Can masturbation kill your gains? Here's the truth

Is self-pleasure (or sex) really that bad for your gains?

Written by
Gemma Kaczerepa
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
March 20, 2024
min read
Can masturbation kill your gains? Here's the truth
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In recent years, some have claimed that refraining from sex or masturbation can have a hugely positive effect on testosterone levels.

Known as the #NoFap movement, advocates say that higher testosterone leads to less stress, better sleep, and improved physical performance and gains. On the flip side, they argue that orgasm negatively impacts your testosterone and could lead to muscle loss.

But is self-pleasure (or sex) really that bad for your gains? This article aims to figure that out.

How does masturbation affect your testosterone levels?

Before we get to the ins and outs of masturbation and muscle growth, it’s useful to understand the role of testosterone — the well-known hormone that plays a part in sperm production, libido, bone mass and more [1].

Testosterone is also crucial for building muscles and it plays an important role in muscle protein synthesis.

It helps produce proteins that support muscle strength, and your body needs the right amount of the stuff to maintain and create more muscle mass [2].

Interestingly, a few studies have shown that orgasm — either a masturbation-induced orgasm or one achieved through sexual intercourse — can actually have an impact on your testosterone levels.

But this is where things get a little murky.

Several studies have demonstrated that orgasm can raise your testosterone levels [3]. A couple of others have shown it can lower your testosterone levels. And others still have found it has absolutely no effect on testosterone levels whatsoever [4][5][6].

Despite the conflicting results, some have been led to believe that masturbating (or having sex, for that matter) a few hours before doing resistance training could lead to a testosterone spike and, consequently, improved muscle growth [7].

Others — specifically those in the #NoFap camp — say abstaining from sexual activity will result in a testosterone boost and more muscle, and that orgasm could have a detrimental effect on muscle growth.

Let’s find out if there’s any truth to either theory.

Does masturbation decrease strength?

At this stage, there’s no concrete proof that masturbation either supports or hinders muscle growth.

As well, any effects on testosterone appear to be very brief.

Many of these studies have only looked at the temporary impacts of masturbation or sex on testosterone, not the long-term ones. And some have found that testosterone tends to return to baseline after only a few minutes.

Plus, the research cited by the #NoFap movement is very limited: there are only 2 studies mentioned, and both were done on fairly small groups of 10 and 28 men respectively.

This means there’s not enough scientific evidence to indicate that masturbation will kill your gains.

The bottom line? You can rest easy at the gym knowing that all your efforts towards muscle building probably won’t be hampered by your self-pleasure sessions.

Should you not masturbate before working out?

It’s pretty obvious by now that masturbating likely won’t impact your muscle growth.

However, masturbation has other effects on your body that may make workouts much easier, potentially enhancing your performance.

Research shows that masturbation releases endorphins — the hormones that contribute to positive feelings and a higher pain threshold [8].

It releases norepinephrine (which makes you feel alert), oxytocin (another happiness-inducing hormone that also reduces inflammation) and serotonin (a mood booster), too.

Your body also releases dopamine during self-pleasure sessions, a hormone that promotes motivation and concentration [9][10].

Combined, these hormones could very well produce a more positive response that makes you feel more enthused about working out.

Does masturbation impact muscle recovery?

Letting your muscles recover is just as important as building them.

When you do intense exercise, including weight lifting or resistance training, small tears form in your muscles. Your muscles then strengthen and grow as they repair. 

However, you need to rest to let your muscles heal.

Recovery increases blood flow to the site of the tears and provides nutrients to your muscles, which is why it’s such a crucial part of working out.

So, how does masturbation factor into the recovery process? Well, it can encourage blood flow — potentially helping to deliver more of the good stuff so your muscles can recuperate.

Masturbation can also encourage a better night’s sleep.

Sleep is another essential part of muscle recovery, as this is the period where your body releases the most human growth hormone (HGH). HGH helps synthesise collagen, which contributes to muscle, ligament and tendon repair. 

Tips for maintaining your testosterone levels

If you’re looking to keep your testosterone levels in check — or even boost them — there are several ways to go about it that don’t involve giving up your orgasms. Here are 8 of them:

1. Understand what can really affect testosterone

Low testosterone, also known as male hypogonadism, can affect anyone with testicles.

However, it’s not caused by sex or masturbation. Instead, it’s more likely to occur in people who are older, obese, or have complications from type 2 diabetes, HIV/AIDS, obstructive sleep apnoea or other chronic conditions [11].

Additional factors that can impact your testosterone include your genes, age, fitness level, sleep quality, lifestyle, and weight [12].

If weight is a concern for you, several weight loss solutions could help — including Pilot’s Metabolic Reset Program.

Offering a combination of medical treatment, one-on-one health coaching, access to an online community of others on the same journey and continuous support from a practitioner, the program delivers everything you need to lose weight and keep it off.

2. Have your levels checked

It also helps to know the signs of low testosterone so you can directly address the issue.

They include lower libido, fatigue, irritability, depression, and erectile dysfunction [13]. If you notice these, make an appointment with your GP to have your levels tested.

Your doc will perform a blood test to gauge your serum testosterone level. If it's not quite where it should be, they can then establish a plan to return your testosterone to normal levels.

3. Keep exercising

Exercise is necessary for maintaining healthy hormone levels and may actually boost testosterone according to some research.

Several studies have demonstrated that serum testosterone concentrations appear to increase within minutes or hours post-workout [14].

And you’ll probably be glad to know that resistance training is considered by many to be the best form of exercise for improving testosterone levels [14].

So, when you’re hitting the gym, make sure to prioritise free weights, deadlifts, squats, bench presses, and other exercises that make your muscles work hard.

4. Maintain a healthy diet

What you put into your body can have a major impact on your hormone levels.

A 2018 study on hypogonadism found that a diet filled with things like takeaway food, bread, pastries, desserts and dietary products, and low in dark green vegetables and homemade foods, was a good predictor of low testosterone [15].

Other foods that may support healthy hormone levels include fish, legumes, whole grains, and olive oil.

5. Lower your stress levels

Some research shows that chronic stress negatively affects testosterone synthesis, possibly contributing to infertility in males [16].

To reduce stress, engage in relaxing activities, keep a good work-life balance, eat well, exercise, meditate, practise deep breathing, and spend time with friends and family.

6. Prioritise good sleep

Besides supporting muscle recovery, sleep is essential for your hormonal health. In fact, inadequate sleep has been linked to low testosterone [17].

To improve your chances of getting a decent night’s rest, try and implement some good sleep hygiene habits.

These include limiting stimulants like caffeine, big meals, alcohol and screens right before bed, sleeping in a cool and dark environment, and doing things to relax yourself before you hit the sack. A cheeky self-pleasure sesh might also do the trick!

7. Avoid harmful habits

Do your best to stick to low to moderate amounts of alcohol each week.

Excessive drinking isn’t just bad for your health — it can also lower your testosterone levels.

Research shows that chronically consuming too much alcohol can negatively affect testosterone production in men [18].

8. Take a supplement

Experiencing low testosterone? A supplement like Pilot’s Testosterone Support can help you get back on track.

The formula is designed to target signs of low testosterone — such as decreased sex drive, low energy, mood changes, and ED — and combines several powerful ingredients to make you feel good again.

Image credit: Getty Images

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