Raise testosterone and improve body composition with simple lifestyle actions that directly impact this most important hormone. A simple error in diet or bad habits could lower your testosterone and put you at increased risk of disease.
This article is aimed at men. Testosterone is also vitally important for women, and the same recommendations hold, though a woman's optimal level will be much lower than that of a man.
How Testosterone Protects Health
Testosterone is extremely important for health and well being in men. Men with low testosterone have a greater incidence of the following health problems:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Infertility and poor reproductive health
- More belly fat and less muscle mass
- Poorer athletic performance
- Slower recovery from intense training
- Greater risk of prostate cancer
Low testosterone (T) is a much bigger problem than most men realize. There are many interconnected reasons for low T such as exposure to chemical estrogens, lack of nutrients in our food, diets that don’t provide the building blocks for the body to make T, and lack of physical activity. Here are five tips to raise your testosterone levels for optimal health.
Tip #1: Get Enough Vitamin D
Optimizing vitamin D levels is a first priority to raise testosterone because the relationship between this nutrient and T is clear.
Men who are deficient in vitamin D (a level below 20 ng/ml) have lower free T and higher estrogen. These same men have more body fat, less lean mass, greater chance of depression, higher rates of cardiovascular disease, and poorer fertility than men with higher vitamin D levels. Men with adequate vitamin D (above 30 ng/ml) have the leanest body composition, higher free T, and better overall health.
Supplementing with vitamin D raises testosterone. A groundbreaking study tested the effect of giving vitamin D-deficient men who suffered from low testosterone a supplement of 3,332 IUs of vitamin D or a placebo daily for a year. Taking the vitamin D supplement raised free testosterone by a robust 20 percent. The placebo group had no change in testosterone.
Vitamin D supports testosterone production because there are vitamin D receptors on the cells in the glands that release T. In addition, vitamin D inhibits aromatization in which testosterone is changed into estrogen in men.
Solve Low Vitamin D
Get your vitamin D blood level tested to make sure you get enough. The Institute of Medicine recommends a baseline blood level of 30 ng/ml. Supplement with vitamin D if necessary.
Tip #2: Get Enough Zinc
The relationship between zinc, testosterone, and reproductive health is fairly well known. A 1996 study found that lack of zinc puts men at risk of male menopause. In this trial, young men with normal testosterone status who ate a zinc-deficient diet for 5 months experienced a dramatic drop in total testosterone of more than 50 percent. Giving zinc gluconate over the same period to older men who had low testosterone raised the men’s T levels by 200 percent.
Research shows that having adequate zinc available in the body allows for a more robust release of T, and the related athletic performance hormones, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). For example, a 4-week study that gave athletes a zinc supplement resulted in a significant increase in T after an exhaustive exercise test.
Lack of zinc makes both men and women infertile and increases cancer risk significantly. Zinc plays other roles that directly influence your whole hormonal cascade including the following:
- Low zinc leads to an increase in estrogen receptors and a decrease in androgen receptors.
- Zinc converts androstenedione into testosterone.
- Low zinc may raise aromatization of testosterone to estrogen, just like vitamin D.
- The male prostate tissue requires 10 times more zinc than other cells in the body for health. Once the prostate cells become cancerous they lack the ability to accumulate zinc, leading to the faster spread of cancer in the prostate.
Solve Low Zinc
Get a red blood cell zinc test to measure zinc levels. If you have low zinc, take a high-quality zinc supplement that is not cut with calcium—this will impair absorption. Get dietary zinc from meat, but don’t rely on vegetables or grains for zinc because they contain compounds called phytates that make the zinc unavailable to the body.
Don’t chronically take zinc unless you are low. Too much zinc can be toxic.
Tip #3: Get Enough Magnesium
Getting enough magnesium will help you raise testosterone. This can improve physical performance by increasing the rate at which the body produces energy. One study found that giving tae kwon do athletes roughly 750 mg of magnesium daily for 4 weeks raised free testosterone by 26 percent at rest and by 18 percent after a shuttle running test.
Maintaining adequate magnesium is necessary to avoid throwing off hormone balance and for regulating metabolism. Magnesium plays many important physiological roles including the following:
- Activates vitamin D to help with bone building.
- Enable forceful muscle contractions.
- Relaxes the central nervous system and plays a primary role in cardiovascular health.
- Supports energy use and blood sugar regulation.
- Promotes sleep.
Solve Low Magnesium
Tip #4: Get Enough Sleep
You probably know adequate sleep is necessary for growth hormone production and recovery from training, but it’s just as important for testosterone release. Total testosterone increases overnight and it is released episodically.
Studies show that just one night of short sleep will alter T release, leading to lower T in the morning. In one study, men who got only 4.5 hours of sleep experienced a marked decrease in testosterone.
Another study tested the effect of getting only 4 hours of sleep for 5 nights in young men. Testosterone levels dropped and afternoon cortisol increased. They also had significantly altered glucose and insulin by the end of the study.
The intention of this study was to measure how poor sleep increases diabetes risk, and this was evident with the subjects experiencing the beginning of insulin resistance in less than a week. It also shows the inter-relationship between testosterone, cortisol, and insulin. When balance of these hormones is compromised, it puts you on a downhill spiral to poor body composition and ill health.
Solve Lack of Sleep
Plan your sleep schedule so that you go to bed at the same time every night and stay on your schedule on the weekend. You can support the androgen and adrenal hormones by planning your sleep based on if you are a natural “morning” or “evening” person, a trait called “chronotype.”
Men who sleep based on their natural chronotype have higher testosterone than those who do not time their sleep based on their natural tendency. For example, “morning” subjects who have early-to-bed-early-to-rise sleep patterns have the highest T. Individuals who are forced to go against their chronotype (such as an “evening” subject who has to get up early), has lower T.
Tip #5: Avoid Sugar & Processed Carbs
Testosterone is temporarily reduced by having your blood sugar spike. Low testosterone is pretty much a given if you have diabetes. For example, a study found that men with normal insulin health had a 25 percent decrease in T after ingesting a drink containing sugar. T remained low for 2 hours, and nearly 80 percent of the men had their T drop to levels that would be considered clinical testosterone deficiency.
This study tested an acute or one time spike in blood sugar, but if your blood sugar is elevated over and over again, the entire hormonal cascade will be thrown off and you will suffer from chronically low T. We saw in #4 how lack of sleep alters blood sugar management and insulin health, resulting in lower T and higher cortisol. With an unfavorable ratio of T to cortisol, you will experience a catabolic or tissue-degrading state, leading to muscle loss, and greater fat accumulation.
Solve High Blood Sugar/Low T
Eat to raise your testosterone by managing your blood sugar response to food. Avoid foods that spike blood sugar. Foods with added sugar are obvious, but processed carbs should also be avoided.
Eat high-quality protein, healthy fats, and whole carbs like vegetables and low-sugar fruits. If you do eat foods that elevate blood sugar, pair them with foods that help moderate insulin and glucose—berries produce a lower glucose response when baked in whole grain bread or added to oatmeal.
Take a wholistic approach to raise testosterone. By focusing on nutrition and lifestyle habits, you lay the ground work for balanced hormones and optimal health.