There are 897,000 google hits when you search, “Testosterone Boosters”.
Furthermore, there has been a recent surge in interest in how to boost testosterone.
How do I know this? I used the handy Google Trends search thingamabob (this is a real word by the way) and it gave me this.
In 2015, there was almost 2 billion dollars spent on testosterone boosting supplements. Now, arguably, this is based on some shoddy data so I can’t even cite a source but it sounds about right. Even if it is not completely accurate it paints a pretty clear picture.
People have testosterone issues and they want to fix them.
I don’t blame them. I would want that fixed in a heartbeat. Why?
Because testosterone is kind of a big deal if you are a man.
Want to get jacked? You need testosterone. Want to have sex? Kinda need testosterone. Want to keep your luscious beard? Yup, probably gonna need some testosterone.
So let’s cut the BS and talk about a few ways that you can actually increase your testosterone levels without shelling out a ton of cash for some god-awful late night infomercial product.
1. Get Some Sun, Eat Some Shrooms, or Pop a D3 Pill
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with lower levels of testosterone. Furthermore, seasonal levels in testosterone follow the typical seasonal pattern of vitamin D, with the lowest levels seen in early spring/late winter1.
If you are deficient in vitamin D, increasing your levels can increase testosterone levels. One study showed that supplementation with vitamin D increased testosterone levels2. It might also be prudent to get more sun and eat more vitamin D rich foods, such as mushrooms.
2. Chew on Some Metal
Don’t actually chew on metal, I just thought that was a catchy headline for this section and related to the point here. Like vitamin D, zinc levels are associated with testosterone and a zinc deficiency is known to lower testosterone levels. Conversely, supplementing with zinc increases testosterone in men with zinc deficiencies3.
If you are low, or even zinc deficient it might be wise to supplement with zinc, or at least start consuming zinc rich foods such as: lamb, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, or cocoa powder.
3. Stop Dieting like an Idiot
Again, another tongue in cheek sub header that is a bit excessive, but also hammers home the main point. Excessive dieting to get really lean tanks your testosterone levels pretty hard.
We have known for decades that dieting down and getting to low levels of body fat can lower testosterone in a pretty big way. For example, this study in amateur wrestlers (which was published before I was born) showed that as you get to lower levels of body fat your testosterone begins to plummet4. Furthermore, in a case study examining a natural bodybuilder, testosterone levels fell off a cliff when they dieted down for their contest5.
This is especially true when it comes to physique, figure, or bodybuilding competitors. The level of leanness required for this is pretty extreme. Getting shredded is cool. I mean, being able to see every vein is pretty awesome and it is nice to walk around with no shirt on all the time. But that often comes at a cost… low testosterone.
4. Optimize Body Composition
Dieting to super lean wrecks testosterone; however, so does carrying excess body fat. Higher levels of lean body mass are associated with higher levels of testosterone, while higher levels of body fat are associated with lower levels of testosterone6.
Men who are obese tend to display higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of testosterone which is tied to body fat as fat loss appears to help increase testosterone levels while simultaneously lowering estrogen levels7.
It appears that there is a body composition range, between stage ready lean and carrying excess body fat that optimizes testosterone levels.
5. Sleep More
We all know poor sleep is bad for us. But we are just starting to unravel all the ways it ruins our lives (even NASA is looking into this).
It turns out your testosterone is also fairly substantially impacted by your sleep habits. In a study of just 1 week of sleep restriction where people were restricted to only 5 hours of sleep, testosterone levels were substantially lower at all times of the day8.
Another study showed that even changing the time of day you sleep can substantially impact testosterone levels, which might impact shift workers and how their testosterone levels are regulated9.
If you have poor sleep hygiene and low testosterone levels, one of your first “remedies” should be to dial your sleep in.
6. Make Sure You Are Recovering
One of the things we know can lower testosterone is high levels of cortisol. Think about it kind of like a seesaw. As cortisol levels go up, serum levels of testosterone drop.
Why is this relevant? Well high training volume coupled with inadequate recovery is a solid recipe to increase cortisol levels. Athletes who fall into the “overtraining” category often have elevated levels of cortisol and their response to stress is abnormal. However, both cortisol and the response to stress appears to return to near normal after a short taper, suggesting that there was insufficient recovery10.
The Wrap Up
Optimizing your testosterone levels matters. Over the last several decades there has been a minefield to navigate when it comes to getting the truth of how to improve testosterone levels.
Avoid all the bad information and focus on the things we know can impact testosterone in a meaningful way:
- Make sure you are not vitamin D or zinc deficient, and if you are correct them via diet and supplementation.
- If you have low levels of testosterone, don’t compound the issue by trying to get super lean, deal with the hormones first and then worry about the leanness.
- If you are carrying excess body fat use exercise and moderate caloric restriction to lower body fat.
- Get some sleep… for the love of god get some sleep,
- Prioritize recovery. If you want to make sure your training isn’t digging you a bigger hole, really make sure recovery is a focus of your training.
- Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men.
- Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men.
- Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults.
- Weight Loss in Amateur Wrestlers and Its Effect on Serum Testosterone Levels
- Natural Bodybuilding Competition Preparation and Recovery: A 12-Month Case Study
- The association between physiologic testosterone levels, lean mass, and fat mass in a nationally representative sample of men in the United States.
- The Effect of Weight Loss on Reproductive Hormones in Obese Men
- Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men
- Effects of Acutely Displaced Sleep on Testosterone
- Mood state and salivary cortisol levels following overtraining in female swimmers.