How to boost testosterone
Find out how to boost your levels of testosterone to build muscle, burn fat, improve endurance and increase sex drive
Testosterone is the hormone every man wants, so it's no surprise that we get a lot of questions from readers asking how to boost their levels. It’s vital for building muscle, healthy levels help you burn off body fat and a timely surge of ‘T’ can spike your libido for increased sexual satisfaction. But levels tend to decline after you’re 30, with symptoms ranging from fatigue and depression to loss of sex drive and erectile dysfunction. Nothing good, basically.
You don’t need to turn to the black market for vials of man-mojo, though – instead, you can start by taking a good look at your diet. ‘Food plays a big part in hormonal dysfunction,’ says rehabilitation therapist Claud Serjeant (movethreesixty.com). ‘Eating the wrong things can increase oestrogen and decrease testosterone.’
So what should you be eating and drinking? ‘Full-fat milk is a good one,’ Serjeant says. ‘The nutrients in milk help raise testosterone and many of them are fat-soluble, so full-fat is much better than skimmed. And it’s far preferable to soya milk, which has been shown to raise oestrogen. Other foods to eat include wild-caught salmon, which is particularly rich in T-boosting omega 3, and leafy vegetables high in zinc, such as chard and spinach. Avoid processed meats and fizzy drinks, which contain ingredients that cause testosterone to fall.
Here are 15 more ways you can boost your testosterone levels.
1 Lift weights
Testosterone levels are at their highest 48 hours after lifting weights according to a study at Baylor University in the US. And the harder you train, the more you increase your natural levels of testosterone, so base your training around compound exercises such as squats, bench presses and seated rows using heavy weights.
2 Watch football
Men who watch their favourite sports team compete experience a similar testosterone surge to the players, say researchers at the University of Utah. They found that a fan’s testosterone levels increased by 20% when his team won but fell 20% when they lost. So avoid watching England games and you should be fine.
3 Eat good fats
By ‘good’ fats we mean the monounsaturated and omega 3 type – found in avocados, peanuts and oily fish – that help your body preserve protein. A study in the Journal Of Applied Physiology found that men who ate recommended amounts of these foods had the highest testosterone levels.
4 Gobble some eggs
Eggs improve levels of healthy HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol, an important building block needed for your body to manufacture testosterone. They are also loaded with protein and have plenty of testosterone-boosting zinc. Plus Paul Newman looked pretty manly when he ate 50 of ’em in Cool Hand Luke.
5 Don’t overtrain
Excessive exercising increases cortisol, a stress hormone that competes with testosterone and breaks down muscle. Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that overtraining can lower your testosterone levels by as much as 40%. Resting isn’t slacking off – make sure you take time out.
6 Get enough sleep
Poor sleep quality and having less than seven hours a night can slash your testosterone levels by more than 30% and dampen growth hormones, restricting your muscle-building potential.
7 Scoff cabbage
Cabbage is rammed with indole-3-carbinol (IC3), a phytochemical that increases your testosterone according to a study at the Rockefeller University Hospital in New York. The study also found that when men were given IC3, their levels of the female hormone oestrogen reduced by 50 per cent – roughly the amount that would accumulate if you're 'forced' watch the Sex And The City movie.
8 Don’t booze
Happy hour can wreak havoc on your manly hormones. Numerous studies have found that alcohol consumption reduces testosterone levels for up to 24 hours. It also increases cortisol and lowers growth hormone levels.
9 Eat more seeds
You may feel like you’re munching bird food, but seeds are full of vitamin E and zinc, which send your testosterone levels soaring. They’re also bursting with protein and monounsaturated fat.
10 Get some sun
Exposing the skin to sunlight for just 15-20 minutes can raise your testosterone levels by 120%, says a report from Boston State Hospital in the US. The research also found that the hormone increased by a whopping 200% when genital skin was exposed to the sun. Stick to the privacy of your own garden though – we don’t want any arrests.
11 Don't run marathons
Does running marathons make you more manly? Certainly not if judge that by your testosterone levels after the race. Researchers at the Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo monitored the levels of 20 healthy men from the age of 25 to 42 before and after a marathon and discovered that their testosterone levels dropped by half after running the 42km. OK, so it turns out the drop is only temporary, with the subjects' levels returning to almost normal after a day, but you're certainly less manly straight after a long distance race – even if you do feel damn proud of yourself of getting through it.
12 HIIT it
So how should you train, given that steady state plodding pounds the manliness right out of you? Go hard, go fast, according to a study in the Journal of Endocrinal Investigation. They got 15 endurance trained men to do two different workout sessions – a 45min high-intensity one consisting of 90sec running at 100-110% of their VO2max with 90sec recovery at 40% of their VO2max. On another day they did a 45min run at 60-65% VO2max with the results showing higher testosterone levels after the first session. So use your lunch hour wisely if you want up your T – forget the jog around the park and hit the gym hard for some tough but effective tabata rows.
13 Avoid sugar
Testosterone is temporarily reduced when your blood sugar levels spike, which happens when you consume fast-acting carbs. One study found that men suffered a 25% decrease in testosterone after ingesting a sugary drink, for example. Levels remained low for two hours and nearly 80% of the men had levels so low as to be classified clinically deficient. If your blood sugar is elevated over and over again, your entire hormonal cascade will be thrown off and you’ll soon find you suffer from chronically low testosterone.
Focus on high-quality protein, healthy fats and low-glycaemic carbohydrates such as vegetables.
14 Take zinc
The relationship between zinc, testosterone and reproductive health is well known. One study found that young men with normal testosterone status who avoided zinc in their diets for five months experienced a drop in total testosterone of more than 50%. Maintaining adequate zinc levels allows for a more robust release of testosterone and the related anabolic hormones, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).
You can get zinc from red meat, but phytates in vegetables and grains prevent their zinc content from being absorbed. If you’re worried you have low levels, get a red blood cell zinc test (ask your GP). Don’t take zinc supplements frequently unless you’re chronically low in the mineral, because too much can be toxic.
15 Take magnesium
Magnesium improves the body’s antioxidant capacity and reduces inflammation, which allows for a robust release of testosterone and IGF-1. A recent study found that giving taekwondo athletes 750mg magnesium daily for four weeks raised their testosterone levels by 26% and by 18% after a shuttle running test. It's found in nuts. You can also take 500mg a day in a high-quality supplement to support hormone levels and athletic performance. Moderate doses of supplements don’t pose a health risk.
5 surprising facts about testosterone
Testosterone can shrink your belly
Men who have testosterone levels below the norm may be able to lose their excess belly flab if they are treated with testosterone. ‘Most of the studies show there's a reduction of abdominal obesity in men who are given testosterone,’ says Adrian Dobs, MD, a professor of medicine and oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. However, due to the long-term effects of testosterone therapy not being that well studied, this is generally only recommended in men who have below-normal testosterone levels and dehabilitating symptoms that include fatigue, sexual dysfunction or the loss of bone/muscle mass.
Too much testosterone can shrivel your testicles
This is by far the most worrying of our surprising testosterone facts, in fact, it couldn’t get much worse! Men who consume steroid hormones such as testosterone as a form of performance booster can experience ball shrinkage and breast growth. Yes, breasts. It can also cause aggression, mood swings and acne. Don’t worry too much though as men working with an experienced doctor in order to treat low testosterone levels are unlikely to overdose under medical supervision.
Fat tends to lower testosterone
Clinically obese men tend to have far lower testosterone than slimmer guys. ‘It's not clear why this is the case, although one possible reason is that obesity promotes a state of widespread inflammation in the body,’ says Dobs. ‘Fat cells promote inflamation and it's these inflammatory factors that are associated with suppression of testosterone synthesis.’
It’s hard to measure testosterone levels accurately
A lot of men find they are diagnosed with low testosterone levels after just one single test. This is a big problem according to Neil Goodman, MD, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine. ‘If I take blood from a guy and I send it to three labs, I'm going to get three different levels,’ says Goodman. ‘Efforts are underway to standardise blood tests. In the meantime, testosterone should be checked more than once and done in the morning when testosterone is highest.’
Low levels of testosterone are linked to sleep apnea
Men who suffer from sleep apnea are far more likely to have lower levels of testosterone, and treating sleep apnea is a way to ensure that levels return to normal.
But if a man suffering from sleep apnea is diagnosed with low testosterone alone, taking the hormone as a supplement can often worsen sleep apnea. That's why, according to Dr. Goodman, it's crucial for men with low testosterone to get checked out by an endocrinologist so any underlying conditions that can cause low testosterone, such as sleep apnea or pituitary-gland tumors, don't go undiagnosed.