Testosterone or Estrogen – Power In the Martial Arts?

By Christina Major  | 5 May 2021   

You might think turning to hormone supplements might get you bigger muscles or more speed. But that's just not the case. If your hormones aren't correctly balanced for what your body needs, it could cause lethargy, low sex drive, heart problems, and even death. It's as much of a problem if you have too much as if you have not enough.

Sex Hormones and Muscle Building

There are three primary sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. They each work in both men and women.

In a woman, a normal testosterone range is 8 to 60 nanograms per deciliter. Men biologically have more testosterone, between 240 and 915 nanograms per deciliter. You can see the difference.

Estrogen's the primary hormone that brings on feminine traits, fat storage, metabolism control, and mental acuity. On the other hand, testosterone focuses more on masculine characteristics, sex drive, muscle building, and energy utilization. They're both vital, in both sexes, for proper health. Of course, they're not the only hormones.

The other hormones in your body, such as serotonin, dopamine, insulin, cortisol, thyroid hormones, and the nearly 100 different types of hormones used in small concentrations throughout the body, are dependent on the sex hormones once a person goes through puberty.

It's keeping those hormones in the proper balance that makes a massive difference to your health.

And here's the big thing to remember. More testosterone does not equal bigger muscles, only how the muscles are distributed. Your muscle strength and size is dependent on many other factors, including the long-term utilization of testosterone, bone density and distribution, and the utilization of calcium during fetal development and childhood growth before the age of 10.

Even with the popularization of transgender fighters in MMA, biological males will always have more muscle on their bodies than biological females.

Fallon Fox, a transgender MMA fighter, broke the orbital bone around her opponent Tamikka Brents' eye. While these types of injuries do occur during fights, they are exceptionally rare in female fights. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is becoming more common.

Hormone Replacement Therapy and Testosterone Supplements

Unless you've been tested by a doctor specializing in hormone therapy, we do not recommend taking testosterone supplements. The studies are out there that show when young men take testosterone supplements, it does not increase muscle mass and puts a sometimes fatal strain on the heart.

One of the most famous studies regarding hormones comes from bodybuilders who use testosterone to build muscle. The study showed the bodybuilders did not actually produce any more muscle than they otherwise would have but showed an enlargement of the heart and decreased function. It greatly increased the chance of a heart attack.

Women who take testosterone supplements develop masculine traits. It can reduce breast size, grow facial hair, and deepen her voice.

Cris "Cyborg" Justino is a perfect example. She was the face of women's MMA until she tested positive for taking testosterone therapy and received a suspension. She was well known for her vicious attacks against other women and being highly aggressive in the fighting ring.

Now, if you're a little bit older and your hormones are naturally decreasing, actual hormone replacement therapy is different.

The effect is even more significant in women. It's much more challenging to test women for low testosterone, but a tiny amount of testosterone in her hormone replacement therapy significantly improves her life. It can increase muscle mass, bone density, mood, and sex drive. It also decreases the risk of many health problems, including heart disease, cancer, and depression.

To get the right mix of hormones, you must go through a doctor and allow for the appropriate testing.

Getting Back In Balance

Taking supplements to raise your testosterone level artificially invites health problems in most cases. Ideally, you should move towards your ideal hormone match. This lets you build muscle in a healthy way without sacrificing heart or reproductive health.

As you get a little older, this might include hormone replacement therapy. Specifically, you want to seek a practitioner who will test your hormone levels and prescribe a broad mix of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. That way, your ideal levels are matched.

Testosterone vs Estrogen Production Levels
But, you can use supplements that let your body naturally balance those hormones without the need or risks that come with hormone therapy.

Here's a couple of tips you can apply right now to help your body:
  • Choose a diet that's rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid artificial protein supplementation that decreases testosterone
  • Choose an ideal mix of vitamins and supplements – find a sports nutritionist that can help you with the appropriate balance
  • Choose supplements that are a mix of herbs and specific proteins that support hormonal health

A Legend's Perspective

Some supplements will help you to naturally return to your normal testosterone levels, like the ones Randy Couture uses. He has publicly stated his position on this as well:

"Well, I understand it; there is this whole movement out there for anti-aging. And it started out with guys in their 50's who, naturally, as you get older, your testosterone levels deplete. Your body quits producing more. They want to feel, recover and do the things they did when they were younger.

Combat Arts Randy Couture Testosterone

Source: @Randy_Couture

I understand that. But, I think there are natural ways to jump-start your body's own production rather than put an external source of testosterone in your body.

I think putting the external in only compounds the issues that you're already having. Obviously, Chael and Marquardt, there have been several athletes that have used TRT. I think for them, it's not a function of really having depleted levels of testosterone;

it's wanting to have testosterone levels of a 21-year-old again because when you were 21, let's face it, you recover better, you're probably going to compete better, especially if your 32 and you have that experience going into a fight.

Pushing the Boundaries

So, I understand it; I chose a little bit different path in trying to find natural ways to boost my own testosterone levels and my body's own production. I used the XCAP program, resveratrol, those natural products that forced my body to produce more, and seeing a doctor that's going to regulate where your levels are… I just think there are alternative ways of doing things. If you're that concerned about really monitoring where your levels really are, make sure that you don't cross that line.

I want my body to do what it's supposed to do. Obviously, as I get older, it gets harder to do that, but I can still make it to do it; I just got to be more diligent about it. That's just my opinion. 

That's one of the reasons why I formed the XCAP supplement program. I have been using it for seven years; I competed till I was almost 49; I've probably pushed it farther than anyone is going to push it for a while."

Need a Boost?

Do you fall within the category of needing a supplement to boost your testosterone production? The Power of Hormones is a step-by-step guide that helps women take control of their hormone health.

It was by a woman who suffered from various hormone imbalances and unsuccessfully tried several treatments. The Power of Hormones is an easy-to-read book designed to help all women at any stage of life.

While your testosterone or estrogen needs may change with age, "The Fighter’s Nutritional Blueprint: Creating a Combat Arts Ready Body" can assist your in your fitness journey no matter what stage in life you are in.

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About the author

Christina Major is a Holistic Nutritionist, Naturopath, and herbalist. She owns Crystal Holistic Health, a nutritional consulting and writing business specializing in complementary and alternative medicine. She has over a decade of helping people find health, lose weight, and get off medications. Christina has practiced martial arts for 18 years. Staring with an eclectic group in college, she practiced Tang Soo Do and Tai Kwan Do for three years after graduation. After moving to Central PA, she began studying Taijutsu where she obtained a 2nd-degree black belt and studied the art directly under the Soke and top Shihan in Japan.

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