Ladies: Does eating paleo and/or heavy lifting increase your testosterone?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created May 27, 2011 at 7:47 PM

Hi, Background: I'm a 22 year old 5'3"/120 lb female. I have been eating lacto-Primal/Archevore with increasing strictness for the past six months or so - my carb levels vary but are generally within 50-150 grams per day of vegetables/tubers, with about 60% daily total calories coming from fats (grassfed butter, grassfed beef, lots of eggs, some chicken and pork). My goal with primal/paleo eating is to lose vanity weight (10-15 lb) and eliminate digestive/fatigue troubles from gluten and fructose.

For the past month or so I have been doing Crossfit, often olympic lifting type workouts, 2-3 times per week, along with regular walking and working in my garden. My weight has generally been fluctuating around 117 to 125, and I have noticed that as my weight has been fluctuating, when I lose weight I lose it more from female areas (breasts, hips) and when I gain it back it's more around my belly, so my shape has gone progressively less feminine. I've also noticed some weird dark hairs in places they have never appeared before, like on my cheeks or even in the middle of my chest (?!). I have also noticed some randomly appearing acne on my face that I did not get before.

I feel that these are all indicators of increased testosterone / decreased estrogen. When I see Paleo/Primal eating promoted for men there is often talk of increasing testosterone levels with a higher fat diet. And, I know the standard line about women and heavy lifting is that it doesn't make you ripped unless you take steroids, but when men do it, heavy lifting is supposed to promote increased testosterone. When it comes to women, this is not supposed to happen, right? I'm of Jewish and Italian ancestry and have always had traits that suggested moderately high testosterone for a woman, i.e. relatively hairy forearms and a fairly square jaw. So maybe I am pre-disposed to a higher testosterone level for a woman, and high fat/ low carb eating plus heavy lifting is exacerbating it.

My question is: Anecdotally, has anyone, focusing on women who are probably NOT going through pre-menopause, seen an increase in traits that suggest increased testosterone?

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9 Answers

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on May 27, 2011
at 08:15 PM

My guess would be that coupling crossfit with low carb has caused an increase in cortisol, which has interfered with your natural hormone levels and probably decreased estrogen. If you were to make 150g of starch the minimum for any day, with more on workout days, your body wouldn't need to scavenge glucose for your CNS etc. and you'd be in a less stressed state in general.



on May 28, 2011
at 02:53 AM

There's not a lot more I can say that others haven't covered, but Crossfit WOD's are not really Olympic style workouts. They're often dangerous endurance-reimaginings of what should be low-rep, high effort lifts. Extremely neurologically taxing movements under loads like deadlifts or cleans shouldn't be done for more than a handful of reps. Doing so leads to a powerful stress signal because your central nervous system is being heavily utilized under intense conditions. Do this several times a week, and you've essentially put your body in an evolutionary "life or death" situation with high frequency. These transient situations, your workouts, have a potent effect on regulatory systems and your endocrinology; they are acute solutions to an acute fight-or-flight problem. Make it chronic, and it becomes pathological, much like acute hyperinsulinemia not being so bad, but chronic being a disease state.

Getting off the anti-Crossfit high-horse now and back out of the realm of controversy... you have a classic cortisol adiposity pattern. It tends to lead to midsection fat, and Crossfit tends to lead to cortisol. So it goes. My recommendation is that in order to achieve and maintain your goals, walk 30-60 minutes 4 times a week to stimulate lipolysis and empty your fat cells. On the remaining 3 days of the week, do Olympic-style lifts with Olympic-style reps.



on May 28, 2011
at 02:12 AM

travis!!!!! please tell me more. i have the same problem but have found carb cycling to help, my guess is namely b/c on days i am active i eat a good 80% of my food from carbs

to the OP, my 'man' symptoms stopped essentially when i quit eating like a man(high fatty meat/ribs, liver only once every week or so) and emphasizing good PUFA(sardines, avocados, nuts) and eating more like a lady :). not to know lifting or crossfit, but if you act like a man, IME, your gonna feel like and look like one. i doubt it is due to increased testosterone, it is just the incredibly low preglengone(spelling??) conversion to estrogen because your not providing your female body with what it needs to maintain hormonal homeostasis

as an aside to rant... I WOULD KILL for some flippin research to be done in regard to this because it seems, from my experience, there is no do what you like eat what you like and maintain body balance. the only way to get estrogen up is to sit on your ass and mix carbs and fat together and gain fat at the expense of lean muscle.

so, to you, the way to fix it is quit working out and eat fat & carbs together and find someway to deal with the fat gain as cortisol and your CNS balance back out


on May 28, 2011
at 06:01 PM

FWIW, you're about my size, about my activity level, and we eat pretty similarly. I also have fairly high baseline testosterone (fun, ain't it!)

Anyway, around the time when I was 22, long before I was paleo and lifting heavy, I was sprouting weird, annoying hairs (those cheek hairs are the worst!).

So maybe it's just that fun "second puberty." During my second puberty, I grew a booty. It was pretty rad.

Good luck, and I wouldn't stress it too much. Your body is still changing.


on May 30, 2011
at 10:43 PM

I second the lots of fats, minimum protein and a good amount of carbs route. I use to weight lift like crazy and ate a high fat, moderate protein and moderate carb diet and I never had a problem with high testosterone levels, though I did have to quit weightlifting when I wanted to become pregnant (not sure what happened there but 3 months after i stopped weightlifting I got pregnant after a year of trying, but I had normal periods. so strange)

tinker with different diets/workout plans and see what works for you.



on August 29, 2012
at 07:56 PM

If you want to understand why you lose weight in your upper body and boobs first and gain it back in your midsection and thighs, read Lyle McDonald's Stubborn Fat Solution book. He explains how fat can be released and re-stored in the areas you don't want it... and what to do about it.


on May 30, 2011
at 05:44 PM

Mal's post above is spot on. If you're starting out a healthy weight (it's different for people who are starting overweight) and want a slimmer feminine figure you need to watch the cardio like a hawk and eat enough carbs, plenty of fat, and no need to overdo the protein. The more active you are, the more carbs you need to eat to compensate.

Suddenly gaining weight primarily in your midsection is not a good sign when you're a woman, and I would experiment with diet and exercise until you've solved this issue.

If a little bit of weight loss is your goal -and BTW 15 lbs I think is way too much - 5'3" and 105 is on the edge of underweight!- you might need to watch total calories as well as maintaining proper ratios. Leaning out on paleo is not the same for women as it is for men (unfortunately - 'eat more fat and calories!' is alluring weight loss advice).

Since I figured this out I've gotten curvier than I ever was and cured my acne which I had for 8 years. ;)


on May 28, 2011
at 12:20 AM

Yes. Thats what my GF sitting next to me just said. . .


on May 27, 2011
at 11:36 PM

It is not uncommon for your boobs to be the first place that fat loss occurs. storing new fat in your mid-section is an indication of cortisol and/or insulin issues. The fact that you're losing weight from your hips means that your estrogen has probably decreased. Excess estrogen causes fat to be stored in your thighs and glutes, so your estrogen levels are probably normalizing. Lifting weights may be increasing your testosterone levels slightly, but even if you are at the higher end of testosterone for a female, you're still at about 1/3 the amount of the lowest range found in males.

I wouldn't get too worried yet. Be sure that you are sleeping adequately 8 hours minimum per night in dark conditions (lights out recommendations, if you haven't read it... make it your next read). Be sure that you aren't drinking too much caffeine and check your carb intake... maybe it needs tweaking still?

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