by Vince DelMonte
A date with Palmela HANDerson; hand to gland combat; badgering the witness; liquidating the inventory; playing five against one. Given that an overwhelming majority of men masturbate at some point in their lives , it’s no surprise that we’ve come up with a plethora of witty euphemisms to describe the act. And, I suppose, I shouldn’t be surprised how frequently I get bombarded by questions from guys wondering if working their “love muscle” is hindering their ability to increase the size of their skeletal muscles. In short, they want to know whether masturbating kills your gains, and in this article I set out to answer that very question.
Unless you’re really poor at it, the end result of masturbation is ejaculation and orgasm. Fear of losing out on precious muscle gains typically stems from two similar ideas: (1) ejaculate contains zinc and, therefore, ejaculation can cause zinc deficiency (which can lead to decreased testosterone levels); and (2) testosterone levels decrease following ejaculation (as a direct result of hormonal changes during orgasm). Sounds scary! Before we get too hot and bothered, though, let’s take a closer look at these ideas to find out whether they have merit.
Though most of the nutrients lost during ejaculation are in trace amounts, a significant amount of zinc (around 5 mg) is lost. Depending on the frequency of ejaculation (and baseline zinc levels), it is certainly possible to create a zinc deficiency via masturbation. Zinc happens to be one of the major micronutrients necessary for the growth and maintenance of muscle tissue as it plays a key role in regulating testosterone levels in healthy males . As such, it is wise to increase your zinc intake with increased ejaculatory frequency to ensure your gains will be alive and well.
With the zinc issue out of the way, let’s look now to testosterone. After all, it’s the most anabolic muscle-building hormone in your entire body and one of the main factors determining how much muscle you can ultimately build. Anyone with even a passing interest in building muscle is (or should be) concerned with maintaining a healthy level of testosterone. Well, I’m happy to report that you can have your orgasms and build muscle too—masturbation and ejaculation do not appear to have any significant long term positive or negative effect on blood testosterone levels.
That isn’t to say that ejaculation doesn’t have any effect on testosterone levels, but rather that any effects are too small to result in actual differences. In short, fluctuations in serum testosterone levels due to masturbation and ejaculation (and abstaining from the same) are both too minor and too short-lived to result in any differences in your muscle gains.
In one study, after three weeks of abstaining from ejaculation, a group of ten men experienced a minor (though clinically insignificant) increase in testosterone relative to their baseline levels. Further, the researchers found that, after the period of sexual abstinence, masturbation and ejaculation did not result in any change in testosterone levels .
In another study, researchers found that a clear testosterone peak (a spike of 45% over baseline) occurred after seven days of abstinence from ejaculation but returned nearly to baseline levels by the eighth day. While a 45% spike sounds like serious business, participants’ testosterone levels were still well within the normal range of 300-1,000 ng/dl .
Let’s turn our attention to a fact of life that manufacturers of testosterone-boosting supplements don’t want you to know: the fluctuation of testosterone levels within the normal physiological range does not affect muscle growth. Simply put, it is unlikely that a minor to moderate boost to your testosterone levels will do anything for your gains. In order for you to see any significant difference in muscle growth, you need your testosterone levels to skyrocket above the normal range—and that’s just not going to happen by abstaining from sex or masturbation or swallowing some supplements.
Getting a minor to moderate boost to your T levels isn’t useless, per se. If your testosterone levels are somewhere near the middle of the normal range and you increase them towards the higher end you may notice a boost in libido and just generally feel a little better, but it won’t enable you to build more muscle.
In 2003, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science conducted a 20-week study with healthy men ages 18-35 and administered different dosages of exogenous testosterone to some and varying amounts of drugs that inhibit natural testosterone production to others. While higher testosterone levels did produce greater muscle gains, it wasn’t until participants’ levels surpassed the top of the normal range by about 30%—that is, around 1300 ng/dl—that the difference became significant. Small, insignificant differences in muscle growth were observed between subjects within the normal range—even between guys on the lower and higher ends of the range .
So, what’s the key take away from the research? Potential testosterone level fluctuations in either direction (whether induced by ejaculation, abstinence from ejaculation, or testosterone boosters) are virtually meaningless when it comes to your gains. The one possible caveat to this is the relationship between zinc and testosterone levels. Frequent masturbation (and/or sex) could lead to a zinc deficiency which, in turn, could result in lower testosterone levels. Even so—as we just learned—the change would need to bring you below the normal range in order to kill your gains. The other key point here, then, is— especially if you’re an upper-echelon ejaculator—to be sure you eat a zinc-rich diet and consider supplementing with zinc.
As we have seen, masturbating does not have much potential to affect your gains at all, let alone provide them a death sentence. This is the perfect opportunity, however, to discuss something that I believe does have the potential to negatively affect your gains: worrying about the minutiae or, as I like to say, “majoring in the minors.” Our brains are extraordinarily powerful. Worrying about minor things like masturbating killing your gains results in psychological stress which can absolutely have a very real effect on training outcomes. After all, experts haven’t dubbed stress “the silent killer” for nothing!
Can you eliminate stress from your life entirely? Of course not—but it should be pretty darn easy to quit panicking about masturbation or whether to use creatine pre- or post-workout or [insert random fear about something probably irrelevant to building muscle killing your gains here]. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t major in the minors. Make sure your training, nutrition and recovery are on point and the rest will take care of itself. Now, if you’re so inclined, feel free to take care of yourself without the underlying fear of killing your gains. Just take it easy—five on one is hardly a fair fight.
 EXTON MS, KRÜGER TH, BURSCH N, ET AL. ENDOCRINE RESPONSE TO MASTURBATION-INDUCED ORGASM IN HEALTHY MEN FOLLOWING A 3-WEEK SEXUAL ABSTINENCE. WORLD JOURNAL OF UROLOGY. 2001;19(5):377–382.
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