Testosterone, Estrogen and Progesterone: How Do They Impact Weight Loss and Muscle Growth?

Testosterone, Estrogen and Progesterone: How Do They Impact Weight Loss and Muscle Growth?

Struggling to lose weight or build muscle as you envisioned? Ever wondered if hormones might be the culprit? You might have come across the notion that insufficient levels of testosterone, estrogen, or progesterone could complicate the journey to your dream body. Sexual hormones are indeed pivotal players in many crucial processes in our bodies. So, what does science say about them, why does our body need them, and what role do they play in weight loss and muscle growth?

What are hormones?

Hormones are substances that play the role of messengers in the body, transmitting signals between organs. They ensure the coordination of different parts of the body and its smooth functioning. They are produced in several places in the body, in the so-called endocrine glands. These include the hypothalamus in the brain, the pancreas, adrenal glands, thyroid gland, or sex organs.

For example, the hormone adrenaline is released from the adrenal glands in response to acute stressful situations. When released into the blood, it instructs the heart to beat faster and pump more oxygen to the brain and muscles. This allows your body to react more quickly to dangerous situations. You can think more effectively and, if necessary, escape or defend yourself. In addition to adrenaline, our bodies have many other hormones that are essential for the proper functioning of the organism. [2]

What are sex hormones?

Sex hormones are responsible for the development of male and female reproductive organs, as well as characteristics typical of female and male bodies.

  • Female sex hormones are mainly produced in the ovaries and control processes such as the menstrual cycle or pregnancy. 
  • Male sex hormones, on the other hand, are produced mainly in the testicles and are responsible, for example, for the production of sperm.

The main male sex hormone is testosterone, while in women, estrogen and progesterone play the most important role. It is interesting to note that women also have testosterone and men have estrogen, but in much lower concentrations. These sex hormones are significant in reproductive functions but also affect cardiovascular health, immunity, or bones. Similarly, their influence is is also evident in regards to hot topics, such as muscle growth and weight loss. [2]

What are sex hormones?

What is testosterone?

Testosterone is a male sex hormone that belongs to the so-called androgens. It is mainly produced in Leydig cells in the testicles, but adrenal glands also contribute to its production. These glands, like ovaries, also create this hormone in the female body, albeit in significantly lower amounts than in males. [16]

What are the functions of testosterone in the body?

This hormone is responsible for the development of male reproductive organs and all the typical characteristics of the male body. [16]

  • It is crucial for the development of the testicles and prostate.
  • It supports sperm production, making it essential for male fertility.
  • It is responsible for a higher proportion of muscle and lower proportion of body fat, as well as the typical distribution of body fat.
  • It increases strength and enhances athletic performance.
  • It boosts libido.
  • It is responsible for a deeper voice and typical male body hair.
  • It helps maintain bone density.
  • It affects mood and cognitive functions. [2,16]

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How does low testosterone manifest?

Testosterone levels naturally decline with age. The decline typically begins around the ages of 35 to 40, with a more likely onset closer to forty. The rate of decline gradually averages about 0.4% to 2% per year. In older men, you may notice that compared to the younger ones, it is harder for them to build muscle mass. However, low testosterone levels in the body can also be associated with various health problems. What are its other symptoms? [1,3,7]

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Low libido
  • Hair loss
  • Impaired bone health
  • Mood swings
  • Reduction in muscle mass and increase in body fat [6]

How to increase testosterone levels?

Do you want to optimize your testosterone levels and reap the benefits that come with it? In that case, you might need to make some changes in your lifestyle. Focus on proper sleep habits, exercise, especially in the form of strength training, and stress management. Also, don’t forget about a well-balanced diet rich in all essential nutrients. We now know that many micronutrients, such as zinc or vitamin D, are crucial for normal testosterone production. Enjoy foods containing animal fats in moderation, as they contain cholesterol, which testosterone is derived from.

You can also consider using some dietary supplements designed to support your body’s natural testosterone production. These may include well-known options like tribulus terrestris, saw palmetto, fenugreek, ashwagandha or D-aspartic acid.

In extreme cases where testosterone deficiency in the body is significant or caused by an illness, a visit to the doctor is warranted. They may prescribe hormone replacement therapy. Testosterone is then supplemented into the body, typically in the form of pills.

How to Increase Testosterone Levels?

What impact does testosterone have on muscle growth?

As we’ve discussed, testosterone is the hormone responsible for naturally higher muscle mass in men compared to women. It not only allows for building more muscle mass but also facilitates easier and faster muscle growth. It’s thus the most crucial hormone for muscle growth (muscle hypertrophy).

Testosterone belongs to the so-called anabolic hormones, meaning that it promotes the formation of new tissues in the body, including muscle mass. It increases the rate of protein synthesis (muscle protein formation) and contributes to the enlargement of muscle fibres. It’s even known to assist in the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen in the body – a crucial function for adequate oxygenation and muscle performance. [10]

Therefore, maintaining healthy testosterone levels is essential if you’re regularly exercising and aiming to gain muscle or strength. Achieving this can be supported by a high-quality, diverse diet, and you can also consider using some of the aforementioned supplements.

For more insights into what else you can do to gain muscle, check out the article What to Eat and How to Exercise to Finally Gain Muscle?

Does testosterone help with muscle growth?

What role does testosterone play in weight loss?

The impact of testosterone on muscle growth is frequently discussed, but have you ever wondered if it could also help you lose weight? Research suggests it can be beneficial in this regard too. It seems that overweight or obesity are commonly associated with reduced testosterone levels. For example, in a study of 2,100 obese men, it was found that up to 52% of them had levels below the optimal range. From this research, it also emerged that increasing testosterone levels helped with weight loss.

Studies thus indicate that optimal testosterone levels are important for functional male metabolism and healthy body weight. Therefore, if you want to lose weight, it’s useful to focus on lifestyle factors that can help optimize testosterone levels. This includes adjusting your diet, exercising, or using some dietary supplements targeting testosterone production support.

When you manage to achieve optimal weight, it will also be easier to maintain the right level of this hormone. Fat tissue is hormonally active, and excessive amounts of it can lead to the conversion of testosterone into estrogen. Healthy body weight thus limits these processes. [5,9]

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What is estrogen?

Estrogens are a group of female sex hormones. Estradiol plays the main role, with estrone and estriol contributing to its effects. These hormones are mainly produced in the ovaries, but a portion of them also originates in the placenta, adrenal glands, or corpus luteum. [2]

What are the functions of estrogen in the body?

Estrogens are essential for the development of female reproductive organs and breasts. They are also crucial for overall female health and proper body function.

  • This hormone supports the growth of the uterus, ovaries, vagina, and other reproductive organs.
  • It regulates the menstrual cycle, promoting the growth of the uterine lining (endometrium) in the first half of the cycle and initiating ovulation.
  • It contributes to the development and function of breasts and mammary glands.
  • It supports bone health.
  • It helps reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase the amount of HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Overall, it helps maintain good cardiovascular health.
  • It determines the distribution of body fat, resulting in the typical female pattern of fat storage in the lower body. [2,13,15]
What are the functions of estrogen?

How does low estrogen manifest?

A decrease in estrogen levels occurs naturally during menopause. This is often associated with typical hot flashes and increased fatigue. However, a deficiency in estrogen can also result from various medical conditions. It also occurs in women experiencing what’s known as the female athlete triad. This condition is characterized by low energy availability, decreased bone density, and amenorrhea (absence of menstruation). A deficit in estrogen can manifest with the following symptoms: [17]

  • Irregular menstrual cycle or amenorrhea (missing a period)
  • Mood swings
  • Depressive and anxious states
  • Hot flashes
  • Deterioration of bone density and increased risk of osteoporosis
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Higher risk of urinary tract infection [2,12]

A decreased estrogen level is a common part of the menstrual cycle. Each month, the amount of this hormone naturally decreases, only to return to normal levels after a few days. This occurs at the end of the luteal phase before menstruation and remains low during menstruation. While this period is accompanied by symptoms of estrogen deficiency, it’s a natural part of the female cycle. The problem arises when estrogen deficiency is prolonged.

How does low estrogen manifest?

How to increase estrogen levels?

For healthy estrogen levels, it’s important to have a diet containing sufficient energy and all essential nutrients. This is evident even in the case of the mentioned female athlete triad, a condition that occurs in women, typically athletes, who have inadequate caloric intake and excessive expenditure. However, changes in diet and training can lead to improvement, including adjustments in estrogen levels and menstrual cycle. Women in general should not neglect sufficient intake of calories and nutrients.

You can read about what is important for women’s health in the article Women and Nutrition: The Most Important Vitamins and Minerals for Health and Beauty.

What impact does estrogen have on muscle growth?

Just like testosterone in men, estrogen is the sex hormone that plays the most important role in building muscle in women. In practice, this is also indicated by menopause, which typically coincides with a loss of muscle mass. Women’s muscles after menopause respond less to stimuli that can lead to muscle growth, such as strength training. At the same time, it seems that at low estrogen levels, more muscle protein is broken down than synthesized. Research shows that optimal estrogen levels can serve as a prevention against muscle loss. Of course, women after menopause can still do strength training and build muscle. However, it will be somewhat more difficult for them than in their youth. [4]

Differences in the willingness of the female body to build muscle are also observed regularly during the month. Studies show a better response to training in the first half of the cycle (follicular phase) after menstruation and before ovulation, when estrogen levels are highest. [4]

If you want to build muscle mass, you can certainly take advantage of the short window during the month when muscles grow most easily to increase training load. However, perseverance throughout the whole month is much more important. Don’t forget to ensure an adequate intake of calories and nutrients to successfully prevent hormonal imbalance and maintain optimal levels of estrogen.

If you want to know what your optimal daily intake is, calculate it using our Online Energy Intake and Macronutrient Calculator.

Does estrogen help with muscle growth?

What role does estrogen play in weight loss?

Healthy estrogen levels are an important part of women’s health, so it is only logical that they also influence metabolism and body weight. This is also confirmed by studies showing that a normal level of this hormone is associated with a faster metabolism and optimal body weight.

Conversely, being overweight and having a higher proportion of body fat is linked in scientific studies to a lack of estrogen. We can typically see this again in postmenopausal women who have low estrogen levels.

So, an optimal amount of this sex hormone can not only help maintain a healthy weight but also facilitate weight loss. There are several ways in which it affects body fat distribution.

  • It helps maintain a normal metabolic rate. 
  • It affects appetite. A lack of estrogen is associated with increased appetite. Women may experience this, for example, every month at the end of the luteal phase, just before menstruation, when estrogen levels are naturally decreased.
  • It is also associated with better insulin sensitivity, which helps prevent excessive fat accumulation.
  • It also affects perceived energy levels or fatigue. An optimal amount of estrogen can thus help maintain a regular exercise routine and better your sports performance. [11]
What role does estrogen play in weight loss?

What is progesterone?

Progesterone is also a female sex hormone. It belongs to progestogens and is formed in the corpus luteum in the ovaries during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. During pregnancy, it is also produced by the placenta. This hormone plays an important role in overall female health, and is especially important during pregnancy. [2]

What are the functions of progesterone in the body?

Progesterone is important for overall women’s reproductive health but also has several other functions.

  • It regulates the menstrual cycle. Its level rises after ovulation during the luteal phase.
  • It prepares the uterus for potential pregnancy.
  • It creates an environment for the implantation of the egg.
  • It ensures the smooth course of the initial stages of pregnancy.
  • It helps maintain good bone density.
  • It supports the health of the breasts and is important for the development of mammary glands and the production of breast milk.
  • It influences mood.

How does low progesterone manifest?

Symptoms of low progesterone levels typically occur during the menstrual cycle. However, a deficiency in this hormone can also seriously manifest during pregnancy. What are the signs of its deficit?

  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Heavy bleeding during menstruation
  • Fertility problems
  • Mood swings, breast tenderness, and other symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Complications during pregnancy, possibly even miscarriage
How does a low progesterone level manifest?

What impact does progesterone have on muscle growth?

The role of progesterone in muscle growth is not as well-researched as that of testosterone or estrogen. However, current research suggests that it likely has an anabolic effect, which means that it can contribute to muscle growth or regeneration. [8]

What role does progesterone play in weight loss?

Similarly to muscle building, the role of progesterone in weight loss or weight maintenance is not well studied. However, we can say that overall hormonal balance is important for the body and its metabolism to function properly. An optimal level of progesterone is part of this balance. We can therefore assume that in order for the body to maintain normal weight or successfully shed kilograms, it needs to have the right level of this hormone. [14]

How do I find out if my hormone levels are normal?

The foundation of good health is hormonal balance. For both men and women, only then will the body function properly. However, how can you find out if everything is okay with your hormones? In the first place, potential symptoms can give you some indication.

For example, if a woman struggles with irregular menstruation, it is likely that estrogen or progesterone levels are not within norms. Similarly, if a man has problems with libido, experiences fatigue or mood swings, the cause may be low testosterone levels. For more serious symptoms, it’s always advisable to visit a doctor who can examine levels of your sex hormones.

What to do when hormone levels are not within norms?

If you suspect a hormonal imbalance, it is advisable to focus on an overall lifestyle change.

  • Treat yourself to a high-quality and varied diet that provides you with enough energy and all essential nutrients.
  • Don’t forget regular exercise. Activities such as strength training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are especially beneficial.
  • Work on managing stress as much as possible. Long-term stress is known for its negative effects on hormonal balance.
  • Ensure an adequate and quality sleep
  • You can take supplements that aim to support women’s or men’s health and hormone production.

If the hormone deficiency is too significant or accompanied by health complications, leave the solution to doctors. They can put you on hormone replacement therapy to help you regain control of your hormone levels.

What should you remember?

Sex hormones are important substances needed for the proper functioning of our bodies. Testosterone in men is essential, for example, for sperm production, while women need estrogen and progesterone for a healthy menstrual cycle or pregnancy. In addition, they also affect metabolism and can have a significant impact on your body composition. Normal levels of testosterone and estrogen have been shown to be particularly important when you want to successfully build muscle or lose weight.

Everyone should strive to maintain healthy levels of their sex hormones. A quality and varied diet with enough calories and nutrients or supplements directly targeting the support of these hormones can help you achieve this.

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[2] HILLER-STURMHÖFEL, S. - BARTKE, A. The Endocrine System. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761896/

[3] HUHTANIEMI, I.T. Andropause – lessons from the European Male Ageing Study. – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003426614000249

[4] CHIDI-OGBOLU, N. - BAAR, K. Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6341375/

[5] MULLIGAN, T. et al. Prevalence of hypogonadism in males aged at least 45 years: the HIM study. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1569444/

[6] MURRAY, M. Low Testosterone Research Analysis. – https://examine.com/conditions/low-testosterone/

[7] SINGH, P. Andropause: Current concepts. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4046605/

[8] SMITH, G.I. et al. Testosterone and Progesterone, But Not Estradiol, Stimulate Muscle Protein Synthesis in Postmenopausal Women. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3879672/

[9] TRAISH, A.M. Testosterone and weight loss: the evidence. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4154787/

[10] URBAN, R.J. Growth hormone and testosterone: anabolic effects on muscle. – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21778755/

[11] VIGIL, P. et al. The importance of estradiol for body weight regulation in women. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9677105/

[12] YOH, K. et al. Roles of Estrogen, Estrogen Receptors, and Estrogen-Related Receptors in Skeletal Muscle: Regulation of Mitochondrial Function. – https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/24/3/1853

[13] Estrogen - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538260

[14] Hormonal Weight Gain - Endocrinology Consultants, P.C. – https://www.endocrinewellness.com/hormonal-weight-gain/

[15] Menopause. – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/menopause

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[17] The Female Athlete Triad - PMC. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435916/

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