Testosterone is what makes a man a man. As well as being an androgen, which means it produces male features, it is also anabolic, which means it causes growth. For this reason it is one of the most valued hormones in the bodybuilding world. Let's look at the role of testosterone and ways to naturally increase the body's levels.
Low Testosterone Symptoms
Testosterone levels in the body naturally start to decline after the age of about thirty. This loss is usually subtle and gradual, but over time, men may find themselves experiencing symptoms such as low libido and erectile dysfunction, reduced sperm count, development of breast tissue, poor concentration, depression, thinning of body hair and osteoporosis (1). While many of these problems can be the result of other conditions, if you have one or more of these symptoms, it's worth having your levels tested by a doctor. Low testosterone is a legitimate medical condition with a number of causes, some of which may be serious.
For most men, the issue is not so much treating a deficiency, but safely maximising the amount of testosterone their body is producing.
Increased Testosterone Effects
In a man without a deficiency, increasing the amount of testosterone in the body may still have a big effect. These include strengthening of bones, heightened libido, thickening of body hair and increased drive and focus. The biggest reason bodybuilders strive so hard to increase testosterone levels is shockingly, not to trick other guys in the gym into thinking they're wearing a tracksuit made of carpet, but for the profound effect the hormone has on strength and the ability to build muscle (1). In younger men, testosterone increases lean muscle mass and promotes fat loss by many mechanisms including influencing new cells to become muscle rather than fat and encouraging replication of cells within the muscle (2).
Increase Testosterone through Foods and Diet
What we eat has a big influence on our metabolism and the hormones our body produces, so an easy way to maximise testosterone producing potential in the body is to eat the right foods.
Weight Loss: Testosterone and obesity have a bi-directional relationship in the body. As discussed before, increasing testosterone can help someone lose weight, but strangely enough, losing weight will also increase the body's testosterone production. This is because obesity causes imbalances in the pituitary, hypothalamus and testes, the glands in the body that are responsible for the production of hormones like testosterone. Gaining weight can have as much of an impact on testosterone levels as aging. A balanced diet which maintains a healthy body fat percentage will maximise the body's ability to make testosterone (3).
Micronutrients: Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin D have all been shown to improve or support testosterone levels (4). Zinc can be found in meat, nuts, leafy green vegetables but the highest concentration of zinc in any food is in oysters. Magnesium is also prevalent in leafy greens, meat and nuts, and can also be found in oily fish, like mackerel. The easiest way to get vitamin D is to go out in the sun because your body makes it from sunlight.
Increase Testosterone through Training
Resistance training has been shown to increase the levels of testosterone in the body (5). Many people who are interested in improving their testosterone levels are actively involved in lifting or another form of resistance training, but if you're concentrating more on endurance or other cardio, it's worth keeping in mind that adding more weights to your schedule may maximise testosterone production.
Sleep is something that is often overlooked, because training and diet seem more important. Sleep is the time when your body repairs itself, when muscle grows, and it is also the time when your body produces the most testosterone. Like weight loss, sleep and testosterone have a bidirectional relationship, and greater testosterone levels may also improve quality of sleep (6)
Increase Testosterone through Herbs
There are a number of plants and herbs that have been lauded for their testosterone boosting properties.
Quite often, these have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years before being introduced to the western world and they are common inclusions in commercial testosterone boosting supplements.
Horny Goat Weed: This plant was discovered by a Chinese goatherd, and I'm sure you can fill in the blanks without me having to go into awkard specifics. This plant is widely used for its ability to increase levels of testosterone. It also boosts nitric oxide production, which means it's great in pre workouts as well as test boosters.
Tribulus: Tribulus terrestris has been used for thousands of years throughout Asia, but it recently shot to prominence again in the 1990s after the Bulgarian weightlifting team attributed their incredible success and physiques on the effects of the herb. Tribulus is used to naturally and safely boost the levels of testosterone in the body and many claim it also decreases recovery time.
Ginseng: This is used in traditional Chinese Medicine as a general tonic promoting alertness, cognitive function and longevity. It is also used to boost testosterone and address erectile dysfunction. The name "Ginseng" even comes from the Chinese words for "Man Herb". This is only because the ginseng root looks like the legs of a man, but hey, it's a good sign!
Tongkat Ali/Long Jack: This plant has been used for thousands of years in its native South East Asia to treat a variety of ailments from malaria, fevers and bacterial infections, through to diabetes and impotence. Recent studies have shown promise for Tongkat Ali in raising testosterone levels and increasing sperm counts. It is available in a number of testosterone boosting supplements.
Increase Testosterone through Supplements
Testosterone boosters are one of the most popular supplements amongst bodybuilders.
These products combine a number of active ingredients, with differing modes of action, into a single, easy to take product.
There are a lot of testosterone boosters on the market and we've taken the time to review them all and come up with a great list of the top testosterone boosters out there.
(1) Low Testosterone. X-Plain Patient Education, Medline. National Institute of Health USA. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tutorials/lowtestosterone/ur189103.pdf. Accessed 7th February 2014.
(2) Herbst KL, Bhasin S. Testosterone action on skeletal muscle. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004 May;7(3):271-7.
(3) Allan CA, McLachlan RI. Androgens and obesity. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2010 Jun;17(3):224-32
(4) Abyholm T, Kofstad J, Molne K, Stray-Pedersen . Seminal plasma fructose, zinc, magnesium and acid phosphatase in cases of male infertility. Int J Androl. 1981 Feb;4(1):75-81.
(5) Marin et al (2006), One session of resistance training may increase serum testosterone and triiodetironine in young men. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38: S285.
(6) Andersen & Tufik (2008), The effects of testosterone on sleep and sleep-disordered breathing in men: Its bidirectional interaction with erectile function. Sleep Medicine Reviews 12: 365-379