Put down the injectable compounds and think for a second: unless you’re a Russian Olympic lifter, you don’t need steroids. Testosterone, on the other hand, is crucial. From the age of 25 onwards a man’s dude-juice start to decline, and research shows there is a correlation between low testosterone, obesity, and premature death. But how does one counter it without ending up with man boobs and a micro penis?
You boost it naturally.
There’s a lot of opinion-masquerading-as-fact on the internet these days. So we hit up Robbie Clark, a Sydney-based Functional Dietitian & Sports Nutritionist (and the director of HealthBank), and asked him for some simple, effective ways to boost your testosterone. This is what he had to say.
Get Sweaty (And Lift Weights)
Turns out the roid heads got one thing right: exercise is key to boosting your testosterone levels. And according to Robbie, as long as you’re not programming the treadmill to “Marathon”, getting a regular workout in could give your hormones the kick start they need: “Any activity I do (on a daily basis) will consist of some resistance training and aerobic training… If it’s not weight training, it will be a functional training class like F45.”
“The reason for this is so I continue to build lean muscle mass as well as optimise my cardiorespiratory fitness.”
Eat Protein, Fat & Carbs
As a dietician, Robbie told us everything you shovel down your gullet is crucial to your testosterone-based ambitions. And contrary to popular belief, a low-carb diet is not necessarily the answer. This is how he breaks it down.
- Eat more cruciferous vegetables – vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, broccolini, watercress, spinach, cabbage, bok choy and cauliflower contain a substance called glucobrassicin, which when broken down releases the phytochemical called indol-3-carbinol, which helps with oestrogen metabolism and clearance.
- Carbohydrates – carbs are essential for hormone metabolism. Therefore, people who implement a lower carb-to-protein ratio may be at risk of lowered testosterone levels compared to a higher ratio. The reason for this is that glucose is necessary for the release gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is a precursor hormone to testosterone. When glucose levels are low, GnRH stimulation is reduced, as is testosterone.
- Protein – consume a variety of proteins with each meal. Both plant-based and animal-based proteins are essential for optimal testosterone production. It’s important to note that a high protein intake itself does not increase testosterone levels.
- Fat – fat intake is very important for testosterone production, even saturated fat. If you think about the fact that testosterone is synthesised from cholesterol, and cholesterol is made from saturated fat then it makes sense. Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are also vital for balancing inflammation in the body and assist with normalising aromatase activity. This can be achieved by consuming more oily fish in the diet. Sources of saturated fats might be grass-fed butter, coconut oil, meat and egg yolks. Other sources of monounsaturated fats to include are avocados, nuts and seeds and their oils, extra virgin olive oil.
- Total calories – being in a calorie deficit to lose body fat does help men raise their testosterone levels, but chronically undereating for prolonged periods to lose fat leads to stress that significantly reduces testosterone levels.
- Consume foods rich in zinc, selenium and vitamin D.
To illustrate, he gave us three ‘sample’ meals:
- Breakfast – 3 x free range egg omelette/scrambled with spinach or kale, mushrooms, parsley, ¼ – ½ avocado and kim chi, cooked with extra virgin olive oil and served on a slice of wholemeal sourdough or rye.
- Lunch – 1 fillet of cooked salmon OR tinned tuna served with steamed greens, avocado and ¾ cup cooked brown rice or quinoa.
- Dinner – 1 x 250-300g fillet of grass-fed beef OR chicken breast with a mixed green salad and avocado, sprinkled with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds, plus extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon dressing.
Minimise Stress & Cortisol Levels
Although—to some extent—decreasing stress and cortisol will vary depending on the individual and their response to a stressful stimulus, Robbie told us there are a few basic principles that apply across the board. “Short-term stress,” for example, “Can be healthy.” However: frequent, prolonged and uncontrolled (chronic) bouts of stress are a real problem for testosterone (and happiness) levels. Luckily, there are actions you can take to manage stress and reduce cortisol. This is what Robbie suggests:
- Look at your training – are you thrashing yourself in in the gym or with your training? Are you at risk of overtraining with inadequate recovery that can ultimately lead to burnout? If so, you may want to reduce your training load or change it up and make sure you are recovering with plenty of rest and good nutrition.
- Sleep – getting adequate and quality sleep is essential for reducing stress. Aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night and avoid bright light stimuli in the evening e.g. computer screens, iPhones, iPads. If you must use these devices, apply a filter to block out the blue light, which causes cortisol to rise.
- Stress management techniques – implement some daily strategies that help with lowering cortisol and optimising heart rate variability e.g. mindfulness, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, deep breathing exercises, visualisation, walking barefooted along the beach or in the park, connect with nature, laughing therapy.
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Play or pat a dog (if you’re not allergic) – this elevates the levels of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which helps control the brain’s pleasure and reward centres. This in turn can help reduce cortisol levels.
- Supplementation may assist with the reduction of cortisol – adaptogenic herbs and nutrients to help improve the body’s resistance to stress and normalise cortisol e.g. Withania (winter cherry), ginseng, reishi mushroom, fish oil, magnesium, activated B vitamins and vitamin C.
- Epsom salt baths – soaking in epsom salts is an excellent way to achieve maximum absorption of the muscle relaxing nutrient, magnesium.
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Vitamin D
Another important dot point on your testosterone boosting checklist. However there’s no point taking supplements if you’re not deficient: “I always check my clients’ vitamin D levels first,” says Robbie, “But if they are low or deficient, I always recommend supplementation.” According to him, “Some people are more at risk of vitamin D deficiency than others e.g. people with dark skin, limited exposure to sunlight, vegans, people with gastrointestinal problems, obese people, genetic mutations, the elderly, people taking certain medications that interfere with vitamin D metabolism and people who suffer depression.”
The supplements I take are for optimising my health and help me manage stress, inflammation and energy. These include: fish oil, ubiquinol (Co enzyme Q10), probiotic, magnesium, activated B’s, vitamin D, 5-HTP, melatonin and adaptogenic herbs. Please note that these have been personalised for me after some thorough investigation. This is not a generic list that I recommend to people. When ever I treat someone, I will firstly do a thorough assessment and investigation before providing my recommendations regarding testing.
Q6. Get plenty of restful and high quality sleep – what strategies do you suggest for a) getting more sleep and b) getting better quality sleep
Stop Fiddling With Your Alarm Clock
Although we don’t all have access to a nutritionist to “size us up” for melatonin and magnesium supplements (low levels of melatonin and magnesium are a common cause for poor sleep quality), one thing you can control is you sleep environment.
“Make sure your bed room is dark, cool and has minimum noise. Also, make sure you empty your bladder fully before bed to reduce your risk of waking during the night.”
Robbie also suggests setting a bed time routine; our body loves and responds well to consistency: “For example, go to bed at the same time every night, aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and set your alarm for the same time every morning.”
Natural Testosterone Boosters
Disclaimer: before considering this option, it is important to measure your testosterone levels and work out why they are low, because, as Robbie warns: “It may not even be a testosterone issue.”
“It could be an adrenal issue, it could be an oestrogen dominance or conversion (aromatisation) issue, it could be genetic issue, it could be a pituitary issue, or it could be an oestrogen detoxification/clearance issue.”
Once you know the exact levels and cause of hormone imbalance, it makes it a lot easier to treat: “I have seen too often men who consume testosterone booster, expecting that their levels will rise, yet they never do.”
Supplements Robbie uses to focus on testosterone support and male physiology that are scientifically sound are Tribulus, ginseng (Korean), L-carnitine, zinc and selenium. However, when it comes to these products, you should always consult a qualified professional.
Put Down The Bottle
- Number one: reduce your alcohol intake. As Robbie told us, “If you have a high consumption, you may consider reducing your intake because alcohol has the ability to increase oestrogen in your body and inhibit testosterone metabolism in the liver.”
- Numero dos: “Environmental toxins such as BPA (found in certain plastic water bottles), phthalates, pesticides and heavy metals can negatively affect male testosterone levels if there is frequent exposure because they are endocrine disruptors.”