(Article Medically reviewed by Dr. Zac Hyde M.D)
Exercise Stress and Erections
Based on my personal experience, overtraining and erectile dysfunction is definitely a thing.
And it makes sense if you think about it, because reproduction is usually the last thing on your mind when you feel like crap.
Or put another way, a shaky, agitated and stressed out dude probably isn’t going to be bedding down a hottie anytime soon.
And it’s interesting, because in my case, routines that wouldn’t have fazed me 10 years ago can easily wipe me out now if I’m not careful.
This is especially true when lifting heavy or when doing hard interval training.
The way I see it, this just comes along with the territory once you’ve been around the block a few times.
Young dudes definitely handle exercise stress better than seasoned dudes and there’s not much we can do about that.
Fortunately, I’ve finally figured out that I can still work hard in the morning and get it up later that night just like the old days.
I just needed to tweak a couple of things.
Overtraining and Erectile Dysfunction (Rest & Recovery)
All the advice I ignored as a young buck about the importance of rest and recovery now has my undivided attention.
And it’s not unusual for me these days to take 3 full days off after a hard routine.
It’s also not unusual for me to head to the park for a round of pull-ups, only to quit after one rep.
And I know it’s quitting time because that first rep didn’t come easy.
And if I push the envelope and go for it anyway I may as well say bye-bye boner for a couple of days, because he’s gonna check out.
Tweak number two was incorporating long rest periods into my routines.
And by long I mean 5 minutes between heavy compound sets which is twice as long as I’m used to.
These extended rest periods give my central nervous system plenty of time to recover between sets.
And since incorporating them into my routines, I haven’t gotten the shakes even once.
Another advantage of long rest periods is, they give you plenty of time to fully restore your strength so you can go hard each and every set.
And as a result my pull-up, dip and squat numbers have all continued to climb with beautiful consistency.
Before I send you over to David I want close with a quick suggestion to the older dudes who may be reading this.
Stop chasing down ridiculously low body fat numbers!
Surveys with women have proven that 8% body fat and 12 pack abs aren’t the turn on many men think they are.
Also, when you diet down that low, you will pay a significant testosterone penalty so you’re going to lose the desire to breed with those women anyway.
Remember, aggressive dieting is stressful in the exact same way that aggressive overtraining is.
So the key with diet and exercise, especially in men over 40 is, push yourself but make sure you know your limits.
And a 1000 calorie diet of lean chicken breast and broccoli after a 3 hour workout doesn’t qualify.
Now here’s David with much more information on overtraining and ED.
Overtraining and Erectile Dysfunction Part 2:
Regular physical activity is excellent for the body and mind.
Weight training, running, riding a bike, and similar activities strengthen the heart, promote feelings of well-being, contribute to healthy testosterone levels, and improve a person’s sexual life.
Unfortunately, doing too much exercise can have the opposite effect. Overtraining increases the risk of muscle loss, sleep issues, chronic stress, and sexual dysfunction.
Read on to find out why that’s the case and what you can do to protect yourself.
Overtraining and ED Studies
Overtraining is a systemic event that impacts your health on many levels. Most notably, pushing yourself too hard elevates stress hormones and suppresses testosterone production.
These physiological changes explain why overtrained men often suffer from severe erectile dysfunction.
Aside from an inability to achieve and maintain a firm erection, overtrained men are likely to experience low libido, decreased penile sensitivity, delayed ejaculation, and weaker climaxes.
A recent paper looked at the impact of physical activity on male and female sex hormones. The authors suggest that suppressed testosterone production can result from too much training, not eating enough, or a combination of the two.
Changes in testosterone levels appear to be temporary and giving your body a break can reverse the condition after a while.
Unfortunately, there seems to be another, more persistent form of overtraining-induced hypogonadism: Exercise Hypogonadal Male Condition.
Unlike traditional overtraining that goes away after taking time off, getting enough sleep, and increasing your calorie intake, the above condition appears more persistent.
Resolving it is much more challenging because many men who deal with the state are endurance athletes.
In another paper, researchers surveyed over 1,000 active men to examine the relationship between exercise habits and libido. The subjects were endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, etc.).
Researchers found a strong correlation between high-intensity endurance sessions and a lower sexual drive. In contrast, subjects that performed more moderate exercise sessions reported higher libido.
The authors concluded:
“Clinicians who treat male patients for sexual disorders and/or council couples on infertility issues should consider the degree of endurance exercise training a man is performing as a potential complicating factor.”
Now let’s now go over several more reasons why overtraining could increase the risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
3 Reasons Why Overtraining Leads to Erectile Dysfunction
1. Overtraining Taxes the Central Nervous System
CNS fatigue is the reduced performance of neurons in the brain, resulting in impaired exercise performance and muscle function.
There are several theories for CNS fatigue and its origins, and it all relates to external factors and their impact on the nervous system.
One notable reason for CNS fatigue is overtraining. Training too much can lead to psychological stress and catabolism (tissue breakdown).
One contributing factor to CNS fatigue is the higher serotonin production during exercise.
The problem is that rapid production of the neurotransmitter can lead to l-tryptophan depletion (the amino acid necessary for the process).
As a result, you’re more likely to experience depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, brain fog, and sleep issues.
Pushing yourself too hard for too long can also increase cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline production, contributing to adrenal fatigue.
Cortisol is vital for good health, but chronic elevations can suppress testosterone levels, lead to water retention, and promote muscle breakdown.
These mechanisms can explain why overtraining often leads to fatigue, depression, irritability, low motivation, sleep problems, and loss of morning wood.
2. Overtraining Can Suppress Testosterone Production
Research suggests that excessive physical activity suppresses testosterone levels in healthy men.
The drop in testosterone production likely contributes to some common symptoms related to overtraining: low motivation, depression, loss of sexual desire, etc.
First, as discussed in the previous point, too much training can lead to abnormally high cortisol, leading to a drop in testosterone levels.
Second, other research indicates that testosterone production can take a dive because of inhibitory factors.
We also can’t forget about the impact of overtraining on sleep. Training too much can lead to adrenal fatigue, leaving you tired but unable to fall and stay asleep at night.
Given the crucial importance of sleep for testosterone production, it’s no surprise that excessive training contributes to hypogonadism.
3. Overtraining Leads to Poor Sleep
As briefly mentioned in previous points, a notable drawback of overtraining is the reduction in sleep quality and length.
Training too much can increase levels of the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline, leaving you wired and irritable.
Poor sleep can further contribute to overtraining issues because your body isn’t getting the recovery time it needs.
Even if you choose to scale back your training, it might be a while before stress hormones return to a healthy level, allowing you to get enough deep sleep at night.
The problem with sleep deprivation and erectile dysfunction is two-fold:
First, poor sleep can lead to a drop in testosterone levels, which would impact sexual desire, erectile strength, sperm quality, and other parameters.
Second, sleep deprivation can make you moody, tired, and unmotivated to do anything. Even if you can perform sexually, you might choose to postpone the act for when you feel better.
How to Avoid Overtraining
1. Stimulate, Don’t Annihilate
The first step to training without hindering your sexual health is to stimulate instead of annihilating.
Your workouts should be challenging and promote progress, but you shouldn’t feel wiped out. Some muscle soreness is also okay, but not to the point where it lasts more than two to three days.
Regardless of what training you pick, train within your limits and always leave some energy in the tank.
The sweet spot is to feel tired after exercise but still have the energy for other things like work, studying, running errands, etc.
In the case of endurance exercise, that could mean doing 30 to 40-minute sessions at a moderate intensity.
For weight training, do up to 15 weekly sets for larger muscle groups (chest, back, quadriceps, etc.) and up to 10 for smaller ones (shoulders, biceps, triceps, etc.).
2. Maintain a Healthy Diet
A good diet can promote sexual health. Your body is incredibly complex and needs a wide range of nutrients to function optimally, produce hormones, and stay healthy.
First, eating more whole foods, getting enough protein, and having enough calories are necessary for recovering after working out.
As a result, you would be at a lower risk of becoming overtrained and suffering from the associated effects: low libido, impaired sexual function, fatigue, sleep issues, etc.
Second, eating more nutritious foods puts you at a lower risk of nutrient deficiencies that can impact testosterone production and well-being.
For example, research suggests that zinc and magnesium deficiencies can lead to lower testosterone levels.
You should also avoid rapid and chronic dieting because caloric restriction can suppress anabolic hormones (including testosterone), lead to chronic fatigue, and impair sexual function.
3. Get at Least Seven Hours of Sleep Per Night
Getting adequate sleep is the third beneficial way to prevent overtraining.
Your body needs sleep to produce essential hormones (including growth hormone and testosterone), flush toxins, and repair muscle damage.
According to most guidelines, we should aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night.
Up to eight hours might be necessary if you’re following a particularly demanding training program or doing an overreaching phase.
4. Take The Occasional Deload / Recovery Week
Taking days off from training is necessary for recovery, but it isn’t always enough. The longer you push yourself, the more stress you accumulate, and the more likely you are to overtrain.
One beneficial tactic for reducing overtraining risk is taking the occasional deload or recovery week.
A deload week is a period, usually seven days, where you purposefully do light training to promote active recovery.
For example, you can cut your training duration in half. A recovery week is similar, but you’re taking time off training entirely.
You should take a deload or recovery week every six to ten weeks of serious and consistent training.
5. Focus on Resistance Exercise
Any form of exercise can cause overtraining, leading to a reduction in testosterone levels and a lower sex drive. But, endurance exercise appears more taxing, especially when done for too long.
First, endurance exercise can be particularly draining because it doesn’t typically include rest periods like strength training does.
You’re training at a lower intensity but for more extended periods, and you normally don’t stop until you’re done.
Second, endurance training leads to greater caloric expenditure, which can contribute to fatigue and a low desire to have sex.
Weight training is an excellent alternative because it provides a controlled stimulus to all major muscle groups in your body.
It also includes regular rest intervals, making each workout less physically and psychologically demanding to handle.
Cardio is still beneficial, and you should include some into your training program, but be mindful of:
- Duration – avoid doing long and draining sessions; do light and refreshing 20-30-minute workouts
- Modality – go for less challenging activities that don’t lead to as much fatigue: fast and incline walking, light jogging, cycling, etc.
- Timing – do your cardio on rest days; alternatively, do it in the morning and lift weights in the evening (or vice-versa)
Overtraining and Erectile Dysfunction Conclusion
Overtraining is a real condition that can lead to various issues, including low sexual drive and erectile dysfunction.
Research is yet to fully unravel how overtraining impacts us, but we’ve discussed several of the most obvious causes.
The great news is that you can use various tactics to train consistently, keep overtraining at bay, and reach your fitness goals and erection quality goals.