How to Boost Your Testosterone Levels (the Natural Way)
Naturally boost your levels of testosterone to build muscle, burn fat, improve endurance and increase sex drive
Testosterone is the hormone every man wants, but – bad news alert – testosterone levels are falling fast and our lifestyles are to blame. Average levels are 15% lower than they were 15 years ago, according to research published in the Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology And Metabolism. 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, maintaining healthy levels help you burn 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.
What is Testosterone?
Levels of T, the primary male sex hormone responsible for making you look, feel and perform like a man, peak in your late 20s, then start to decline. Low levels are linked to a loss of muscle mass, increased body fat, lower energy levels and low libido. The recent trend for plummeting average levels is down to our sedentary lifestyles and poor diet. Here are some simple changes you can make to keep your T levels up.
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. “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 soy milk, which some tests have shown to raise oestrogen. Other foods to eat include wild-caught salmon, which is particularly rich in T-boosting omega 3 fats, and leafy vegetables high in zinc like chard and spinach. Avoid processed meats and fizzy drinks, which contain ingredients that cause testosterone to fall.”
Here are 17 more ways you can increase your testosterone levels.
1. Get Some Sun
You don’t only make hay when the sun shines – you also make vitamin D when your skin’s exposed to the sun’s rays. Men with adequate levels of vitamin D have higher testosterone levels and are stronger, leaner and healthier than those who were deficient, according to the European Journal Of Endocrinology. More than half the UK’s adult population has a deficiency. To counter this, the NHS recommends getting ten to 15 minutes of sun exposure on your forearms and legs daily, and eating more oily fish, meat and eggs, which are among the few foods that contain vitamin D.
2. HIIT it
Exercise can increase levels of free testosterone, and the more you have the greater the muscle-building and fat-burning benefit. To get the biggest boost keep training sessions short and the intensity high. A study comparing 45 minutes of high-intensity with steady-state training found a significantly higher increase in free T levels in the HIIT group, according to the Journal Of Endocrinological Investigation.
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3. Get Enough Sleep
Stave off the “manopause” by getting more shut-eye. Men who got only four hours’ sleep a night had 60% less testosterone in their blood than those subjects who got a solid eight hours, according to the Journal Of Andrology. Improve sleep duration and quality by keeping your bedroom dark and cool, and turn your tablet and mobile to night-time mode to shift the display settings away from short-wave blue – numerous studies have shown this light can suppress the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
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4. Slim Down
One reliable way to increase testosterone production is to reduce your waistline. Multiple studies have shown a link between obesity and low testosterone levels in men at all ages, including teenagers. In one study, published by the Endocrine Society, 900 men with low testosterone followed a training programme comprising 150 minutes of exercise a week as well as a calorie-controlled diet. After a year the average weight loss was 7.8kg, while testosterone levels doubled.
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5. 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.
6. Watch Football
Men who watch their favourite sporting 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.
7. Eat Good Fats
By “good” fats we mean the monounsaturated and omega 3 type – found in avocados, nuts 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.
8. 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. Try our testosterone-boosting salad.
9. Don’t Overtrain
Excessive exercising increases cortisol, a stress hormone that competes with testosterone and breaks down muscle. Research 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.
10. Eat Cabbage
Cabbage is packed 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% – roughly the amount that would accumulate if you were “forced” watch the Sex And The City movie (possibly).
11. 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.
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12. 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 fats.
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13. Don't Run Marathons
Does running marathons make you more manly? Certainly not, judging by testosterone levels after a race. Brazilian researchers monitored the levels of 20 healthy men between the ages of 25 and 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.
14. 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 index carbohydrates such as vegetables.
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15. 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, ask your GP for a red blood cell zinc test. Don’t take zinc supplements frequently unless you’re chronically low, though, because too much can be toxic.
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16. 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, and you can also take 500mg a day in a high-quality supplement to support hormone levels and athletic performance. (Moderate doses of supplementary magnesium have not been found to pose a health risk.)
17. Inhale Blue Spruce Oil
The distinctive aromas lurking deep in the oils of plants and trees have been used for thousands of years to help with sleep, mood, hormone levels and more. You’ve probably heard of them – your better half might even huff lavender before bed – and now, evidence is mounting that demonstrates their genuine effectiveness. “The chemical components in essential oils help plants function and fight pathogens and disease,” says ex-sceptic and sports nutritionist Tom Nikkola.
But what can they do for us? In tests carried out by Nikkola and Dr John Berardi for independent research company Precision Nutrition, men inhaling blue spruce oil saw an average 34% boost of muscle-building testosterone. Be warned, though – you need the right stuff if you want to increase your T-levels. “It’s estimated only 2% of essential oils are of therapeutic quality. The rest are made simply to smell nice,” says Berardi. Buy 100% pure blue spruce oil, inhale it at least three times a day and record your workouts to monitor any improvements.
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 a reduction of abdominal obesity in men who are given testosterone,” says Dr Adrian Dobs, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. However, the long-term effects of testosterone therapy have not been extensively studied, so 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 or muscle mass.
Too much testosterone can shrivel your testicles
As suprisies go, this is about the nastiest one you could get. 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. As long as you’re guided by a doctor when treating low testosterone levels, you’re unlikely to reach dangerous doses.
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Fat tends to lower testosterone
Clinically obese men tend to have far lower testosterone than slimmer guys. “It’s not known exactly why, 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, says Dr Neil Goodman, an endocrinologist at the University of Miami. “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 under way 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 apnoea – a condition that narrows the airways and disrupts normal breathing during sleep – are far more likely to have lower levels of testosterone, and treating it helps levels return to normal. Watch out, though, because taking the hormone as a supplement can actually worsen sleep apnoea. That’s why, according to 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 pituitary-gland tumours, don’t go undiagnosed.