Okay, it’s time to talk about testosterone.
Testosterone is typically known as the “male hormone” even though both men and women produce it. Men just happen to produce so much more of it than women that we just decided to refer to it as the male hormone.
There’s a whole lot of boring stuff I could tell you about testosterone, but I’m going to skip all of it and go straight to the point(s) that the vast majority of people reading this will actually care about.
And that is, testosterone is the hormone that plays the largest role in our libido and our ability to build muscle.
When it comes to muscle growth, the higher a person’s testosterone levels are, the better/faster that muscle growth will take place.
This, of course, explains why people with great genetics typically have naturally above-average testosterone levels, and why some people (e.g. bodybuilders) use various drugs (steroids) to unnaturally increase theirs to well-above-normal levels.
With these facts in mind, the rest of us are left with a bit of a dilemma: we want to improve our ability to build muscle, but we don’t actually want to use steroids.
And so that brings us to a question: how do we naturally increase our testosterone levels?
Testosterone Boosting Supplements
Most of the articles that attempt to answer this question tend to focus on the ever-increasing list of natural “testosterone boosting” supplements on the market.
However, I’m not going to do that here.
Partially because I just hate talking about supplements, and partially because the overwhelming majority of the supplements marketed as “testosterone boosters” are complete and utter shit.
Yes, even the newest supposedly magical herb they recently discovered deep in the mountains of Testosterania or whatever the hell the sales pitch may be.
While some of those kinds of supplements (e.g. tribulus terrestris and fenugreek) may indeed have some degree of beneficial effect in terms of increasing libido, they’re virtually all completely useless when it comes to actually increasing testosterone levels in any meaningful way whatsoever.
So, yeah. I’m going to skip right over this entire aspect of things.
(If, however, you’d like to know more about these types of supplements, including which are legitimately proven to provide any sort of real benefit to your libido or testosterone levels, then I’d recommend getting Examine.com’s Stack Guides.)
Here’s what we’re going to do instead…
What I want to focus on instead are simple factors within your life right now – things you are currently doing or not doing – that can be having a meaningful testosterone-lowering effect.
And then, even more importantly, I’m going to show you the extremely easy (and completely natural) adjustments you can make to stop, prevent and reverse these effects and increase your testosterone levels as high as they are naturally capable of being.
Sound like fun? Let’s do this…
8 Natural Factors Affecting Your Testosterone Levels
1. Fat Intake
Research shows a fairly meaningful connection between dietary fat intake and testosterone levels. Studies (like this, this and this) have linked lower fat diets to lower testosterone levels, and higher fat diets to higher testosterone levels, thus making a sufficient fat intake (and possibly more specifically, a sufficient saturated fat intake) an important aspect of our diet.
So, how much fat should you eat per day to cover these bases?
For most people, getting 20-30% of your total daily calorie intake from fat will be the sweet spot, with that fat coming from a good mix of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Foods high in dietary fat include eggs, nuts (all kinds), nut butters, olive oil, coconut oil, seeds, fish (fatty types like salmon), avocados, beef, dairy, etc.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D has become one of the most recommended supplements over the last few years due to its proven positive effects on everything from immune function, to bone health, to mood, to reducing the risk of a variety of diseases, and more.
Most relevant to this article, however, is the role it plays in regulating testosterone levels.
As it turns out, low vitamin D levels are actually quite common. This is because it’s not something that’s found in many foods (or found in anything but tiny amounts in the few foods that do contain it).
Instead, the most abundant source of vitamin D is the sun. Meaning, actually being outside… in the sun… with the sun actually getting to your skin. So, no sunscreen or long clothing blocking it.
The problem with this is that 1) many people avoid direct exposure to the sun to prevent skin cancer, and 2) most people spend most of the daylight hours indoors at work, in school or taking part in some other non-outdoor-activity (Netflix, video games, etc.).
Which means, unless you happen to be a mailman or a dog walker or something that involves being outside in the sun on a daily basis (including in the winter), there’s a very good chance your vitamin D levels are at least lower than optimal… potentially even with a full blown deficiency.
How can you find out for sure? Go to your doctor and get a blood test. It’s the only way to know.
If a legit deficiency is present, your doctor will probably prescribe a fairly high dose of vitamin D to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, followed by some smaller maintenance dose to continue taking from that point on.
However, what if there is no deficiency but it’s still on the lower end of the normal range? Something that’s just… sub-optimal?
Or, what if you don’t have any insurance/money to get a blood test done to find out for sure?
Or, what if you just don’t get much (if any) direct sun exposure and assume you’d probably benefit from supplementing some sane amount of vitamin D?
In those cases, a daily dose of 2000-3000 IU of vitamin D tends to be the sweet spot for most people.
That’s the amount I’ve been taking myself since around 2010. NOW Foods Vitamin D3 is the specific supplement I use and recommend. (Also keep in mind that vitamin D is fat-soluble, so it should be taken with a meal that contains a source of fat.)
If, however, you’re already getting an optimal amount of vitamin D, then supplementing additional vitamin D beyond that amount will NOT increase testosterone levels any further. The only time vitamin D supplementation helps in this regard is when your vitamin D levels are taken from low to optimal.
From optimal to more-than-optimal has no additional testosterone increasing effect.
And now you can take most of what I just said about vitamin D and apply it to zinc.
And, just like with vitamin D, when zinc supplementation is used to bring things up from deficient to sufficient levels, testosterone levels increase right along with it.
Also just like with vitamin D, if you are already getting a sufficient amount of zinc, additional supplementation beyond that amount will not have any additional test-boosting effect.
So, if you are someone with a zinc deficiency (zinc is lost through sweat, so it’s a somewhat common deficiency among athletes), then getting your zinc levels up to sufficient levels via your diet (foods that contain zinc include shellfish, beef, lamb, certain nuts and seeds, etc.) or via zinc supplementation (Examine.com’s Stack Guides cover all of that) will most likely result in a beneficial increase to your testosterone levels.
Another study (this) had a group of young males sleep 8 hours per night for a week, followed by 10 hours per night for 3 nights, followed by 5 hours per night for the next 8 nights.
Guess what happened?
There was an immediate 10-15% reduction in testosterone levels after the nights when they slept 5 hours per night.
What can you do to prevent or reverse this?
That’s easy. Get a sufficient amount of sleep every night.
What qualifies as “sufficient” exactly? I’d say anywhere between 7-9 hours of sleep per night will be ideal for most people.
Additional details here: How To Fall Asleep Fast and Sleep Better Through The Night
In the same way that we consider testosterone to be the fun, happy, sex and muscle building hormone… we also consider cortisol to be the bad, sad, unhappy, fat, weak, depressing, stress hormone.
Technically speaking, of course, cortisol isn’t actually bad. In and of itself, at normal, healthy levels… it’s perfectly fine. It actually plays quite a few important positive roles in the body.
However, prolonged elevated levels of cortisol… THAT’S problematic.
One of the many examples of this problematic-ness is the fact that cortisol suppresses testosterone.
And the more stress we experience in our lives (be it mental or physical stress), the more our cortisol levels increase. And the higher cortisol levels increase and the longer they remain elevated, the more detrimental it is to our overall health and well being… and the more our testosterone levels decrease.
So what do I mean by “stress” exactly?
Well, stress comes in a variety of forms.
There’s the common generic life stress most people are probably already thinking of… typical issues with your job, school work, family, friends, husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend, social life and really whatever other normal day-to-day obviously stress-inducing problems people experience.
Then there’s more personal forms of stress that are specific to each person and whatever craziness happens to be going on in their head at any given time (e.g. anxiety, depression, etc.).
Then there’s physical stress, which can include all sorts of things. For example, insufficient sleep (sleep deprivation is associated with higher and/or dysregulated cortisol levels… another reason why sleep is so important), excessive amounts of exercise (e.g. stupidly high volume never-ending “bodybuilding routines,” hours of cardio most/all days of the week, always going to failure, etc.), excessive caloric deficits (in terms of size, duration, or both… more about this one later), digestive issues (it’s more than just problems with bloating, poop and farts… it’s a real form of stress being put on your body). And more.
So, what are you supposed to do about this?
Simple. Avoid stress.
Wait, what’s that you say? It’s impossible to avoid stress?
Well, physical stress is probably the easiest to come close to avoiding. For example, sleep 7-9 hours a night, avoid excessive amounts of exercise and design an intelligent weight training routine (or better yet, use one of the proven routines I include in Superior Muscle Growth), avoid foods you have issues digesting, etc. etc. etc.
As for mental and emotional stress… yeah… that’s a little bit harder.
It’s also a little bit harder for me to give any recommendations for that sort of thing. (You hate your job? Quit! Your boss is a dick? Punch him in the face! School is boring? Drop out! Your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband sucks to be around? Leave them!)
So I guess my recommendation here would be to find some way to at least minimize whatever mental/emotional stress you have in your life, and/or find better ways of dealing with that stress.
- Do more of the things you enjoy doing (and less of the things you don’t).
- Spend more time around people you like being around (and less around people you don’t).
- Laugh more.
- Play more.
- Listen to music.
- Take a walk outside.
- Find some other relaxing hobby.
- Have more sex – it’s a proven stress reliever AND sleep aid – and ideally have that sex with another person rather than just by yourself, as that has been shown to be more beneficial in this regard.
Whatever it is, anything you can do in your life to reduce stress (and keep your cortisol levels where you want them to be) will benefit your testosterone levels.
And benefit virtually everything else, too.
6. Alcohol Consumption
Let me make this one as clear as possible.
Small to moderate amounts of alcohol consumption (i.e. the kind of drinking that you don’t feel the next day) on a semi-infrequent basis (let’s say once or maybe twice a week) is probably just fine for most people.
On the other hand…
Larger, more excessive amounts of alcohol consumption and/or more frequent alcohol consumption can potentially be a lot less fine for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it has been shown to lower testosterone levels (studies here, here, here, here, here, here and here).
So what’s the big obvious point?
If you’re going to drink, staying within the realm of “moderate” alcohol consumption will probably be just fine. But the more you exceed “moderate,” the more detrimental it’s going to become.
7. Body Fat Percentage
Ready for a shocker? Being overly fat is bad for you.
In fact, being overly fat is associated with damn near every single adverse health marker you can think of. Research (such as this and this) has shown that one such example is a strong association with lower testosterone levels.
The surprising solution? Lose fat and get leaner.
The surprising prevention method? Don’t ever get overly fat in the first place.
This, of course, is one of MANY reasons why Superior Muscle Growth places so much emphasis on building muscle without gaining excess body fat, and part of why you shouldn’t ever “bulk” (aka go into a caloric surplus for the purpose of building muscle) until you are first “lean enough” to do so (details here: Should I Bulk Or Cut First?).
And while we’re on the subject of body fat percentage, there’s another point that I should also mention for the few people it might be relevant to.
If a person tests their test levels (I’ve been waiting all article to work that line in) when they are fat, and then tests them again when they are lean, they will almost always see a meaningful increase. Which means, the leaner you are, the better your hormonal profile will be.
That is… to a point.
You see, there’s a point when a person can get so lean (let’s say mid single digit body fat for men, and low teens for women) that it begins to have a negative effect on testosterone levels and damn near everything else, for that matter (including stopping a woman’s menstrual cycle).
For any guy who has ever gotten that lean, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Your sex drive damn near dies, and your ability to get “things” up and ready to go for the purpose of actually having that sex (which you’re not even interested in having) falls short.
Fortunately, things do return to normal once body fat levels return to a more “normal” level of leanness, which is nice.
But please realize that this isn’t something most people will ever need to worry about, as most people A) don’t want to be THAT lean in the first place, and B) many of the handful that do are unlikely to successfully reach that level even when they are trying to.
So to sum this one up…
- Avoid getting overly fat. Lower testosterone levels are just one of a billion reasons to avoid ever letting that happen.
- If you already are overly fat, lose that fat and get leaner. Doing so will increase your testosterone levels by some meaningful degree. And likely improve most other things, too.
- If you are someone who wants or needs to get extremely lean (e.g. a bodybuilder preparing for a contest… as this study looked at), prepare for it to have a detrimental effect in this regard, at least until you return to a less extreme level of body fat.
8. Your Approach To Losing Fat
Okay, so, being lean is better for you than being fat, and losing fat and getting leaner will result in higher testosterone levels.
Cool. Now for the ironic part.
The process of losing that fat so you can become leaner/healthier/better is something your body kinda hates.
What I mean is, the sole requirement of fat loss is a caloric deficit, and a caloric deficit is literally an energy deficit. As it turns out, your body doesn’t really enjoy being in this energy deficient state (it’s a form of physical stress being placed on your body), even if the whole purpose of being in this state (losing fat and getting leaner) is indeed something that your body will love once it happens.
The deficit itself is still something it hates.
Why is this?
Well, it all stems from the fact that your body only knows and cares about one thing: survival.
It doesn’t know or care if you’re in this caloric deficit because you want to lose fat, get lean, be healthier, feel better and look prettier, or because you’re about to starve to death. So, it will only ever react in the only way it knows how: by doing whatever it can possibly do to fight back and prevent this from continuing to happen.
This is why people trying to lose fat experience everything from hormonal issues, metabolic slowdown and hunger, to problems with sleep, mood and strength/muscle maintenance. And on and on and on.
Basically, in a deficit, all things that are ideally higher tend to gradually become lower (this includes – among other things – testosterone levels), and all things that are ideally lower tend to gradually become higher (this includes – among other things – cortisol levels).
The bad news? This is unavoidable.
The good news? The extent to which it occurs will differ greatly based on your approach to losing fat.
Meaning, the longer your deficit lasts and/or the larger your deficit is and/or the leaner you begin to get… the more pronounced these negative aspects of being in a deficit will be.
This is why very large deficits (via excessively low calorie intakes, excessively high amounts of exercise, or both) are a terrible idea for most people and should be avoided in place of something more moderate (20% below maintenance is a good starting point for the average person).
This is also why things like refeeds, diet breaks and cyclical forms of dieting are frequently recommended for people trying to reach lower levels of body fat and/or those who will be in a deficit for a significant period of time… as these methods all exist for the purpose of preventing, reducing and fixing the various negative issues associated with being in a deficit.
So, what’s the big point for this one? A few things…
- Being lean will result in higher testosterone levels than being fat.
- However, the caloric deficit required to lose that fat and get lean is something that, in and of itself, is capable of causing testosterone levels to decrease gradually over time (while also causing cortisol levels to gradually increase over time).
- It’s important to note that the degree at which this occurs will be at its highest the larger the deficit is, the longer the deficit lasts, and/or the leaner the person gets. It will be at its lowest in the opposite scenarios… sometimes to the point where it’s not even going to be worth caring about (e.g. someone with a lot of fat to lose who is in the early stages of losing it).
- To minimize this, most people should avoid very large deficits in the form of excessively low calorie intakes, excessively high amounts of exercise, or both.
- In addition, many people should consider using refeeds, diet breaks and/or cyclical forms of dieting for similar reasons, especially if they are attempting to get fairly lean.
Nothing fancy. No unproven supplements. No magical foods. No crazy claims.
Just 8 legitimately proven ways to increase your testosterone levels naturally, all of which involve simple adjustments you can start making right now.
Feel free to do so.