Testosterone is most often associated with “masculine” traits like strength, body hair, and aggressiveness but both males and females require it for proper sexual and physical development. That’s right ladies, this blog post applies to you too (did you know you secrete testosterone from your ovaries?). Though men produce roughly ten times more testosterone, females are much more sensitive to its effects. The right amount is crucial to a woman’s health. It keeps their bones strong, increases libido, and provides emotional stability.
Low testosterone levels can lead to a number of serious health consequences – in both sexes. These include an increased risk of depression, low sex drive, obesity, and osteoporosis. Men with low testosterone tend to have higher rates of heart disease, depression, and dementia. A decrease in testosterone levels in women can lead to a loss of muscle mass and weight gain.
Sub-optimal testosterone levels will wreck your training performance and results. Testosterone helps with protein synthesis, allowing the body to rebuild muscle fibers with amino acids. You need testosterone to maintain existing mass as well as to build bigger muscles.
Here are the 10 best non-pharmaceutical methods of increasing testosterone – no patches, lotions, or injections required:
1. Lift heavy
Resistance training supercharges testosterone production and research has shown that using a load between 85% and 95% of your 1RM (one-repetition maximum) releases the most testosterone.
2. Lift smart
Don’t just hit the gym and start heaving. Put a little more thought into the variables. Choose quality over quantity when structuring your workouts. Limit training sessions to an hour for optimal hormonal balance and to minimize the risk of overtraining. Rest periods matter too: Research has shown that resting 90 seconds between squat and bench press sets increases post-workout testosterone levels the most, followed by rest periods of 120 seconds. Obviously, this will allow you to lift heavier loads (see #1, above). Focus on full-body, compound movements like squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows.
3. Perform high-intensity, interval-based cardio
Not only are short, intense bursts superior to traditional aerobics for fat-burning, but research has shown that activity such as sprinting will increase serum total testosterone levels. In fact, in a study on young men, six-second sprints resulted in testosterone levels that remained elevated during the recovery period.
Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine compared the effects of sprint intervals, running, and a strength training circuit on testosterone levels. Only the group of participants performing sprint intervals experienced a significant increase in testosterone levels. In case you’re wondering, the “strength” training circuit used 30-second recovery periods – a duration too short to allow a load sufficient enough for testosterone-boosting.
4. Keep cortisol in check
Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone. While it does some good – preparing us for fight-or-flight situations – too much cortisol leads to catabolism, a state in which your muscle mass breaks down. Testosterone and cortisol have an antagonistic relationship. What can you do? Avoid overtraining – especially in the form of long-duration aerobic exercise. You can keep cortisol in a healthy range by lowering your overall stress level. Adequate sleep will help in this regard, as will activities that promote mindfulness and relaxation. Fish oil supplements have also been shown to reduce cortisol levels, in addition to their many other benefits.
5. Ensure adequate vitamin D
Vitamin D has long been associated with bone and muscular strength but research has shown that it also positively correlates with testosterone levels in men. Translation: men with sufficient vitamin D levels have significantly higher testosterone levels. Another study determined that when healthy male participants take 3,332 IU’s of vitamin D daily for a year, they have 25.2% more testosterone on average when compared to placebo. The optimal amount of vitamin D in the blood seems to be around 50-70 ng/dl. Unless you’re spending several hours in the sun each week, supplementation is advisable. Here is the product I recommend.
6. Use carbohydrates strategically
If you’re relatively lean and train hard several days each week, you’ve earned some carbs. Post-workout carbohydrate consumption is highly anti-catabolic, which means it drives down stress hormones like cortisol. This can be very beneficial in optimizing the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio. Carb sources such as potatoes and rice are what I use most frequently with my clients. Just be sure to adjust your carbohydrate intake downward on non-training days due to reduced activity levels and the increased likelihood that they’ll be stored as body fat.
7. Eat fat
Dietary fat increases testosterone, while low-fat diets reduce it. Saturated and monounsaturated fats are preferred over polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), like soybean, corn, and canola oil. The ratio of PUFA to saturated fats (SFA) also matters. Lower ratios (less PUFA, more SFA) are better for testosterone production.
A low-fat, high-fiber diet reduced serum and free testosterone levels in middle-aged men according to one study. Other research on male athletes found that saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and cholesterol intakes were positively correlated with resting testosterone levels. In case you didn’t know, testosterone is synthesized from cholesterol.
The best sources of saturated fats include grass-fed beef, lamb, and bison, pastured eggs, and organic butter and heavy whipping cream, also from grass-fed animals. For monounsaturated fats, choose extra virgin olive oil, raw nuts, and avocados.
And in case you’re visiting my site for the first time or you cling to a misguided, antiquated, and baseless 1980’s nutrition mindset: no, saturated fat DOES NOT clog arteries and no, saturated fat DOES NOT cause heart attacks. That myth has been debunked over and over. Inflammation is the real culprit. The structure of PUFAs makes them chemically unstable and therefore vulnerable to damage from heat, light, and oxygen. When exposed to these things, oxidation occurs and that process increases inflammation.
A study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found no link between eating saturated fats and increased risk of heart attacks. Additional research has even found that higher saturated fats are associated with lower risk of heart disease. Read more here.
8. Buy only meat and dairy from clean, responsibly-raised animals…and aim to lower your overall toxic load
Not only do products from animals raised on pasture provide a favorable omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio, but these animals are also not given estrogen, antibiotics, and other injections, which end up being present in commercially produced beef and dairy.
Toxic substances called dioxins have been shown to interfere with the male reproductive system, including production of testosterone. Most of our exposure to dietary dioxins comes from conventionally-raised animal products. Factory-farmed meat and dairy is also much higher in estrogen and estrogen correlates with low testosterone levels.
While you’re at it, avoid plastic products and the chemicals they contain, especially phthlates and bisphenol A (BPA). Among other harmful effects in the human body, these endocrine disruptors are known to lower testosterone levels. If you can’t completely eliminate plastic, at least try to avoid putting it in a microwave or dishwasher, as the heat will cause the toxins to leach from the plastic. Stainless steel and glass are much, much safer options.
9. Keep blood glucose levels under control
Here’s another reason to avoid rapidly-digested carb sources like pasta, cereal, and bread: Researchers found that 75 grams of pure glucose – and the resultant spike in blood sugar – was enough to drop testosterone levels by as much as 25% for hours, regardless of whether the participants were diabetic, pre diabetic, or healthy.
10. Get more zinc
A zinc deficiency predicts lowered testosterone in men. Research conducted at the University of Tehran found that zinc also promotes healthy sperm counts in men. The mineral increases testosterone levels by inhibiting aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. If you don’t eat much shellfish, you. may need a supplement. This is the product I recommend.