There seems to be a lot of hype surrounding testosterone boosters lately. That’s because testosterone is “the king of all male hormones”, as many call it. And with good reason!
You see, during puberty, testosterone is largely responsible for the development of male characteristics, such as the deepening of your voice, hair growth and development of the reproductive system.
During adulthood, testosterone plays a vital role in a number of the male body’s functions, including the processes of building muscle, losing fat, maintaining libido, improving mood and building stronger bones.
Effects of low testosterone
In human males, the levels of testosterone usually peak during their late teens and slowly start to decline during their 30s.
A number of negative side effects can be experienced when your testosterone levels are lower than normal, including:
- low libido,
- low sperm count,
- an inability to gain muscle or, even, loss of muscle,
- an inability to lose fat or, even, fat gain,
- depression and
It’s important to note that, if you are experiencing any of the above and suspect that you may have a testosterone deficiency, you should see an endocrinologist.
Yes, some supplements can help with testosterone levels under some circumstances, but nothing beats a visit to a qualified practitioner!
Testosterone boosters that don’t work
It hasn’t been that long since testosterone boosting supplements have appeared in the market, but the demand for them has grown enormously.
Unfortunately, the most heavily marketed and commonly bought testosterone boosters have no scientific evidence to support their use.
So, before looking at the supplements that ARE actually backed by science, let’s take a moment to talk about a few of the most popular ones that are not.
Tribulus is one of the post popular herbs found in testosterone boosters and is found in products such as Nugenix Testosterone Booster and Force Factor x180. Unfortunately, research shows that, although tribulus terrestris may increase libido, it has no effect on human testosterone levels.
For example, in this study which was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, no increase in testosterone was noted in males between 20 and 36 years old supplemented with tribulus terrestris.
Note: If you’re interested in learning more, make sure that you check out this review article on tribulus terrestris by our friends at Healthy But Smart!
Fenugreek extract is also one of the most commonly used herbs in testosterone boosters and is found in products like Testofuel Anabolic Support Complex and Pharma Freak Test Freak. Similarly to tribulus, fenugreek seems to have relatively strong effects on libido, without, however, having any meaningful impact on testosterone levels.
In this study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, 45 resistance-trained males supplemented with 500mg of fenugreek extract per day for 8 weeks. However, no meaningful increases in levels of testosterone (or any other hormone) were detected by the researchers.
Aspartic Acid (or aspartate) is an amino acid used in the biosynthesis of proteins. D-Aspartic Acid (DAA) is one of the two forms of aspartate, the other being L-Aspartic Acid, and is found in products like Pharma Freak Anabolic Freak and Nutrex T-UP..
Although DAA supplementation has been found to sometimes result in a small increase in testosterone levels in healthy males, this increase seems to only last for about one week before it drops back down to baseline levels.
Moreover, research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that a dose of 6 grams of DAA per day resulted in a decrease in the levels of free and total testosterone in healthy resistance-trained males.
Testosterone boosters that are backed by science
As you can see, some of the compounds most commonly used in testosterone boosters have little to no scientific evidence supporting their use.
There are, however, some testosterone boosting supplements the use of which is supported by scientific research.
1. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
DHEA is a hormone which naturally occurs in the human body and is needed for the production of testosterone. Research suggests that supplementing with DHEA may increase the testosterone levels of people suffering from age related testosterone decline.
Moreover, one study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that DHEA supplementation in middle-aged men elevated the levels of free testosterone and prevented them from declining during high intensity intermittent exercise (HIIT).
It’s important to note that DHEA supplementation has not been shown to raise testosterone levels above the physiological range.
Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral found in foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds. Since these don’t usually constitute a big part of modern western diets, magnesium deficiencies are not at all uncommon.
Magnesium supplementation can elevate testosterone levels to the normal range when low testosterone is the result of magnesium deficiency.
In fact, a study published in the journal of Biological Trace Element Research found that 4 weeks of supplementation with 10 mg magnesium per kg of body weight increased both free and total testosterone in sedentary subjects as well as in athletes.
A magnesium deficiency can, of course, also be corrected by sufficiently increasing the quantity of foods rich in magnesium, such as dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds.
Like magnesium, zinc is also an essential dietary mineral and is found in foods such as oysters, meats and nuts.
Zinc deficiencies, which are relatively common in athletes and those who sweat a lot, can result in a decrease in testosterone levels, so supplementation with zinc can raise testosterone to normal levels.
Two studies published in the journal of Neuro Endocrinology Letters (one in exercising subjects and one in elite wrestlers) found that zinc supplementation for 4 weeks prevented the decrease in testosterone levels which declined in the placebo group.
Similarly to magnesium, a zinc deficiency can be corrected with dietary modifications.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble, hormone-like nutrient, the synthesis of which is largely dependent upon sunlight exposure, since very few foods contain it.
Inadequate sunlight exposure combined with an insufficient dietary intake of vitamin D can lead to vitamin D inadequacy or, even, deficiency, one of the symptoms of which is a reduction in testosterone.
Supplementation with Vitamin D will, consequently, correct a vitamin D deficiency and, possibly, result in an increase in testosterone levels.
This was confirmed in a relatively recent study published in the journal of Hormone and Metabolic Research, where it was found that men taking a little over 3000 international units (IU) of vitamin D for one year saw a statistically significant increase in both free and total testosterone.
5. Creatine (updated 2018)
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid which increases the formation of ATP and, thereby, helps to supply energy to all cells of the body. Creatine is also one of the few muscle building supplements we recommend to people trying to maximize strength and muscle growth.
The rise in the body’s creatine stores that happens with creatine supplementation and the subsequent increase in energy for short-term activities are mainly responsible for the significant performance increases that take place.
Upon further investigation, our stance on the effects of creatine supplementation on testosterone levels has changed. More specifically, according to the weight of the available scientific evidence, it seems that creatine fails to increase testosterone levels to any meaningful degree.
While some short-term trials (under 3 weeks) have reported increases in testosterone levels with creatine supplementation, most of the longer-term trials (over 6 weeks), such as this 2011 one by Cook et al., this 2014 one by Cooke et al., this 2006 one by Hoffman et al., and this 2004 one by Volek et al., have reported no significant effects.
So, yeah, scratch this one!
P.S. Shoutout to Examine.com for the scientific references!
Does more testosterone lead to more muscle gains?
Now for the bad news!
Contrary to what supplement companies have led you to believe regarding testosterone boosters:
- Increases in testosterone levels within the physiological range are unlikely to help you build muscle or result in meaningful increases in strength or body composition.
- There are no testosterone boosters that can increase testosterone levels to supra-physiological levels. For that, you need drugs.
If, however, you manage to increase lower than normal testosterone levels to the normal range, you’ll most likely experience a number of beneficial effects, both at the physiological and psychological level.
As mentioned above, if in doubt, see a qualified practitioner first!