If you're not hitting the ball as far as you used to, you can blame your ball, clubs or swing--or all three. But Dr. Ara Suppiah says the reason could be more primal: "As we get older, our testosterone levels drop, and this is the hormone you need for power. Even worse, in many cases men accelerate the drop with unhealthy living habits." The natural reduction for men is about 1 percent each year past age 30, the Mayo Clinic reports. But if you're not eating right, sleeping well and exercising, the loss can be more rapid. Suppiah, a sports-medicine specialist who is a consultant for several players on the PGA Tour, says a healthy male 45 to 55 should have a testosterone count of about 500 or higher. Women also produce testosterone but in significantly lower quantities (the normal range is 18 to 70). If your blood tests indicate low levels of testosterone, you might be able to avoid synthetic steroid supplements--and their nasty side effects--by making lifestyle changes to boost levels naturally, Suppiah says. "The benefits go beyond hitting the ball farther. But there's nothing wrong with that being your motivation." Here is Suppiah's three-month game plan for increasing your T count.
Get your overall T levels tested—including your level of "free" testosterone--ideally twice. Free T is greatly responsible for sexual traits early in life and is linked to energy, sex drive and bone density as we age.
10 WAYS TO BOOST YOUR T
1. Lift weights: Numerous studies indicate that performing multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses stimulate T production. Exercise also can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
2. Get in the sun: Twenty minutes a day of unfiltered sun exposure will produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D3. This vitamin is known for improving overall bone health and neuromuscular function.
3. Sleep better: Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that men who slept less than five hours a night for one week had up to 15 percent lower T than those who were better rested.
4. Reduce inflammation: Unhealthy habits such as excessive drinking, untreated allergies and overeating can keep the body in a state of chronic inflammation and hamper T production.
__5. Back off the sugar:__Refined carbohydrates (think sweetened, processed foods) can make the body more resistant to the role of insulin as a blood-sugar regulator. When that happens, testosterone production also slows. Furthermore, foods high in polyunsaturated fats (think foods fried in cooking oils) inhibit the enzyme 5-alpha reductase from metabolizing testosterone.
6. Avoid gluten: Gluten is a protein found in many grains and is commonly consumed in bagels, cereals, salad dressings and mayonnaise. Any intolerance to this protein leads to gut inflammation and its power-zapping side effects (see No. 4).
7. Remember to buy avocados, almonds, oregano—anything high in omega-3 fatty acids. These acids balance hormone function, including testosterone production.
8. Eat beans or any other foods high in magnesium. This mineral has been shown to boost T levels in athletes as well as sedentary people.
9. Grab a handful of brazil nuts for selenium and good cholesterol. The cells in the testes needed to produce testosterone--the Leydig cells--will function better.
10. Herbs can help: Tap into your inner Eastern philosophy by eating extract from maca and tongkat ali plants. Both are widely believed to be T boosters.
Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.
(Illustration by Adam Voorhes)