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What are testosterone boosters?
Do testosterone supplements work or are they just another scam of the supplement industry?
These are the most common questions men ask when wondering how to naturally increase testosterone (T). T is the male sex hormone and it influences strength, muscle mass, sexual function, general health, energy levels, confidence, and even mood.
It is a symbol of masculinity. That is why so many men are looking for a natural way to boost testosterone and supplement stores are full of bottles that promise 200% or even 300% more T.
Despite these claims, there is rarely any proof for their effectiveness. And if there is some, there is a good chance that the very manufacturer of the product sponsored it.
At this point, one might start thinking that supplement companies are evil and everything is one big lie. However, it turns out that there are a few products actually supported by evidence.
In this article, we will take a critical look at all the scientific evidence on testosterone boosters and their effectiveness.
Keep on reading to discover the best testosterone supplements, foods, and lifestyle changes that will boost your T levels according to scientific evidence.
The Truth About Testosterone Supplements
The truth is there are a lot of unproven substances on the market with questionable or no evidence at all about their effects.
However, there are also testosterone boosters containing ingredients for which we have a substantial amount of non-sponsored and peer-reviewed studies to support their effectiveness.
But first, here are a couple of the most common testosterone supplements which turn out to be not as effective as marketed.
The Truth About Tribulus Terrestris.
Tribulus Terrestris is a classic example of a testosterone supplement.
It is widely used by men who either want to boost their testosterone naturally or want to increase their libido.
Also, some bodybuilders use it as a remedy after a steroid cycle to boost the natural T synthesis.
Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences shows that most of the products on the market contain extremely low levels of steroidal glycosides such as Protodioscin which is the one supposed to have the testosterone boosting effect. (7)
The Truth About D-Aspartic Acid (DAA).
DAA is another example of a supplement for which the evidence is rather conflicting.
However, when researchers looked at the effect of DAA supplementation on physically active men, they found no effect on neither testosterone nor body composition and strength. (16)
A 3-month follow-up study (randomized placebo-controlled trial) showed that the testosterone levels didn’t decrease or increase, which indicates that DAA is simply ineffective as a testosterone booster. (18)
There was no additional increase in strength or muscle mass either when compared to the placebo group.
How to Increase Testosterone Naturally
Three major factors lay the foundation for your natural testosterone production. Those are sleep, nutrition, and physical activity.
High-quality sufficient sleep is the best testosterone booster out there
Sleep is by far the number one factor that will influence your testosterone synthesis.
Your daily T levels can vary a lot depending on whether or not you had a good sleep during the previous night.
A study by Penev published in “Sleep” revealed that men aged 64+ who slept only 4 hours per night had morning testosterone levels around 300 ng/dL compared to 600 ng/dL for the ones who slept for 8 hours. (19)
A significantly larger study performed on 531 Chinese men aged between 29 and 72 suggested that every extra hour of sleep correlates with about a 15% increase in both total and free testosterone. (21)
So, if you are looking for the single best thing you can do to boost your T, then improving your sleep is the first thing to do.
Ditch the cardio and grab the weights
Regular physical activity is another cornerstone of optimal testosterone production.
However, the type of exercise also matters.
Lifting weights can have a great effect on testosterone levels, while cardio training might even lower them in the long-term.
The researchers assigned to a resistance training program for 4 weeks involving basic exercises for the largest body muscles.
It revealed that while there was a short-term acute drop in T levels right after lifting weights, the 24-hour levels increased.
They measured a 40% increase on average in testosterone after a month of consistent training.
It is important to mention that the best exercises for boosting your testosterone levels are the heavier, compound exercises.
This includes but it is not limited to the big 4: squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and overhead presses. In addition to that, you can also add rows, pull-ups, and isolation exercises.
Remember that overtraining will have the opposite effect, so you should combine weightlifting with proper rest, sleep, and dietary regime.
Balanced nutrition is the natural test booster you are looking for
Multiple studies have shown that diet higher in fats (35-40% of total calorie intake) results in higher levels of testosterone amongst participants when compared to lower fat intake (20% or less).
While fat should be the source of more than 30% of your daily calories, obviously the distribution of proteins and carbs also matters.
The amount of carbs should be at least twice the amount of protein in your diet to boost testosterone production in your body.
Another important factor is the total caloric intake. Long-term caloric restriction can lower T levels.
However caloric restriction is the only way to lose weight, and obesity is even worse for testosterone because it increases its transformation into estrogen.
This is why you should aim to achieve the desired weight first and then stay in maintenance or a slight caloric surplus for optimal T.
Furthermore, the levels of HDL correlate with testosterone levels. (34) This is normal, considering the body synthesizes testosterone from cholesterol.
Good dietary sources of saturated fats and cholesterol are eggs and especially egg yolks.
That is in large part due to their high amount of lecithin, which has a lipotropic effect.
A source of monounsaturated fats, which can boost testosterone and simultaneously is very healthy is the extra virgin olive oil.
The 6 Best Testosterone Booster Foods, Supported by Science
Another common question is which foods increase testosterone the most?
Well here they are:
Ginger root is a plant most commonly used as a spice. It is widely known for its medicinal properties.
However, it turns out that it has an impact on male hormones and reproductivity as well.
We have to mention that almost all studies investigating the relationship between testosterone and ginger are with rodents.
Despite the low quality of evidence, all of them show that supplementing with ginger and ginger extracts significantly increases testosterone levels.
As noted in that research, ginger is also containing selenium and zinc, which further improve the natural testosterone synthesis.
Of all studies, there is just one performed on humans – 75 infertile Iraqi men, which showed a 17.7% increase in testosterone levels after treatment with ginger. (39)
It shows that the results from previous studies can indeed be replicated in humans, and ginger might be an effective natural testosterone booster.
You can put ginger in your tea, your soup, or in different sweets.
2.White button mushrooms
Although estrogen is the female hormone, small amounts of it are present in the bodies of males as well.
In women, the ovaries produce it, while in men there is an enzyme called aromatase that converts testosterone into estrogen.
The enzyme is produced by fat tissue, so men with higher fat percentage will have more of their testosterone transformed.
Inhibiting that conversion would result in less testosterone turned into estrogen, and higher T levels overall.
There are food sources that contain natural inhibitors for this enzyme, such as white button mushrooms.
The studies proving these effects were performed on breast cancer cells as inhibiting the enzyme also inhibits the proliferation of that malignant tumor.
Not to mention how low in calories they are. White button mushrooms are a year-round food option that can inhibit aromatase and boost your testosterone levels.
3. Cruciferous vegetables
Another powerful inhibitor of testosterone aromatization is the so-called Indole-3-carbinol (I3C). (42)
All cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, collard greens, and kale contain relatively large quantities of it.
LH is produced in the pituitary gland and stimulates the synthesis of testosterone in the testicles.
Not to mention they are a good source of fiber and should be a part of every healthy diet.
Pomegranates have been a symbol of fertility and prosperity since ancient Greece. Nowadays, they are also known for being rich in antioxidants, such as polyphenols. As it turns out, pomegranates can indeed improve fertility.
A study with 60 volunteers showed that pomegranate improves salivary levels of testosterone by 24% on average which directly correlates to blood levels. (48) It also had positive effects on mood and blood pressure.
The pomegranate fruits are also a source of polyphenols, called ellagitannins. As shown by evidence, they have anti-aromatase activity, which reduces the amount of testosterone converted into estrogen. (49)
Most widely consumed is the pomegranate juice. The fruits are also rich in vitamins C, K1, and B9.
A little-known fact for onions, despite their wide use in many foods, is that they also boost the natural production of testosterone
Overall a recent literature review has summarized the data so far and despite the low-level of evidence in all of the studies, the findings are consistent that onions do improve testosterone levels. (54)
However, keep in mind that the level of evidence is rather low.
They contain the majority of vitamins and minerals we need to prevent deficits and boost testosterone levels.
This includes vitamin D3, zinc, selenium, copper, and iodine.
Furthermore, oysters can provide you with high quality easily absorbable protein, while simultaneously being low in calories.
Main Testosterone Booster Ingredients with Proven Benefits
The deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals can severely lower your T production.
However, if you already have adequate levels of these micronutrients, additional supplementation will not bring you any benefits.
The sunshine vitamin is the most deficient worldwide. Scientists are calling it a pandemic. (55) Vitamin D3 deficiency affects almost 50% of the world’s population. (56) It affects people of every age, gender, race, and region. (57, 58)
Actually, it is a steroid prohormone. There are receptors for it in almost every cell in our body, including the reproductive organs.
Multiple studies have investigated the relationship between the vitamin and testosterone levels.
Correcting that deficiency is not always possible by exposure to sunlight, especially during the winter. This is why supplementation is strongly advised for most people.
This vitamin has two forms – K1 which is common in plant sources and K2 which is common in animal sources such as egg yolks, butter, and cheese.
Vitamin K1 is commonly added to supplements, as it should transform into its active form K2 in our body. It is also quite abundant in most plant foods.
However, studies suggest that this transformation is quite ineffective in humans, so we should pick K2 instead as a supplement. (61, 62) Vitamin K2 supports cardiovascular and bone health, acting in synergy with vitamin D.
However, new research indicates that vitamin K2 is also important for normal testosterone production. Multiple studies performed on rodents suggest that vitamin K2 deficiency significantly reduces T levels. (63, 64, 65)
Make sure to consume fat-soluble vitamins such as D and K with a meal containing fat to boost their absorption.
Furthermore, excess vitamin A intake interferes with vitamin K absorption, so watch out for that too. Vitamin A is also important for normal T levels so make sure to supplement it separately from D and K.
Zinc is a micronutrient that is extremely important for the normal immune function and male potency. There is evidence that almost 30% of elderly people are deficient in it. (66)
Furthermore, it protects those levels from plummeting during exhaustion after exercise and other intensive physical activities.
Unfortunately, many multivitamins incorporate minerals in the form of non-organic salts with poor absorption, because it is cheaper. The most common example is magnesium oxide which has virtually no absorption.
When choosing a supplement, make sure that zinc or magnesium are not oxides because their absorption is almost none. Instead, go for organic salts such as picolinate, glycinate, and citrate.
Also be careful with combinations of calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc in large doses because they compete with each other’s absorption and you will not absorb either. (72)
They use the same receptors which can uptake no more than 800mgs so high doses of one mineral will block the absorption of others when taken simultaneously.
Magnesium controls over 300 processes and enzyme functions in the body. It is important for cardiovascular and bone health. In addition to that, magnesium improves sleep quality.
Relatively recent evidence suggests that Mg also plays a role in normal testosterone production.
Another study in older men with over 400 participants found that higher serum magnesium levels are linked to higher testosterone levels as well. (75)
Few people have heard of Boron as it is only a trace mineral. This means we need very small amounts of it in our diet.
However, it has quite an impressive effect on T levels compared to the other minerals.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. This means it affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the synthesis of stress hormones.
However, studies are indicating that ashwagandha might improve fertility and testosterone levels too.
One of those was a study in infertile men, who supplemented with it for 3 months. The increase in testosterone was 10-22% and fertility improved in 14% of the subjects (their partners became pregnant). (82)
Both studies are small, so the evidence is not conclusive. We need more independent studies but the findings so far are consistent that ashwagandha might be an effective testosterone booster.
Over 70 studies have all reported that creatine monohydrate is effective for improving strength and athletic performance.
However, less known is the effect of creatine on testosterone. A randomized placebo-controlled trial found out that testosterone trended higher with 100 mg/kg creatine dose, compared to the placebo treatment. (84)
Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation increased dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which is a more potent form of testosterone naturally found in the body. (85)
Overall creatine monohydrate is a great supplement or everyone who regularly performs resistance training exercises.
Benefits and Side Effects of Testosterone Supplements
Unlike testosterone therapy, natural testosterone supplements have very few side effects.
For example, ashwagandha is safe when taken for up to 3 months. We do not have more data for long-term safety.
Large doses of the product can lead to gastrointestinal problems, such as upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Consult your doctor first before taking ashwagandha in case you have problems with blood pressure, stomach ulcers, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, thyroid disorder, or upcoming surgery.
In general, testosterone boosters should not be taken by children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Make sure to do not exceed the recommended daily dosage of the supplement, as many vitamins and minerals can be toxic if overdosed.
Here are a few examples of testosterone supplements that we recommend.
Best Testosterone Booster and Cortisol Blocker Combo: Roman Dailies Testosterone Support
Best Testosterone Booster for Males Over 40: Testofuel
Best Testosterone Booster for Men over 50: Testogen
Best Testosterone Booster 2020: Performance Lab SPORT T+
TRT: Testosterone Replacement Therapy
While testosterone boosters aim to stimulate the natural synthesis of T, there is also another option – Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)
TRT is the administration of exogenous testosterone in the body. This is not the same thing as taking anabolic steroids, because the doses used in TRT achieve only physiologic (natural) levels of T in the blood.
The doses used for enhancing athletic performance are much higher and there is often a combination of various substances, called “stack”.
TRT should be considered only after consulting with your doctor if you have symptoms and abnormally low T levels confirmed by blood tests.
The low T symptoms can include low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, decreased muscle mass, body and facial hair loss, and poor energy levels.
The benefits of TRT vary significantly from person to person. (97) The majority of men experience improved mood, sex drive, erections, and energy levels.
Others barely notice any effects. T also increases muscle mass, bone density, and insulin sensitivity.
The side effects can also vary a lot depending on the individual. (97)
They usually involve acne and oily skin, shrinkage of the testicles, low sperm count and infertility, gynecomastia, increased risk of blood clots.
Avoid TRT if you also have sleep apnea or congestive heart failure and these conditions will get worse. (102)
Varicose vein and increased risk of blood clot formation is another strong contraindication.
TRT can cause an increase in the number of red blood cells. That creates a risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism which is a life-threatening condition.
There are a few different forms, each with certain advantages and disadvantages:
- Skin Patches – easy to apply several times per day but they can cause skin irritation and rashes
- Gels – again easy to apply on the skin but if someone gets in contact with that area of your skin in the next several hours, they will get testosterone in their system too.
- Mouth patch – it sticks to the upper gums above the front teeth and you have to do it twice a day. It can cause irritation and gum disease.
- Implants – a doctor inserts it under your skin every 3 to 6 months and requires a minor surgery every time.
- Muscle Injections – they are less expensive and a doctor needs to reapply it every 2 to 10 weeks but the testosterone levels are not always stable in the long term.
- Oral tablets – it is not advisable to take testosterone pill orally because there is a risk for liver injury. The other methods listed above bypass the liver so there is no risk.
Your doctor will monitor your testosterone levels every 3 or 6 months, depending on the form of TRT. This is not a cure, but symptomatic treatment, so if you stop the therapy, your T levels might drop again.
In case you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, slurred speech, or trouble moving parts of your body then seek medical help immediately.
The Take-Away Message is….
In conclusion, we have to say that some testosterone boosters might work, but they are only a handful. This does not mean that a regular testosterone supplement that works will give you TRT or steroid-like results.
The best things you can do for your natural T production are to prevent deficiencies, eat a healthy and balanced diet, get enough quality sleep, and exercise regularly using weights.
Always make sure to ask your doctor, before taking any test boosters, supplements, or testosterone replacement medications. There can be way too many reasons that share the same symptoms with low testosterone so first consult with a specialist. Besides, TRT can have serious adverse effects on people with certain chronic conditions.