation, possessing anti-cancer effects and improving cardiovascular health.
If you are cycling long journey on a regular basis center your nutrition around foods that are high in vitamins and minerals that can increase and promote healthy testosterone secretion.
If that is not possible, or really convenient (I’d love to be able to eat steak and oysters for every meal but it’s not going to happen) try a supplement with all of the nutrients included.
Also reconsider your chamois cream choice. See if there is anything else available that is natural and free from chemicals.
Apply this to your choice of water storage, try to avoid plastics unless they are free from phthalate as these can reduce natural levels of testosterone.
As for me, on my trip through Normandy I am taking aluminum water bottles, Prime Male (contains anti-inflammatory ingredients) and padded shorts.
 Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 18(2):189-193, March 2005.
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