Does testosterone make you gain weight?

Raagini Yedidi, MD - Contributor Avatar

Reviewed by Raagini Yedidi, MD, 

Written by Amelia Willson 

Raagini Yedidi, MD - Contributor Avatar

Reviewed by Raagini Yedidi, MD, 

Written by Amelia Willson 

last updated: Jun 14, 2024

5 min read

Does testosterone cause weight gain? Thankfully, it doesn’t appear so. In fact, studies have linked higher testosterone levels with lower levels of body fat. 

Furthermore, lower testosterone, or low T, is associated with obesity. If you’ve been experiencing symptoms like fatigue, low energy, reduced sex drive, and weight gain (including gynecomastia, or the swelling of breast tissue in men), it’s possible they’re signs of low T

Read on as we explore the relationship between low testosterone and weight gain, and offer tips for boosting testosterone levels—including how testosterone replacement therapy (TPT) can affect weight gain (or loss).

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What is testosterone? 

Testosterone is a sex hormone involved in reproduction, fertility, and sexual development. It’s commonly thought of as a male sex hormone, even though women also have testosterone (just as men also have estrogen, the “female” sex hormone). Among other things, testosterone helps with the development of  male sex characteristics during puberty, such as:

  • The dropping of the testes

  • Increased testicle and penis size

  • Increased muscle mass

  • Facial and body hair development

  • Vocal changes, like a deeper voice

  • Increased sex drive 

  • Growth spurts

Testosterone levels start to drop as a normal part of aging, leading to a reduced sex drive, a loss of muscle mass, and increased body fat. 

Does testosterone cause weight gain? 

No, but low testosterone can. Testosterone-related weight gain can occur when there’s an imbalance in your hormone levels. When your testosterone levels drop, there’s an increased likelihood that you’ll experience an increase in body fat, a loss of muscle mass, and a slower metabolism. Let's take a look at the connection between low T and weight gain.

Increase in fat, including belly fat

Men with obesity or overweight are more likely to have lower testosterone levels than other men. In particular, low T has been linked to increased belly fat, or abdominal obesity. But, is obesity causing the low T, or is low T causing the obesity? Researchers believe part of the explanation lies in the hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels) that accompany obesity. So what does insulin have to do with testosterone? Let us explain. 

When there is insulin resistance, there may be reductions in other proteins that are responsible for binding testosterone in the blood which can lead to overall lower testosterone levels. More severe obesity also causes problems with the hormones upstream of testosterone and can result in lower levels. Of course, these are suggested mechanisms for how testosterone may be lower in obese individuals. That being said, it’s possible having low testosterone in the first place can contribute to increased obesity as well. 

Loss of muscle mass and strength

Complicating matters is the fact that low testosterone is also associated with reduced lean muscle mass in men, which may also lead to weight gain. Lower lean muscle mass means a lower basal metabolic rate, which means your body burns fewer calories at rest. 

Excess body weight also places further strain on your muscles, leading to weaker muscles and reduced functioning—which in turn makes it even more difficult to exercise and build your muscles back up to fight the weight gain. Animal studies have found that mice without the androgen receptor (which testosterone binds to) tend to move less. Meanwhile, mice with higher testosterone levels spend more time on their version of the gym, a hamster wheel.

Slower metabolism

Finally, low testosterone may weaken your metabolism, rounding out the trifecta of effects that can contribute to weight gain. While researchers are still working out the details of how testosterone is involved in your metabolism, a growing body of research suggests it plays an important role in fat and energy burning.

Moreover, having increased fat and less muscle is a recipe for a slower metabolism, which can lead to increased body weight and belly fat. It’s a vicious cycle.

How to boost testosterone 

There are a number of ways to naturally increase testosterone, including:

  • Testosterone supplements: Some natural supplements may help encourage an increase in testosterone production. For example, ashwagandha has been shown to boost both muscle strength and size, along with testosterone levels, in a small study of men in a strength training program. Of course, ask your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement to make sure it’s safe for you and your individual circumstances. 

  • Strength training: Resistance training—essentially, exercises that boost muscle through the use of resistance, via free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or your own body weight—has been shown to not only boost muscle mass and strength, but also reduce fat mass, which may help with low testosterone levels. Exercise is also linked to an increase in serum testosterone levels and a lower risk of ED. 

  • Diet: For men with obesity and low T due to obesity, reducing calories they consume can lead to an increase in testosterone levels, along with sexual function and insulin sensitivity. The Mediterranean diet has also been linked with an increase in testosterone, when combined with increased physical activity.

  • Stress: Animal studies have found that stress can lower testosterone levels. Try managing your stress levels through exercise, meditation, relaxation techniques, or therapy.

  • Sleep: Poor sleep is linked to increased stress, obesity, and lower testosterone levels. Getting better sleep on a regular basis can help you feel better physically and mentally during the day, which may relieve stress, make it easier to work out, and help with low T. 

Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT)

Another way to boost testosterone is with testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), sometimes called androgen replacement therapy. TRT is not just for anyone looking to get a boost in their testosterone. It’s specifically designed for men with low testosterone that has been diagnosed by a healthcare provider.  TRT helps raise testosterone levels to a normal range by supplementing your body with a pharmaceutical version of testosterone. Available through a prescription, you can get TRT in a number of ways, from topical patches and creams to injections, nasal gels, oral tablets, and more. 

In men with low testosterone, TRT has been shown to:

Studies have documented significant fat and weight loss from TRT in men with obesity. TRT also boosts mood, energy, and, quite simply, one’s zest for life, which can make it easier to have the motivation and energy to work out, which helps with weight loss. Some trials have found that TRT even increased a person’s walking distance (a measure researchers use to determine a person’s tolerance for exercise). 

For all its benefits, there are some risks and side effects to TRT that are worth being aware of, however. If you have one of the following conditions, your healthcare provider may advise against TRT as you may be more likely to experience serious side effects: 

  • Prostate cancer

  • Severe lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS)

  • Severe, untreated sleep apnea

  • Erythrocytosis (high red blood cell count)

  • Heart failure

  • High blood pressure 

Bottom line 

Testosterone and body weight seem to have an inverse relationship: low T tends to lead to weight gain, while higher testosterone levels lead to less body fat. A drop in testosterone may lead to weight gain due to an increase in fat, a decrease in lean muscle, and a slowing metabolism.

If you’re concerned about low T, talk to your healthcare provider. They can test you for low T and determine whether TRT is a possible treatment option. They can also coach you through ways to naturally boost testosterone including improving your sleep, managing stress levels and determining whether dieting is right for you. 

DISCLAIMER

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

June 14, 2024

Written by

Amelia Willson

Fact checked by

Raagini, Yedidi, MD


About the medical reviewer

Raagini Yedidi, MD, is an internal medicine resident and medical reviewer for Ro.

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