Quality of sleep, physical activity, and weight control come first.
Some supplements can help maintain healthy testosterone levels , but most supplements marketed as testosterone boosters don’t work, although some may make you think they do by increasing your libido.
This evidence-based analysis presents 52 unique references to scientific articles.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is an androgen, a male sex hormone, although women need it too.
During puberty in boys, testosterone is one of the main drivers of physical changes, such as increased energy, a deeper voice, and hair growth.
However, having optimal levels is also important during adulthood and even into old age. In adults, healthy levels are important for overall health, disease risk, body exposure, sexual function, and just about everything else.
In men, low testosterone has been associated with low libido and poor health outcomes, such as the development of metabolic syndrome. In men and women, low testosterone has been associated with depression .
Middle-aged and older men see their testosterone levels drop between 0.4% and 1.6% per year, and many are men who experience lower-than-average levels even in their 30s.
Fortunately, quality of sleep, physical activity, weight management, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D can all help maintain healthy testosterone levels.
To optimize your testosterone levels, you don’t just need the right amounts of vitamins and minerals; you also need to sleep well, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight.
Lack of sleep causes numerous health problems. Notably, it decreases testosterone production and facilitates fat gain (and we will see that fat gain itself can affect testosterone production).
Resistance training can increase testosterone levels for 15-30 minutes after exercise. More importantly, it can benefit long-term testosterone production by improving body composition and reducing insulin resistance.
Overtraining, however, is counterproductive. Prolonged resistance exercise especially can cause your testosterone to drop. Ensuring adequate recovery time will help you reap the full benefits of physical activity.
Weight gain and associated chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, are closely related to decreased testosterone, especially in middle-aged and older men.
If you gain weight (as fat), testosterone production decreases. Fortunately, if you lose weight, your testosterone production can go back up.
Observational studies have yielded consistent results: In overweight or obese people, the greater the weight loss, the greater the increase in testosterone.
These results have been replicated in clinical trials. A meta-analysis of 24 RCTs looked at weight loss caused by diet or bariatric surgery: In diet studies, average weight loss of 9.8% was associated with an increase in testosterone of 2.9 nmol / L (84 ng / dL ).
In bariatric surgery studies, a mean weight loss of 32% was associated with an increase in testosterone of 8.7 nmol / L (251 ng / dl).
You don’t need to lose large amounts of weight to see an increase in testosterone levels, either – a 5% weight loss can increase total testosterone by 2 nmol / L (58 ng / dL).
Quality sleep, physical activity, and weight management support healthy testosterone levels, and they are synergistic – if you lack sleep, you find it harder to exercise and easier to gain fat.
Exercising makes it easier for you to sleep and maintain a healthy weight. If your weight is healthy, it is easier for you to exercise and it is easier to sleep.
If you want to know more about the lifestyle-testosterone connection, check out our infographic and article here.
Only a few supplements have been shown to benefit testosterone production. Among them, the evidence mostly supports vitamin D and zinc, followed by magnesium.
However, there are two caveats to be aware of:
- Supplementing with a vitamin or mineral is likely to help you only if you have a deficiency or deficiency in this vitamin or mineral.
- Correcting a deficiency or insufficiency is more likely to raise testosterone levels if they are low.
Vitamin D helps regulate testosterone levels.
Ideally, you would produce all the vitamin D you need through exposure to sunlight, but if you live far from the equator, have dark skin, or simply spend most of your time indoors, you may need to supplement your own production with the help from food or supplements.
In some countries the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is between 400 and 800 IU. These amounts, which some researchers criticize as highly inadequate, are achievable from a few food sources, which is why vitamin D has become a popular supplement.
Zinc deficiency can hinder testosterone production. Like magnesium, zinc is lost through sweat, making athletes and others who sweat a lot more likely to be deficient.
Low levels of zinc can be the cause of a variety of health-related problems . Zinc is a key mineral that cells use to metabolize nutrients .
Immune function, DNA and protein production, and cell division are related to zinc levels in the body .
Although zinc in the diet is found primarily in animal products, foods rich in zinc include some grains and nuts.
Consuming much more than your RDA can be harmful. In the short term, high doses can cause nausea and vomiting. In the long term, they can lead to a copper deficiency.
In men with low magnesium and low testosterone levels, an increase in magnesium intake can translate into an increase in testosterone production, both directly and (since one of the functions of magnesium in the body is to help convert vitamin D in its active form) indirectly.
While more common in the older population, magnesium deficiency is not unheard of in younger people (especially athletes, since magnesium is lost through sweat by binding zinc).
However, getting your RDA should be easy – foods high in magnesium are numerous and can be adapted to all types of diets.
If you still feel the need to supplement, be aware that supplemental magnesium is more likely than dietary magnesium to cause adverse effects, which is why the FDA set the tolerable upper intake level for supplementing at 350 mg. magnesium in adults.
Additionally, you may want to avoid magnesium oxide – it has poor bioavailability (rats only absorbed 15% in one study, and humans only 4% in another) and can cause intestinal discomfort and diarrhea.
Numerous products are advertised as testosterone boosters, but the vast majority do not work, although some may make you believe that they do by increasing your libido. Maca, for example, can improve libido without affecting testosterone.
Perhaps the most popular “testosterone booster” is D-aspartic acid (DAA or D-aspartate). DAA increased testosterone levels in two studies, one using 2.66 g / day and the other 3.12 g / day, but two subsequent studies found no increase with 3 g / day, with the latter even noticing a decrease in 6 g / day.
Eat a healthy and balanced diet to avoid nutritional deficiencies. If your testosterone levels are low, pay attention to your intake of vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium.
Be skeptical of supplements marketed as testosterone boosters; there’s a good chance that the only thing these supplements are boosting is the results of their manufacturers.
The interventions discussed in this article will work best for men with low testosterone levels, but they can also help men with normal testosterone maintain their levels, year after year.
Supplements can help, but they cannot replace a healthy lifestyle. In order to optimize your testosterone production, make sure you get enough quality sleep on a daily basis, incorporate a little resistance training into your training program, and monitor your weight.
Try to get enough vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium through your diet. However, if dietary changes prove insufficient, supplementation can help make up the difference.
Not all testosterone deficiencies can be corrected through lifestyle interventions or supplements. It may be wise to talk to your doctor if the options listed above are not working enough.