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Do Steroids and Protein Shakes Affect Male Fertility?

Let’s talk steroids, protein shakes and fertility. In the pursuit of a beefed-up physique, many men incorporate protein shakes into their routine and some guys take it one step further with steroids. Whilst steroids are illegal in the UK, their presence in male fitness regimes is more common than you may think, with up to 1 million people (mainly men) admitting to using them. But could both steroids and protein shakes affect your chances of conceiving? Let’s get a pump on and find out.

Steroids and fertility

As you might imagine, there’s a good reason that anabolic steroids are illegal. The headline is they are bad for your health – but more specifically they are bad news for your fertility.

Steroids work by increasing the production of testosterone in the body – which is why men taking them find it easier to build muscle fast. You might assume that increased testosterone is good for fertility – low T can be a contributing factor to infertility – but you can have too much of a good thing.

When you use steroids, you are having an unnatural amount of testosterone pumped into your system. When this happens, your body will respond by stopping the production of testosterone, to help balance things out. This will have a knock-on effect on your sperm production – as testosterone is essential in this process. Studies have found that men who regularly use steroids are more likely to have a low sperm count and issues conceiving, so if you hope to become a father one day it’s important to avoid steroids completely – or stop immediately if you are currently taking them.

If you have taken steroids in the past, try not to panic. Effects from occasional use can be reversed, although it can often take a few months or even years before sperm production is back to normal. However, there are cases when steroid abuse results in completely fertility loss. If you are embarking on a fertility journey and know that this could be an issue, it’s best to be upfront with your doctor so they can give you the best advice to move forward.

Can protein shakes impact your fertility?

It’s probably no surprise that steroids can have a detrimental impact on your health, but what about protein shakes? Surely something that you can buy in health food shops couldn’t be bad for you? Well, that might not be strictly true.

Firstly, there have been reports of protein shakes actually containing anabolic steroids. Whilst this isn’t commonplace in the UK, in the US various studies have found illegal steroids within legal protein shakes.

If you are going to buy protein shakes, make sure you are purchasing from a reputable supplier and not from some social media ad promising you a buff body in 2 weeks – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But could even the most natural and trustworthy protein shake impact your fertility?

Whey protein and fertility

Whey is a protein found in dairy products and a popular foundation for many protein shakes – as it contains substantial levels of amino acids.

Whilst whey protein is generally safe, some studies have indicated that when men struggling with fertility stopped taking protein supplements, they had a significant increase in sperm concentration. Whilst further research needs to be done to ascertain exactly what in these protein shakes could have impacted sperm concentration – it’s worth considering what else could be in the shakes.

Even if they don’t contain anabolic steroids, they often do have other ingredients that aren’t great for your health (or fertility) like added sugars and artificial sweeteners – and excessive consumption of these has been linked to low sperm motility. Stevia is another natural sweetener that can often be found in protein shakes, and some animal studies have indicated that it could be linked to low male fertility.

Reduce the risk as you get fit

So, it’s clear that if you are trying to conceive, you should limit your use of protein shakes – and definitely stay clear of steroids. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t work towards your fitness goals. 

There are plenty of ways you can bulk up or slim down healthily – and they also support your fertility. Firstly, swap protein shakes for lean, healthy, high-protein foods such as chicken, white meat, natural yoghurt and beans. Not only will they be way better for you than shakes, but they are also packed full of sperm-friendly vitamins. Secondly, if you are after both muscles and great sperm health, make sure weight training is part of your fitness regime. They can help naturally trigger an increase of testosterone to help you increase muscle mass and keep you lean whilst also supporting sperm production!

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Wearing tight pants and underwear

Studies show that men who wear looser underwear have higher sperm concentration and total sperm count compared to men who wear tighter underwear. So, lose the tight clothes and wear something loose to give your testicles some air.

CONCLUSION: learn more about how heat can affect sperm quality here.

Stress

Besides higher mortality rate and various diseases, stress is associated with low sperm quality. Stress is known to be associated with lower testosterone levels and oxidative stress with both playing an essential role in producing and maintaining healthy sperm cells.

CONCLUSION: If you feel stressed, we recommend you get some help so you can have a balanced mental health. For a stress management guide, download the ExSeed app for free and start your personalized action plan today.

Physical activity

Scientific studies show that men who are physically active have better semen parameters than men who are inactive. Fertility specialists also state that regular physical activity has beneficial impact on sperm fertility parameters and such a lifestyle can enhance the fertility status of men.

Prioritizing exercise can help improve your overall health and result in healthy, fast swimming sperm cells that have good chances of fertilizing an egg.

CONCLUSION: Try incorporating exercise in your weekly schedule to you ensure exercising at least twice weekly. We recommend a combination of cardio training and strength exercise. Read more about exercise and male fertility on our blog.

Nutrition

Fast Food
Processed foods damage the health of sperm-producing cells and cause oxidative stress, which lead to poorer sperm quality. Heavy consumption of junk food (every week) can increase the likelihood of infertility since men who consume vast amounts of unhealthy food are at risk of having poor sperm quality. Besides harming your fertility, junk food enlarges your waistline, harms your cardiovascular system, kidneys, and more.

Vegetables
Eating more fruit and vegetables can increase your sperm concentration and motility. It’s important that you consume a healthy diet filled with antioxidants and that you eat vegetables every day. Foods such as apricots and red bell peppers are high in vitamin A, which improves male fertility by nurturing healthier sperm. Men who are deficient in this vitamin tend to have slow and sluggish sperm.

Sugary snacks/beverages: several times a week Excessive consumption of high sugar items can lead to oxidative stress, which negatively impacts testosterone levels and sperm motility. Sugary snacks and beverages are also highly associated with obesity and low fertility.
CONCLUSION: To boost sperm quality, stay away from fast food, processed food, and sugary snacks or beverages. You need to implement a healthy prudent diet filled with necessary superfoods needed for good sperm production. Check out our guide to Male Fertility Superfoods. For personalized guidance and support on how you can start improving your sperm health, check out the Bootcamp.

Heat

Direct heat can inhibit optimal sperm production and cause Sperm DNA damage. Sperm cells like environments that are a couple of degrees lower than body temperature. Avoid overheating from warm blankets, seat warmers, heat from your laptop, hot showers, and saunas.

Cigarette smoking

The exposure to tobacco smoke has significant negative effects on semen quality. The damage of cigarettes and nicotine of course depends on how many cigarettes you smoke per day and for how long, but even low usage (up to 10 cigarettes / day) can inhibit healthy sperm production.  

CONCLUSION: Stay as far away from cigarette smoking as possible if you care about your general health and your fertility. Read more here.

Cell phone

When you have your cell phone in your front pocket, your testicles are exposed to electromagnetic radiation, which studies have shown to damage the sperm cells. Put your phone in the back pocket of your pants or in your jacket pocket.

BMI

There is a clear association between obesity and reduced sperm quality. At least part of the reason for this is that obese men may have abnormal reproductive hormonal profiles, which can impair sperm production and lead to infertility. 

A BMI higher than 30 can lead to several processes in the body (overheating, increase in oxidative stress in the testes, sperm DNA damage, erectile dysfunction) that can have a negative impact on male fertility. This can result in problems when trying to conceive.  

CONCLUSION: BMI is one of the risk factors that influence semen quality and, for example, sperm motility.  

Alcohol

A beer or glass of wine now and then do not really harm sperm quality. But excess alcohol drinking (more than 20 units per week) can reduce the production of normally formed sperm needed for a successful pregnancy.

CONCLUSION: If you want to stay safe, stay under 14 units of alcohol per week. For more information on how alcohol can affect male fertility, take a look at our blog: “Alcohol and Sperm Quality”.

Age

Studies show that women younger than 35 and men younger than 40 have a better chance of getting pregnant. Men can produce sperm cells almost through their entire life, but the sperm cell DNA is more fragile and prone to damage after the age of 40.

As men age, their testes tend to get smaller and softer resulting in a decline in sperm quality and production. These changes are partly because of an age-related decrease in testosterone level, which plays a very important role in sperm

production. Higher male age (>40 years) is not only associated with a decline in sperm production but also with increased sperm DNA fragmentation and worsened morphology (shape) and motility (movement). These negative effects make the sperm cells less qualified for egg fertilization.

CONCLUSION: with an age under 40, you shouldn’t have to worry much about age as a factor in itself. However, studies have shown a slow decline after the age of 30-35 years

and if you are above 40 years of age, your sperm quality can be affected due to increased sperm DNA damage resulting in a decrease of sperm motility and concentration. Remember that you cannot evaluate the quality of a sperm sample by just looking at it – this requires a sperm analysis.