In an interview with People in May 2016, country superstar Blake Shelton got real about his physique. “If you get dressed up the right way, it should be fitted to you,” Shelton said. “But when things are fitted to me, it’s hard for me to disguise man boobs and gut and all that stuff, so it’s all sticking out!” Fortunately, we know how to address the matter of man boobs with more than just baggy shirts.
Man boobs, moobs, or gynecomastia as the condition is known clinically, are more common than you think. Shelton’s soundbite only highlighted a concern that plagues a lot of guys.
What Causes Man Boobs?
Gynecomastia can be caused by excess body fat. But “the most common reason is a hormonal imbalance,” says James Arteaga, M.D., an attending physician at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, Calif. Arteaga has performed many breast reduction surgeries on both men and women.
The imbalance starts as early as adolescence and continues into adulthood.
“During that time, the male breast tissue is particularly susceptible or reactive to hormonal changes and the tissue begins to swell,” Arteaga says. “The nipple and the areola get bigger and stretch out.”
Researchers have also linked gynecomastia with excessive marijuana use. A 2002 animal study in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that cannabis caused a decrease in testosterone. Arteaga reports that a number of his patients with gynecomastia use marijuana daily. But, to date, the link between the two hasn’t been conclusively proven.
How to Get Rid of Man Boobs
Increase Lean Muscle Mass
One of the myths about losing man boobs, that both old school doctors and trainers have propagated, is to simply build up your pecs. But the reality is, that just creates supportive muscles that look firmer underneath the body fat. “You want to increase leaner muscle mass with weight lifting exercises, Arteaga says, at the same time you lose total body fat.
Lose Weight, Keep the Muscle
Losing weight and gaining muscle can seem at odds with each other. You’ve heard the classic advice. If you want to shed pounds, you have to eat fewer calories while burning more of them. If you want to gain muscle, you have to do just the opposite—eat more calories while working your muscles hard.
So is it possible to attack these two goals at the same time? The answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
OpenFit experts’ advice on losing weight while gaining muscle includes prioritizing protein in your diet and focusing on HIIT (high-intensity interval training).
Consistent weight lifting helps you shed your man boobs in a few ways. Along with regular cardio exercise for fat loss, resistance training has been shown to increase testosterone levels in your body.
There are a million ways to go about weight lifting for both strength and muscle gain. You could dedicate entire days—or even weeks—to one goal. Or follow the approach favored by Jordan Syatt, world-record powerlifter and strength coach. Begin every workout with big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, or bench presses.
“Go for heavier weight, lower repetitions, and really challenge yourself strength-wise,” Syatt says. As the workout goes on, switch to moderately heavy weights and higher repetitions (six to 12 reps).
Studies show that occasionally doing low weight/high rep (15-plus) sets can help optimize hypertrophy by targeting the smaller type I “endurance” fibers, which also have some growth potential. That’s why smart muscle building programs incorporate a range of reps and sets into their design.
Drink Less Alcohol
Researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health have found that drinking alcohol not only adds excess calories and screws up your metabolism, but it can also suppress the amount of the sex hormone testosterone in your body, upping the incidence of man boobs.
When you’re trying to get fit, alcohol can thwart your results in more ways than you might imagine.
For starters, studies show that alcohol stimulates your appetite, making you reach for the hot wings and order an extra plate of fries. Since your body doesn’t register the liquid calories in that margarita as well as the solid calories from a chicken wing, you eat more food to compensate.
Sweet cocktails are a minefield of problems. Sorry to be a buzzkill, but consider a typical 9-ounce pina colada. It contains 490 calories (a whole meal for some!) from fatty and sugary sources such as coconut cream and pineapple juice. And enough alcohol for two standard drinks.
Keep in mind that you can still enjoy alcohol even if you’re on a diet. But some simple do’s and don’ts of alcohol consumption include limiting yourself to one or two drinks, avoiding sugary mixed drinks, and drinking plenty of water.
Keep Testosterone and Estrogen at Normal Levels
To keep the man boobs at bay, you’ll also want to be sure your testosterone and estrogen remain at normal levels. Talk to your health practitioner about those concerns.
Consult a Doctor
If you are already lifting weights, doing cardio, and eating clean and you still have unwanted cleavage—and nothing you do seems to minimize your moobs—it may be time to see a doctor. He or she will do an extensive checkup and rule out any serious conditions. Even if the verdict comes back as gynecomastia, don’t be alarmed.
“Luckily, in the vast majority of cases, the condition is not harmful or dangerous,” says Arteaga.
But it does need to be taken care of.
Your doctor may prescribe anti-estrogen medication to reduce breast size, according to the National Institutes of Health. If that doesn’t work, your doctor may suggest breast reduction surgery for cosmetic reasons.
Your man chest will thank you for saying goodbye to your man boobs.