Wouldn’t it be great to wake up in a decade or two and still feel, look, and perform like you did in your prime? While we can’t stop the aging process, we can slow it down. For guys, one major way to do so is by maintaining healthy testosterone levels. Here, your guide to boosting your T, naturally.
Why Testosterone Matters
The hormone testosterone plays a major role in a man’s life. “We’re literally better at who we are if our T levels are thriving,” says Chad Howse, co-author of The Man Diet: A Proven Guide to More Energy, Increased Virility, and Higher Testosterone Levels. T affects just about everything, from a man’s appearance to his physical and emotional health.
Low T is associated with lean muscle loss, increased body fat, low energy and motivation, reduced sex drive, and more. Healthy testosterone, though, is linked to lower risk of depression, heart disease, and other health problems, says Howse.
Around age 30, men’s testosterone levels begin a long, gradual decline. (According to the FDA, normal T range is between 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl) of blood serum. Anything below 300 ng/dl is considered low.) If a blood test confirms you have low T, your doctor may recommend a prescription testosterone supplement or replacement therapy.
Taking Back Your T
A number of lifestyle factors affect your testosterone, and how quickly it declines. To take your T into your own hands—especially as you age—follow these guidelines.
1. Train Hard
Your workouts affect your testosterone on two levels. First, maintaining a low body fat percentage (which exercise can help with) helps T thrive, says Howse.
If you’re already hitting the gym three to five times a week, you’re on the right track. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition links physical activity with an increase in serum testosterone levels.
From there, you’ll want to adjust how you train, since certain activities provide an especially powerful stimulus for testosterone. Research published in the journal Sports Medicine found that in order to experience a strong testosterone response from exercise, your workouts should be high in volume and produce a metabolic response. Churn through many exercises, sets, and reps, and focus on intense bursts of exercise with short rest periods.
When you lift, focus on compound exercises like squats and deadlifts instead of isolation exercises like bicep curls. And when you do cardio, go for high-intensity intervals instead of a casual jog.
2. Balance Your Macronutrients
“We need carbs, fats, and proteins to have optimal T levels,” says Howse. A healthy amount of carbs, for example, keeps cortisol levels low (more on why this is important to come). Meanwhile, dietary fats produce cholesterol, which our body can later convert into testosterone. And, finally, protein supports body composition by enhancing muscle repair and growth and increasing satiety.
If you have body fat to shed, Howse suggests a macro split of 35 percent carbs, 35 percent fat, and 30 percent protein. If you’re already lean, try 40 percent carbs, 40 percent fat, and 20 percent protein.
We know, easier said than done. But stress increases our levels of the hormone cortisol, which has been shown to have a negative impact on total testosterone. Not to mention, cortisol spikes cravings and hunger hormones, kick-starting the vicious cycle of overeating. This can lead to weight gain, another T saboteur, over time.
That’s not to say all stress is bad. “We need ‘good’ stress to grow, in the gym or in life,” says Howse. Psychologists refer to this good stress as ‘eustress.’ Examples include planning a big trip, starting a new job, or crushing a tough workout.
However, when the sum of our eustress and our actual bad stress reaches a destructive level, you have a problem. Signs you’re too stressed include issues like trouble sleeping, stomach upset, fatigue, anxiety, and more.
4. Get To Bed An Hour (Or Two!) Earlier
Even if it’s not stress-related, missing out on Zzz’s is another major testosterone saboteur in itself.
Get this: Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Associations compared the testosterone and cortisol levels in men who slept eight to 10 hours per night to those of men who slept just five hours per night. The group who slept less had T levels 10 to 15 percent lower than those who scored quality sleep.
Not only does getting a solid night of sleep (the American Sleep Association recommends seven to nine hours) support a more productive morning, but it also supports your body’s ability to produce and balance hormones.
5. Supplement Smarter
In addition to maintaining the right diet and workout routine, a few simple supplements can also support your T-boosting mission.
- Caffeine: While caffeine can’t ramp up testosterone directly, it can help you put in the quality work in the gym that will spike your T. One International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism study, for instance, found that athletes who consumed caffeine before training lifted more—and experienced a greater subsequent lift in testosterone—than those who took a placebo.
- Vitamin D: Recent research suggests a strong link between vitamin D and hormone function—but as much as 40 percent of Americans are estimated to be deficient. That’s where supplements come in: According to a study published in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research, vitamin D-deficient men who also had low T experienced a roughly 25 percent increase in T levels after supplementing with 3,000 IU of vitamin D3 for one year.
- Zinc: The mineral zinc can block aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen, and zinc deficiency has been linked to low testosterone. In fact, one Biological Trace Element Research study found that middle-aged men with lower levels of T also tended to have lower levels of zinc than men with healthy T.
- Ashwagandha: One of the hottest herbs out there right now, this adaptogen packs a one-two punch. First, it helps the body fight off stress: According to one Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine study, ashwagandha has a cortisol-lowering effect—a major benefit to anyone who wants their body to be more T-friendly. And, second, it can also support your T-boosting training efforts. One Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition study, for example, found that men who supplemented with ashwagandha saw significantly greater strength and T gains after eight weeks of resistance training than those who took a placebo.
Save this handy infographic to keep your T in tip-top shape: