One month on testosterone therapy versus three months
In this month’s update on my journey as a transgender bodybuilding trainee, I’m going to talk about my experience with medical transition from female to male and the effects this has had so far on my training, nutrition, and body composition.
At the time of writing, I have been medically transitioning for four months, from March 13th 2020, but I will primarily reflect on the first three months.
The aim of the article is to cover:
The purpose of this piece is to share my experience in order to educate transgender and non-transgender individuals alike, and to provide anecdotes and observations on how medical transition can change training, nutrition, and body composition in a transgender person who trains to improve their physique.
As a final disclaimer, I want to point out that this is only my experience.
I am not a medical professional, so I am not going to offer any form of advice.
Anything I share in this article is personal, individualised to me, and meant to inform, not make recommendations.
Without further ado, let’s delve into the update.
What do I mean by “medical transition” and what does that look like for me?
When I say “medical transition”, I mean any aspect of transitioning from one gender to another that requires medical help.
This includes transgender hormone therapy and any surgery one may choose to have.
I use this term to distinguish it from “social transition”, which relates to behaviours such as changing your name and pronouns, and coming out to your loved ones.
I have been transitioning socially since June 2018, whereas my medical transition began in March 2020, when I started taking testosterone in the form of a gel under the supervision of my general practitioner (GP for short, as they are called in the UK).
The purpose of testosterone therapy in a female-to-male person is to raise your baseline testosterone level to a similar level as an average male-bodied individual of the same age group.
I had bloodwork done before the start of therapy in order to establish my baseline sex hormone levels (testosterone, oestrogen, and progesterone).
So far I have had my levels checked at the end of the first month and at the end of the third month. On both occasions, testosterone was in the appropriate range for my chosen gender.
How has this affected my life as a bodybuilding trainee so far?
If you have followed me for some time, you may know the following:
Among other reasons, I was looking forward to therapy from a scientific standpoint because I was curious to discover whether it would have any impact on my training and nutrition.
In the next paragraphs, I will do my best to cover some of the biggest changes I have experienced in relation to training and nutrition, and what I have done to address them.
1. My appetite has increased, even when eating at maintenance or in a surplus.
Undergoing testosterone therapy has been described as a “second puberty”.
One of the side effects for me has been an increase in my desire to eat, or appetite, especially in the evening, after my last meal.
I have kept tracking my caloric intake and bodyweight fluctuations, as I have done for the past two years, without making any changes to my caloric targets unless any alterations in scale weight gave me a reason to do so.
In other words, I haven’t really acted on this enhanced appetite.
From tracking bodyweight and calories, I know eating more food is not necessary for my current objective of increasing muscle mass, but rather a “testosterone-derived” urge.
At this stage, my long-term habit of collecting information on both caloric intake and bodyweight is helping me discern whether I feel true hunger or “testosterone-induced” appetite.
In fact, as I will explain below, I have been able to manipulate my bodyweight – and therefore achieve my goal – with a similar efficacy as before therapy.
2. My bodyweight fluctuations have gone wild.
My scale weight didn’t fluctuate by more than a pound or so from one day to another every now and then before therapy. At the moment, it can rise or drop day by day by as much as a couple of pounds on a regular basis.
One specific pattern I have noticed is that I will maintain the same weekly average for one or two weeks when in a caloric surplus – and therefore trying to gain weight – then see a sudden spike, followed by another short maintenance period and another small jump.
This took a bit of mental adjustment because choosing an adequate caloric surplus was easier when these changes were more predictable.
Nonetheless, I will eventually learn this “new body”, so I am going to keep experimenting with my caloric intake and note down my findings for future reference.
I also don’t rule out the possibility that this new pattern might be due to dietary alterations more than anything else.
I have not consciously made sizeable changes to my nutritional approach since the beginning of therapy, but I have realised as of late that I am eating more sodium than before.
Salt can make you retain more water, which can result in some funky daily scale fluctuations.
Furthermore, testosterone can cause water retention for the first few months of therapy, as has been the case for me, if my “resting balloon face” in the past four months is anything to go by.
3. My strength has increased.
A month into therapy, I began to notice that the rate at which my physical strength went up was climbing up. The difference wasn’t extreme, but it was enough to notice week by week, if not sometimes workout by workout.
Having two years of consistent training under my belt, prior to testosterone therapy I would make progress on a fortnightly or monthly basis, give or take a couple of sessions.
Due to this strength increase, I have been testing how many reps I can do with a certain load more often than I used to.
In the past, I would do this in the final week of a training cycle (mesocycle), when I aim to hit failure after weeks of getting closer and closer to it with a certain load.
Lately, I have been taking a single set to failure every two or three weeks.
My rationale for this is that I believe in the evidence-based theory that, to maximise muscle growth, you want to spend most of your training within four to zero reps from failure.
For this reason, these more frequent sets of as many reps as possible have helped me ensure that I am always lifting within close proximity to failure, something that I have been finding harder to establish since strength has been improving a little faster than I was accustomed to.
4. I have been gaining weight at twice the speed as before with the same caloric surplus.
For context, I used to gain about 1 to 1.5lb per month in a moderate caloric surplus, which is 1 to 1.5% of my current bodyweight.
In the first three months of therapy, I have gained about six pounds. Most of it happened in the very first month, as my body adjusting to the hormones. I put on 2.5% of my weight at the time in that initial phase, then around 2% in the second and third months.
In this fourth month, the rate has been slowing down in a gradual manner, approaching that 1 to 1.5% of bodyweight per month I was used to.
And yet, when comparing progress pictures such as the set at the top of this article, I don’t think body fat has gone up much compared to the increases I have seen in the past.
My theory is that I am going through a second newbie gains phase, building muscle a little faster than before. More evidence of this would be the increased rate of progress with my training, which I have already mentioned.
As a result, it may look like I am achieving body recomposition (gaining muscle whilst losing fat at the same time).
What I believe may in fact be occurring is that the rate at which I build muscle is now a little higher than that at which I accumulate fat, so body fat stays almost the same whilst muscle mass creeps up a little.
In addition to progress pictures, I have also been monitoring some body circumferences.
The circumferences of my hips, abdomen, and waist – the places where I tend to store fat – have not increased any faster than they did prior to therapy.
On the other hand, I have put on about 1cm around both arms in three months. In 2019, I achieved the same results in six months.
I will admit that gaining weight twice as fast freaked me out for the first two months.
Nevertheless, I made the decision to embrace the theory that this is indeed a second newbie gains phase. Therefore I am not going to forcibly slow down my progress if there is a chance this is mainly due to muscle mass and not fat.
It’s not been easy and I have had to give myself a stern talking to whenever I felt the urge to reduce calories.
I also acknowledge that I could be wrong. Maybe I am wearing rose-tinted glasses, influenced by my new appetite, and don’t want to decrease food intake when maybe I could benefit from it.
However, I have decided to take that risk.
I understand the principles governing weight gain, maintenance, and loss, so I am confident I will be able to lose the extra body fat I carry. I have also thrown a spanner in the works in the past due my fear of fat gain, so I will attempt to stay true to my vow of not letting that happen again.
On the whole, I feel excited about my recent progress and curious to find out how my physique and mindset will evolve in the future, independent of and in conjunction with therapy.
Thank you for taking the time to read my nerdy rant.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments. As you can see, I am very open about this journey.
In fact, I would be excited to share more with you if there was anything specific you wanted to know!
A personal trainer who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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