Ben Ahrens is a Board Certified Practitioner of Holistic Health, Tech Entrepreneur, Public Speaker, and Professional Fitness Writer. He has six years of experience working in Manhattan as a Private Trainer and Nutritional Adviser to business executives, high-level athletes, and rehabilitating patients. Ben also holds a BA degree in Philosophy and certifications in Personal Training, Sports Nutrition; maintains specialties in Corrective Exercise and Performance Enhancement, and is an accredited member of the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Here's Ben:
“I need to get the doctor in here... he needs to take a look at this...” Said the Nurse Practitioner during my last checkup this past January. “Holy sh@t” Said the MD, staring at my chart in disbelief. My recent lab-work showed my total testosterone at a shocking 988 - a full 900 pt increase from the year before! “What the heck have you been doing!?” he said.
It took a solid fifteen minutes of convincing and Q&A time on my behalf, for the medical staff to concede that I’d not been using anabolic agents, injecting supraphysiological doses of testosterone, taken hormone replacement therapy, or using aromatase inhibiting supplements that might produce such an effect. In fact, the only supplements I had been taking were fish oil and a multivitamin. - To put things in perspective, free T is measured on a 1000 pt scale with a reference range of approximately 450~700 for healthy males under age 35. One year ago my testosterone was at a girly 88. Today it remains over 900.
So, to what do I credit such a dramatic increase? Three key elements:
1) Pathogen Elimination 2) Diet and gut-health restoration 3) Sleep quality and stress management
I’ve always taken a holistic approach to health and human performance and this journey bears no exception. The precise methods I used to accomplish the above are actually not what is of greatest importance here (although I will offer as many details as I can in this post) if you are interested in the nitty gritty stuff you may visit my blog. What is important for you to know now, and is sure to get you freakishly hormonally optimized in no time - is a certain holistic perspective:
* Side note - Naturally, upon receiving my blood-test results, I thought it would be an ideal time for a mass-gain. I performed my first workout in the gym consisting of 1 set of x5 squats with 135lbs (an 85% effort lift for me), and 1 set of x5 deadlifts (also 135lb, also 85% effort) - that’s it!. I then did nothing but continue to eat a super-high-fat diet for ten days (detailed below), after which time my body-weight had increased from 150lbs to 158lbs and body fat diminished from 11.8% to 9.0%!
Rather than asking, “why was my total testosterone low and why is it now high”, let’s ask the following: “From an organismic perspective, what does it mean to have low levels of testosterone and what would be required in the human organism for total T levels to flourish?” - This shift may seem like mere syntax, however, once we understand things from this new perspective we begin to see that Low T is the symptom of a problem and not the problem itself. Once we understand this truth, we can then get into the fun stuff and make strides toward reaching our physical potential by realizing that increasing muscle, strength, and speed needn’t be an act of resistance but may actually occur naturally if we merely provide ourselves the right conditions.
The key lies in understanding resource allocation insofar as how the body, or what I will refer to as “the human organism” prioritises its energetic systems and functions: From a biological or “organismic” perspective, the human body’s primary concern is its own survival. Any functions that do not directly contribute to survival in the acute or immediate sense are considered secondary. This includes things like digestion, regeneration, and procreation.
This is our primal survival mechanism and served us well in paleolithic times: When chased by a tiger, we’d rather let adrenalin surge at the expense of testosterone production; we’d rather have blood rushing to carry oxygen to our leg muscles than circulate in our midsection to finish digesting our lunch... otherwise we’d become lunch. - In acute situations, these systems do precisely what they were designed to do in order to save our lives. When aggressors persist, however, be it due to infection, poor diet, lack of sleep or life in general, stress becomes chronic and parasympathetic function is shut down, leaving our bodies in a perpetual state of fight or flight. It is in this state that our health deteriorates and it is from this state that all metabolic dysfunction ensues and testosterone will take the first hit
Enter the three keys elements:
1) Health (disrupting disease pathology)
- Start by taking quick mental poll of how you are feeling
- Track energy levels, mood and sleep quality for one month using a simple metric like “good” or “bad” as opposed to “7/10” or “72.5/100”. (see my QS talk on simplified self tracking)
- Don’t get sick - take care of yourself, know your limitations, and take the time to do some prep and planning so that you can budget your mental and physical expenditure to operate within your means whenever possible.
- Get tested: Even if you think you feel great - consider your body like a giant barrel: it has a the capacity to hold a certain amount stress, toxins, pathogens, and waste that accumulates from poor lifestyle habits and events beyond our control. But once that capacity is filled, the waste pours over the brim and signs and symptoms of disease may occur. You may feel great now but your barrel might be 2/3rd of the way full, leaving you little room for error. - What should you ask for?: A full metabolic panel; complete red blood-cell count or CRB; heavy metals urinalysis; complete blood analysis, biomarkers for common diseases, viruses and infectious pathogens such as Epstein-barr (titer test), borreliosis (western blot), candida (skin provocation tests), and a 24 hour salivary cortisol profile - This last one’s a pain in the ass and requires you to spit in tubes and collect a days worth of urine, but it may return highly valuable information insofar as how your body is managing its hormonal and energetic resources.
Looking back on the college days I used to wonder how people survive on a diet of beer and Ramen. The answer is they don’t...not really, and not for long. Our bodies are highly adaptive, and can (and have) subsisted on shoe leather during times of famine. But there is an important distinction between survive and thrive.
If your goal is the former, then you may be able to get away with an impressive amount of abuse. Rob Wolf of the Palo Solution Podcast always says “people can survive on a steady diet of hookers and cocaine!” But, if your wish is to thrive, go beyond, and realize your true potential, then you may want to cut out the shenanigans and continue reading these last important keys....
2) Diet (eliminate the bad and maximize the good)
How do you find out what’s bad for you? Well, you could spend 30 days putting yourself on a standard elimination diet which will have you cut out all common gut irritants and potential IGg mediated allergens: gluten, soy, and dairy - (read Wheat Belly to understand why) - and then re-introduce certain foods one by one to see what effect they have. But rather than playing this guessing game, fun as it may sound, I recommend just taking the bull by the horns and focussing on food quality above all else. Use your common sense and cut out the crap. You can even go by this litmus test until you become comfortable with your new way of eating: Just before you put something in your mouth, ask yourself, what beneficial effect does this have? if the answer is “none”... ditch it. Treat food as medicine and good health will be your reward.
Now that we’ve cut out the crap, it’s time to maximize the good. Here’s the fun part, and critical to hormonal optimization... eat TONS of FAT! - My diet consists of about 70% fat (mostly saturated), 20% protein, and 10% carbohydrate. (*note - you will notice that I omit grains and dairy from my diet and do not recommend a high fat diet to anyone who also consumes high-glycemic carbohydrates. - Fat is not the problem, but fat in the presence of high GI carbs, leads to increased oxidation, an uptick in free radicals and ultimately rapid cellular aging. Bottom line - cut out the fast absorbing carbohydrates; grains and sweets and go nuts with coconut milk): Eating in this way seems to have a profound effect on fostering production of IGF-1 and increasing the release of Growth Hormone. Here’s how it’s done:
My common meals:
- 1 can full fat organic coconut milk (1100 fat-cals.) - 2 heaping tablespoons Brown Rice Protein (25g) - 1 teaspoon L-glutamine - 1 teaspoon Maca poweder - 1 teaspoon BCAA powder (5g) - 1 teaspoon cinnamon - 2 teaspoons wheat or barley grass
- 4 cups spinach - 2 tablespoons organic sauerkraut - ½ to 1 avocado - 1 can skinless boneless sardines - 2 hard boiled eggs - 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds - 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4~5 whole eggs - ½ to 1 avocado - 3 tablespoons coconut oil - 2 cups spinach - 2 tablespoons olive oil
One day per week I will eat only vegetables and little to no protein (less than 10g). Once or twice a week I will eat one sweet potato before bed or after exercise (typically done once every 10 days aside from stretching which I do daily)
3) Rest (stress-proof your mind, re-activate your parasympathetic nervous system, and reclaim your life!)
I won’t go into great detail here about stress management. There is a lot of good information out there and I recommend you explore some of the techniques I carry out regularly - see 5 Habits that Saved My Life.
Generally speaking there are two variables worth noting that can be manipulated when it comes to stress management. They are:
1) Stress from your environment, and 2) Your body’s response to stress
The first is easier to control but has its limitations as it would be impossible to eradicate all sources of stress. Stress is a part of life. Therefore, I advocate controlling your environment using my 5 habits to the best of your ability and then controlling yourself beyond that using techniques mentioned in that post - most notably; Meditation and Visualization; and if you feel your anxiety levels exceed the norms compared with your perceived demands, I recommend smart bombing your subconscious with Neuro Linguistic Programming.
Lastly, know that for every action there is a reaction. Placed in the context of exercise - we often train for activities but rarely do we even consider training for rest. A great book that speaks volumes to the importance of rest and recovery is Dr. Irving Dardik’s “Making Waves” which touches on something called Superwave Theory. Also see my post on recovery tactics
The take home message is simple:
Whether you want to recover from an illness, pack on muscle, or just walk around town feeling like a randy hound-dog - consider your whole body as a finely tuned system and think about how you are allocating your resources. For many of you, this may require some significant lifestyle changes. It all comes down to where your priorities lie. For me, losing my health in my twenties, I didn’t have a choice. Spending the rest of my life in bed was not an option - not to mention that it got real old real fast telling my girlfriend “it’s not you, it’s my hormones!” - Whatever your catalyst is, find it, and act. Your life and your health is truly in your own hands.
For better or for worse we make our own existence. I say... why not make it better?
For more great info from Ben, check out his blog, The Limitless Self.