By: Lacey Dunn
What if I told you that the secret to building muscle and balancing your hormones was found in eating your vegetables? In order to maximize your muscle building potential, you have to do more than hit the gym and consume your daily protein. Building muscle relies on a balance of proper nutrition, training, recovery, and hormonal balance! Improper hormone balance can be the tricky devil tying you down from reaching your fitness and physique goals and can also cause major health problems. Vegetables contain various amounts of phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that all play major roles in your bodies metabolic processes, including hormone production and regulation. A diet full of these power packed foods can help contribute to lifelong vitality and happy hormones!
Before diving into how vegetables can influence your hormone levels, we must first lay the foundation for why hormonal balance is essential in the body. Two major hormones in the body are testosterone and estrogen. Men tend to have higher levels of testosterone while females have higher estrogen, and these hormones, along with many others, are needed in proper balance or they can cause adverse side effects. Too much or too little of either can create an obstacle in reaching your health and fitness goals and can contribute to increasing your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. High estrogen can lead to muscle weakness, fat gain, lack of energy, irregular menstrual cycles, and infertility. Too little testosterone leads to muscle weakness, low libido, loss of muscle mass, fat gain, and hair loss. It is best to have your hormone levels checked by a doctor to ensure balanced levels. Eating a variety of nutrients that help to regulate these levels in your body is great way to prevent decline or excess hormones in the body, as well as contribute to overall health. Emerging science shows that many vegetables have the capability of helping to regulate hormone health as well as prevent the risk of a variety of chronic diseases.
Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and broccoli have power hormonal effects in additional to being potential cancer fighting fiends. Upon consumption, the compound glucobrassicin is broken down and converted to indole-3-carbinol, which then combines in the stomach to form active compounds such as 3,3’-diindolylmethane (DIM) and cyclic trimer (CT). DIM has been shown to inhibit the transcription of estrogen-responsive genes, acting as an indirect modulator of estradiol-mediated mitotic activity. Rajoria et al. concluded that DIM modulates estrogen metabolism by generating metabolites with antiestrogenic activity. In one with high estrogen levels, the effects of cruciferous consumption could help to naturally reduce estrogen and its metabolites, as well as potentiate chemopreventative and chemotherapeutic properties. It must be noted that glucosinolates are water- soluble compounds, and in order to receive these beneficial effects, one should make sure to use cooking methods that prevent nutrient loss, such as steaming or microwaving.
Vegetables that prevent the production of aromatase also work to reduce the conversion of androgens to estrogens in the body, helping to maintain proper testosterone levels. Eating foods high in vitamin C such as peppers, tomatoes, and grapefruit, as well as mushrooms are a great way to prevent this conversion from occurring. Vitamin C also helps the body process carnitine, a fatty acid that plays a major role in lipid metabolism. By consuming foods high in Vitamin C in proper quantities, one would be helping their body to both regulate hormones, build muscle, and metabolize fat!
Testosterone can be further manipulated in the diet to aid in promoting fat loss and tissue growth. Testosterone naturally decreases with age, and preventing a reduction of testosterone can decrease the visceral fat accumulation that can occur with aging. Testosterone aids in fat metabolism, bone health, reproduction, and is a major key player when trying to increase muscle and strength. Though high testosterone in women can have negative consequences, testosterone is essential at optimal levels for both men and women. A diet full of test-boosting foods can help ensure your body in being a fat burning, muscle building machine. Testosterone boosting vegetables include cruciferous vegetables, which previously described aid in reducing estrogen activity, and spinach, which is packed with magnesium essential for hormone regulation. Magnesium is responsible for converting inactive T4 in the thyroid to active T3 as well as is involved in the creation of hormones progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. 1 cup of spinach contains 150mg on magnesium. 2 cups of spinach a day could potentially increase free and total testosterone values based on a study in Biological Trace Element Research. Other important nutrients related to testosterone include vitamin D3 and zinc, which can be consumed via pumpkin seeds, shrimp, flax seeds, chickpeas, and cocoa powder!
Getting your daily iron is also as important as lifting it. Iron plays a major role in thyroid functioning, which regulates your metabolic rate and helps to regulate T4 and T3 hormone levels. Iron deficiency reduces T4 to T3 conversion, which leads to metabolism reduction, iron deficiency anemia, and hypothyroidism. Having balanced thyroid levels will help to balance the other hormone levels in your body. The storage form of iron, ferritin, must be at optimal levels for hormonal balance and proper thyroid functioning. Supplemental iron is poorly utilized by the body, therefore dietary iron intake must be sufficient to prevent iron deficiency. Iron comes in two types, heme and non heme iron. Sources of heme iron come from animal sources such fish, meat and poultry. Non-heme sources include leafy greens like spinach and kale, dried beans, fortified cereals, and pumpkin seeds. The International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research states that consumption of vitamin C and reduction of phytates and tannins aid in iron absorption. Meeting the DRI for iron (18 mg in females 19-50 years old and 8 mg in males 19 years and over), is essential for thyroid function and the transfer of oxygen in your blood.
Estrogen is processed by the liver, where it can be then excreted or reabsorbed in the bloodstream. Lack off of fiber in the diet, as well as poor gut flora, can cause problems in the excretion of estrogen, causing it to be reabsorbed and potentially leading to estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance can lead to a variety of chronic diseases, as well as cause mood swings, weight gain, depression, and irregular menstrual cycles. The Journal of Nutrition suggests that fiber may help to lower estrogen and progesterone activity by reducing endogenous estrogen concentration through fecal excretion. High fiber food sources can aid to increase gut motility and reduce the risk of estrogen reabsorption. High fiber vegetables include broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, kale, carrots, and squash. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism also suggests that physical activity may aid in reduction of estrogen. Other ways to reduce estrogen levels in the body include reducing phytoestrogens that may increase the amount of testosterone conversion to estrogen, and limiting found xenoestrogens found in the environment. By getting your daily dose of fiber and a good gym session, you are helping to promote healthy hormone levels as well as getting your metabolism moving!
Along with a variety of vegetables, a diet full of nutrient dense carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats is essential for proper hormonal function. Reduction of cortisol, which is the stress hormone in the body, also contributes to balanced hormone levels. High cortisol can reduce testosterone as well as break down lean muscle tissue and prevent fat mobilization in the body. The key to proper hormone functioning lies in getting a balance of essential nutrients, and through lifestyle factors and a proper diet, one can harness their hormones to ensure physiological stability. By mastering your nutrition and utilizing the power of vegetables, you are setting yourself up for success, enhancing your overall health, and creating an environment for happy hormones!
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