You’ve seen it. I have as well.
The newest ‘test booster’ and the muscular guy on the label.
It feels like it’s calling you:
“Buy this product and all of your hard-gainer days will feel like a distant past.”
You can already picture yourself with your ideal physique, feeling proud and accomplished.
Can this product be what you’ve been looking for so long?
Since the early days of bodybuilding, testosterone has been associated with a strong physique and manliness.
While the association is accurate, it doesn’t mean that these products will deliver what they promise. Not even close.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look into the hormone itself, how it affects our body, what are some common causes of it declining and what are the natural ways to increase testosterone.
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What is a Hormone?
Hormones are chemicals (also known as chemical messengers) that are produced by cells and glands in the body. Together, they form the endocrine system.
Hormones play vital roles in our bodies and are involved in every system including food digestion, metabolism, hunger, growth, reproduction, and more.
As chemical messengers, hormones help regulate different cells and organs in various ways. For example, fat cells release a hormone called leptin. Leptin is responsible for the feeling of satiety, among many other things.
Testosterone is a hormone, like leptin, but its functions on the body are much different..
What is Testosterone and How Does it Work?
Testosterone is a hormone that is primarily produced in the testicles in men and ovaries in women. Healthy men have as much as 20 times higher testosterone levels compared to women.
Testosterone levels influence important processes in the human body such as:
- Muscle strength and rate of growth
- Sperm production and its quality
- Sex drive
- Well-being and energy levels
- Production of red blood cells
It is safe to say that testosterone is important. Quite a lot. The more you have, the “manlier” you appear and feel.
Lower than normal testosterone levels can have negative effects such as:
- Low sex drive & erectile dysfunction
- Low sperm count
- Decline in athletic performance and muscle loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Increase in body fat
- Mood swings and depression
- Loss of mental focus and drive
- Low self-confidence
- Lack of energy
Nasty stuff. We don’t want that.
What are Normal Testosterone Levels?
Before we can talk about testosterone levels, I’d first like to clarify the difference between testosterone and free testosterone.
Most of the testosterone our body produces binds to two proteins – albumin and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). The majority of testosterone, bound to SHBG, is not considered bioavailable and ..you guessed it: is not available for use.
The smaller portion of testosterone, bound to albumin, is considered bioavailable because it dissociates freely and becomes available for tissue intake.
And then, there is the free testosterone. The third portion that circulates freely and is not bound to either of the two proteins.
You can assess both total and free testosterone levels with a simple blood test. They are most commonly expressed in nanograms per deciliter (of blood). A nanogram (ng) is small – like a billionth of a gram small. A deciliter (dL) is 10 liters.
The normal ranges of total testosterone are:
15-16 years old
17-18 years old
17-18 years old
As you can see, the normal range for testosterone varies. Some people have a naturally higher level and others a lower.
What are Low Testosterone Levels?
The ranges of ‘normal’ testosterone levels vary. The upper limit is 12x higher than the lower limit in 15-16 years old and 4x for men 17+ years old.
Because of that, you might be thinking:
“Well, even if my testosterone is within these ranges, shouldn’t I try to keep it to the upper border?”
You should, and we’ll get to that later.
But, there is something I do want to clarify about testosterone now:
Everyone is different and what could be considered normal levels for one person could be low for another.
For example, even though the minimum threshold for testosterone is 240 ng/dL, a 40+-year-old man might feel great at 350 ng/dL. At the same time, a twenty-something-year-old could show symptoms of low testosterone.
This study investigated hypogonadal symptoms (low testosterone) in relation to serum total testosterone in men younger than 40 years.
What they found was that men with testosterone levels less than 400 ng/dL showed hypogonadal symptoms such as sadness, decreased energy, decreased athletic performance, and deterioration in work performance.
Another study looked at middle-aged and old men(40+ years old), trying to determine when hypogonadal symptoms start to surface. They found that symptoms of low testosterone appeared with total testosterone levels below 300 ng/dL.
The minimum threshold of testosterone levels for men above 40 (where no hypogonadal symptoms appear) seem to be between 320-375 ng/dL.
So, age is important here and who knows what else might be influencing this. What we can draw from these two studies is that, although your testosterone levels might be in the normal range, hypogonadal symptoms could still surface.
If you consistently feel a blend of these symptoms, you should get a blood test and see what your testosterone levels are.
The 5 Most Common Causes of Low Testosterone in Young, Healthy Guys
There has been a steady decline in testosterone levels among men in the last two decades.
Men today have lower testosterone values than previous generations had when they were young. And there are many theories and speculations as to why this is happening.
We can try and pin the blame to one single food or activity, but there is a multitude of factors affecting the big T.
Let’s take a look at what causes low testosterone levels:
1)High Body Fat Percentage
High body fat percentage has been directly linked to decreased levels of testosterone and increased estradiol.
I’m not an advocate of dirty bulking, and I wrote a bit about it in my muscle growth guide. It is counterproductive, and it can lead to health problems and eating disorders.
What I recommend doing instead is using a controlled calorie surplus of 100-200 calories. Clean bulking is slow, but it’s the best way to ensure maximum muscle growth and minimum fat gains, for natural lifters.
And if you give yourself enough time and clean bulk for a year or two, you will put on a considerable amount of strength and muscle mass.
You should also check out my fat loss guide if you’re already at a high body fat percentage.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you’ve probably noticed how much emphasis I put on proper nutrition. And for a good reason:
No matter what your fitness and health goals are, nutrition plays a crucial role in everything.
Getting enough healthy fats every day helps with hormonal synthesis and regulation.
Carbs from quality sources stimulate a better insulin response, helps sustain high energy levels and in turn improve the quality of your workouts.
Protein is another crucial element of good nutrition and getting enough of it is also quite important. Not only does it help you build more muscle over time but it also helps you preserve much more of it when you’re in a fat loss state.
I recommend following flexible dieting. With it, you are required to “hit” specific macronutrient numbers every day, and you also get to eat some of your favorite foods, guilt-free.
And no, eating junk all day, as long as you hit your macros, is probably not a good way to go about increasing your testosterone levels. Sorry.
3)Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation is responsible for some health issues, and lower levels of free testosterone are one of them. This study, in particular, took ten healthy young guys at the average age of 24 and cut their sleep from 8 hr 55 min to 4 hr 48 min for a week.
What they found was interesting:
Their total free testosterone levels decreased by 10 to 15 %.
Other problems people face because of poor sleep are tiredness, low libido, depression, lethargy, lack of focus, reduced metabolic rate and no motivation to train. All of these symptoms are also present with low testosterone levels.
We’ll talk more about sleep below.
4)High Stress Levels
Acute stress (being chased by a bear, for example) forces your body to release stress hormones(glucocorticoids) to help you get as far away from it, as fast as you can. This is a positive reaction from your body. It keeps you alive in dangerous situations.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is something that impacts your health and life in a negative manner.
Chronic stress can be something like worrying about paying next month’s bills or having an unreasonable boss who is always riding you.
Chronic stress directly inhibits testosterone production. For example, in this military study, the psychological stressors (such as fear of death) have been linked to significantly lower levels of testosterone.
Depression has also been shown to lower testosterone levels in men.
People today are more inactive than ever. And this is no surprise, considering how the modern world works. If your job doesn’t require much (or any) physical activity, you can easily spend up to 90% of your waking hours sitting.
Inactivity is not good.
This kind of lifestyle leads to tons of health problems, and one of them is low testosterone.
To avoid this being you, I recommend having 3-4 training sessions per week, consisting of some heavy compound lifting, as well as adding accessory movements for higher repetitions.
We’ll get into the nitty-gritty below.
Aside from that, make time for other activities. Even something as small as a brisk walk after dinner can be beneficial.
How Testosterone Levels Influence Muscle Growth
Testosterone is well-known as an essential part of muscle growth, and rightfully so. Men who were injected with 600 mg weekly for ten weeks managed to gain muscle size without even training, this study showed.
Here’s a direct quote:
Supraphysiologic doses of testosterone, especially when combined with strength training, increase fat-free mass and muscle size and strength in normal men.
Injecting testosterone can have a profound effect on muscle and strength gains, even if the person is not training.
What about within the normal ranges, with or without the use of steroids?
If we look at this study, we can see that injecting testosterone and increasing it within the physiological range is still marginally anabolic.
Here is a direct quote:
The administration of the GnRH agonist plus graded doses of testosterone resulted in mean nadir testosterone concentrations of 253, 306, 542, 1,345, and 2,370 ng/dl at the 25-, 50-, 125-, 300-, and 600-mg doses, respectively. Fat-free mass increased dose dependently in men receiving 125, 300, or 600 mg of testosterone weekly (change +3.4, 5.2, and 7.9 kg, respectively). The changes in fat-free mass were highly dependent on testosterone dose (P = 0.0001) and correlated with log testosterone concentrations (r = 0.73, P = 0.0001).
Another study looked into the relationship between testosterone and protein synthesis. The subjects received pharmacological doses of testosterone enanthate, and it had a positive effect on protein synthesis.
Here’s a quote:
Testosterone increased muscle protein synthesis in all subjects (27% mean increase, P less than 0.05).
And the conclusion:
These studies suggest that testosterone increases muscle mass by increasing muscle protein synthesis.
Another study looked into the effects testosterone enanthate had on muscle mass and strength gains in healthy young men.
Here are the key points:
1.Use of testosterone enanthate has been shown to significantly increase strength within 6-12 weeks of administration (2, 9), however, it is unclear if the ergogenic benefits are evident in less than 6 weeks.
2.All subjects performed a structured heavy resistance training program while receiving either testosterone enanthate (3.5 mg.kg(-1)) or saline injections once weekly for 6 weeks. One repetition maximum (1RM) strength measures and 10-second cycle sprint performance were monitored at the pre (week 0), mid (week 3), and post (week 6) time points.
3.When compared with baseline (pre), 1RM bench press strength and total work during the cycle sprint increased significantly at week 3 (p < 0.01) and week 6 (p < 0.01) in the testosterone enanthate group, but not in the placebo group. Body mass at week 6 was significantly greater than at baseline in the testosterone enanthate group (p < 0.01), but not in the placebo group.
We can conclude that having higher testosterone levels, even within the normal range, would result in more muscle growth, and better athletic performance.
How Does Testosterone Affect Fat Loss?
We can instantly associate high testosterone levels with having more muscle mass, a deeper voice, more hair on the body. You know, “manly” stuff.
But what about fat mass. How is it related to testosterone?
The first study sought out to determine testosterone’s effect on basal metabolic rate (BMR) in men. They found that BMR increased significantly after three months of testosterone treatment in all three groups. The increase ranged between 7 and 13%.
Testosterone also had a positive effect on lean body mass.
LBM also was significantly higher after 3 months of treatment (mean, 10%; P less than 0.01) and remained elevated at 12 months. The percent increase in LBM was similar in men with muscular dystrophy (+10%) and normal men (+11%).
Also, this study found that having higher levels of testosterone in the blood stream has a direct inhibiting impact on fat cell formation.
Higher levels of testosterone have also been shown to make it easier for your body to burn more fat mass and less muscle.
Finally, this study sought out to determine the effect testosterone had on fat mass distribution in healthy young men. The researchers observed changes in total body fat mass and lean body mass.
And their rather expected conclusion regarding fat mass:
Our data demonstrate that increasing testosterone concentrations above baseline, by administration of supraphysiological doses of testosterone enanthate in healthy young eugonadal men, leads to a loss of total-body AT. Conversely, lowering of serum testosterone concentrations below baseline is associated with gains in total-body AT mass. The gains in AT mass that occur when testosterone levels are lowered and losses in AT mass when testosterone levels are increased are evenly distributed between the trunk and the appendices in both absolute and relative (percent change) terms.
But here’s something interesting from the discussion:
Not all the studies of testosterone replacement in hypogonadal men have reported a significant decrease in total body AT mass. The studies that did demonstrate a significant decrease in total body AT mass generally included somewhat older men, with higher AT mass at baseline, in comparison with the studies that did not show a significant change in AT mass.
The keyword here is significant, and although high testosterone levels won’t magically shave off fat, there is clear evidence that it does help.
There are numerous other studies to suggest a positive correlation between having high testosterone levels and lower levels of body fat.
Testosterone Boosters are Amazing in Theory, But Do They Deliver?
With all of these amazing benefits testosterone has, one would think “Well, why don’t I just get myself a testosterone booster?”.
In theory, this is your best bet. Spend 50-70 dollars a month and improve your training and diet results tenfold. These supplements are highly popular these days. Therefore they work, right?
Well, in practice, things don’t work out like this.
You see, supplement companies push their testosterone boosters well, but that doesn’t make them effective. Most of the claims made by these companies often include pseudoscientific appeals with no real evidence to back them up.
Here are some of the commonly found ingredients in today’s “testosterone boosters.”
- ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin B6)
- D-aspartic Acid
- Tribulus Terrestris
In this study, the purpose was to determine Tribulus Terrestris’ effect on fat-free mass and strength in athletes taking it over a 5-week period.
They split the participants into two groups: one group took Tribulus Terrestris capsule daily, and the other took a placebo.
After the 5-week period, both groups had gained a significant amount of muscle mass and strength. But, there were no significant differences between the two groups.
This systematic review took 11 studies that met their criteria set out to determine TT’s effects on testosterone levels in those who took it. Their findings were as follows:
Literature available for the effectiveness of TT on enhancing testosterone concentrations is limited. Evidence to date suggests that TT is ineffective for increasing testosterone levels in humans. Thus marketing claims are unsubstantiated.
Next, we have ZMA, a combination of zinc monomethionine and aspartate, magnesium aspartate, and vitamin B6. And their effect on testosterone levels is like that of TT.
This study showed that ZMA had no significant effects on testosterone levels on people who weren’t deficient in zinc. So, unless your diet lacks zinc, ZMA won’t do jack for your testosterone.
Next, we have D-aspartic acid. Many claim it to be a great supplement that helps in muscle growth and raises testosterone. But, this study debunks both claims making it a useless supplement to take.
Lastly, we have Fenugreek. This supplement has been shown to increase testosterone but not in a good way. Check this video explanation out.
Also, read this post if you’re interested.
The bottom line on testosterone boosters?
Just because a product has a shiny label and makes false claims such as:
- Designed to speed up muscle growth;
- Helps with recovery;
- Improves energy and endurance;
Doesn’t mean it can deliver ANY of the benefits.
Stay away from shiny-labeled supplements making false promises. Instead, spend more time naturally improving and maintaining your testosterone.
How to Naturally Boost Testosterone Levels
Now that we’ve learned the benefits of having optimal levels of testosterone and why supplements won’t get you there, let us see what we can do.
Improve Testosterone Levels Through Good Nutrition(and 15 Foods to Put on Your Grocery List)
Let’s take a look at how each macronutrient affects your testosterone and what is a healthy ratio between all three (fats, proteins, and carbs).
How Dietary Fats Affect Testosterone Levels
A lot of fitness gurus tend to talk about dietary fat, claiming that it is unhealthy. It supposedly “raises cholesterol,” “makes us fat,” “increases the likelihood of having a heart attack,” and more “facts.”
But, today, in 2017, I’d like to think that we know better.
You see, dietary fats play an important role in the body and are needed in a variety of physiological processes such as hormonal production, improved brain health, boosting your immune system, and more.
And with testosterone, it’s no different. Dietary fats play an important role with the male sex hormone.
For example, this study found that men who got 41% of their calorie intake from fats, had 13% higher testosterone levels compared to men getting only 18% of their calories from fats.
Another study looked at the relationship between dietary fats and testosterone levels. The researchers had their subjects go from a diet containing 40% calories from fats to a diet that contained half that and then go back up to 40%.
They found that testosterone levels took a nosedive on the low-fat diet and returned to normal after dietary fat intake increased.
These findings suggest that eating enough dietary fats every day, or about 25-40% of total calories, is important for testosterone production.
Here are five great sources of fatty acids for your grocery list:
How Carbohydrates Affect Testosterone Levels
Carbohydrates have been yet another demonized macronutrient in the past. Diet gurus have made claims like:
“Don’t eat carbs after 6 pm, or you’ll get fat.”
“Don’t eat white bread, because it will go straight to your hips, belly and low back.”
“If you want to lose fat, you need to cut the carbs completely.”
You know, the usual crap. I’m just waiting to see what the gurus will say about protein and how it’s supposedly killing us. Oh, wait.
Back on topic. We all know that weight loss comes down to energy balance. Just look at the story of Professor Mark Haub who managed to lose 27 pounds while eating only twinkies, oreos, and Doritos chips.
Simply put, most of the claims made about carbs are totally unreasonable and downright dumb.
In fact, carbohydrates may prove to be the most important macronutrient when it comes to maintaining optimal testosterone levels.
This first study came to the conclusion that when their subjects (who practiced resistance training) ate more protein and fewer carbs, their testosterone levels decreased dose-dependently.
Another study had similar findings. Subjects who consumed higher amounts of carbohydrates had higher testosterone levels.
In this study, one group of men consumed a lower carbohydrate diet (30% of calories) and a second group ate a high-carb diet (60% of calories). They also did three consecutive days of intensive exercise (70-75% maximal oxygen consumption, for 60 min/day), followed by a rest day afterward.
The group that consumed more carbohydrates had significantly higher levels of free testosterone with lower levels of cortisol.
So carbs aren’t so bad after all. Who knew?
Here are five great sources of carbohydrates:
tomatoes, cucumbers, leafy greens, broccoli, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, etc.
Whole-grain and whole-wheat products
pasta, bread, etc.
oats, quinoa, rice, bulgur, etc.
black, green, white, brown, kidney, lima beans
apples, bananas, berries, avocados, coconuts, grapefruits, oranges, grapes, kiwi, mango, peaches, pineapples, etc.
How Protein Affects Testosterone Levels
Protein is easily the favorite macronutrient for most people. And it’s the least demonized by diet gurus (probably because if they started talking about protein as well, their followers would be left with nothing to eat).
All the powerlifters, bodybuilders, gym bros, and their grandmas know about protein. You eat it; you get jacked.
But how does the beloved macronutrient measure up to the task of testosterone production?
Let’s find out.
First off, protein deficiency has been shown to significantly lower testosterone levels and lean body mass, but we also know that we don’t need more than 0.8g/lb of lean body mass for maximal protein synthesis.
In this study I referenced earlier, the researchers looked at the effects of different diets on hormone levels. The resistance training subjects consumed diets with different macronutrient compositions(high-protein, high-carb, etc.).
They found that the higher in protein intake the subjects went, the lower their testosterone levels fell. This could be caused by a variety of reasons, but a logical explanation is that when more calories come from protein, less are available for carbs and fats.
And we already know that both carbs and fats are essential for optimal testosterone levels.
So what’s the conclusion here?
Yes, protein is important, and you should consume it. But not with the monstrous recommendations given out by most people.
Around 0.8g/lb of lean body mass is plenty for maximal protein synthesis. You can go as high as 1g/lb of lean body mass if you’re in a caloric deficit.
Any higher than that won’t do anything to optimize muscle growth, but it can negatively impact testosterone levels.
Here are five great sources of protein:
Nuts and seeds
Chicken and turkey
How Overall Caloric Intake Affects Testosterone Levels
Overall caloric intake (or energy balance) is the amount of energy you consume every day (through foods and drinks) versus the energy your body burns off (or your total daily energy expenditure).
When you eat more calories than your body burns (caloric surplus), you gain weight. Again, some fat, and some muscle. It also depends on a lot of factors.
Both the caloric deficit and surplus have their respective effects on testosterone levels.
Namely, being in a caloric deficit for an extended period has been shown to decrease testosterone levels. The drop in testosterone is dependent on the severity of the caloric deficit.
This is logical. When you’re expending more energy than you’re consuming, your body eventually has to start prioritizing the most vital processes for you to survive. And since reproduction is not as important as not starving to death, testosterone takes a hit.
Don’t get alarmed, though. This effect is reversed once the fat loss phase is over and you increase caloric intake.
Now, eating in a caloric surplus is another story. When you control your food intake, it allows you to slowly build muscle mass and gain a bit of fat along the way.
Genetics strongly determine the ratio between muscle and fat mass gained on a caloric surplus.
But when you don’t control it, things get messed up. First, you turn into a fat ass, and then testosterone takes a hit.
There is a simple explanation:
Aromatase is an enzyme that converts androgens (male sex hormones) into estrogens (female sex hormones), which means that part of your testosterone becomes estradiol.
What does this have to do with being a fat ass?
Well, the aromatase enzyme “lives” in the fat cells. This is likely why there is a link between obesity and high aromatase activity.
Studies have also found that visceral fat has been associated with lower levels of testosterone.
What’s the bottom line here?
Too low of a body fat percentage (say doing a bodybuilding competition) and long periods spent in a caloric deficit = low testosterone levels.
Too high of a body fat percentage (say you do a dirty bulk) = low testosterone levels (probably not to the same extent as being 5% body fat, but still not optimal).
What’s my recommendation?
Do slow and controlled periods of being in a slight (100-200 calorie) surplus. During this time, your goal is to pack on as much muscle as you can while staying relatively lean (below 15% body fat).
It is important to build strength and work capacity during this period.
After this, do a slow and controlled (250-500 calorie) deficit. During this time, your goal is to strip off mostly fat and get to the 10-12% body fat.
Aim to retain as much muscle mass and strength as you can.
Improve Testosterone Levels With the Right Supplements
No, this is not the point where I try to pitch you some test booster. As you saw earlier, most multi-ingredient supplements are full of unproven herbs that have no real effect on your testosterone levels.
With that said, there are a few supplements worth taking, not only for improved testosterone levels but general health too.
Zinc is a trace mineral that serves as a building block for enzymes, proteins, and cells. It also releases Vitamin A from the liver, boosts immune system function, and helps with wound healing.
It’s worth noting that Zinc has been shown to raise testosterone levels in men who were deficient in the mineral. If you are not, you’ll likely just experience a rise in DHT(Dihydrotestosterone) levels, which is also beneficial.
As for dosing, the general recommendation is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women, daily.
Magnesium is a macromineral that is involved in hundreds of biological processes. Some of them include maintaining natural fluid balance, muscle contraction, blood clotting, cell signaling, energy metabolism, blood pressure regulation, and building healthy bones and teeth.
Magnesium has also been shown to increase free testosterone levels.
This study found that supplementation with magnesium coupled with intense exercise was enough to increase testosterone levels by 24%.
Another study found a positive correlation between higher magnesium levels and more free testosterone:
there is evidence that magnesium exerts a positive influence on anabolic hormonal status, including Testosterone, in men.
Just like with zinc, magnesium positively affects testosterone levels if you are deficient in the mineral.
The recommended daily dose is 200-400 mg per day.
Boron is a mineral that is claimed to help raise testosterone levels. Let’s take a closer look:
In the first study, the subjects took 10mg of boron supplement for seven consecutive days. The researchers compared blood samples from day 1 and day 7. They found that after a week of supplementation, free testosterone and DHT had increased by 28% and 10% respectively, while estradiol had decreased by 39%.
In this study, the subjects took 10mg of boron daily. There was an increase in testosterone levels. It’s worth noting that estradiol also increased.
The recommended daily dose is between 3 and 25mg/day.
Forskolin is found in the herb Coleus forskohlii. In the fitness industry, Forskolin has been used as an ingredient in fat-burning supplements.
The most prominent study made on Forskolin examined its effect on testosterone levels, fat loss, metabolic rate and blood pressure in overweight and obese men. They had the participants take 250mg of a 10% forskolin-containing coleus twice a day, or a total of 50 mg of Forskolin per day.
Their findings were promising:
1.Forskolin was shown to elicit favorable changes in body composition by significantly decreasing body fat percentage and fat mass as determined by DXA compared with the placebo group;
2.Additionally, forskolin administration resulted in a change in bone mass for the 12-week trial compared with the placebo group;
3.There was a trend toward a significant increase in lean body mass in the forskolin group compared with the placebo group;
4.Serum free testosterone levels significantly increased in the forskolin group compared with the placebo group;
It seems that Forskolin might be a good option for raising testosterone levels, although the research is pretty limited and more studies are needed to validate this claim.
Improve Testosterone Levels Through Regular Strength Training
We all know that regular strength training has many benefits and one of them is more free testosterone.
A study conducted by the Ball State University researched the effect strength training had on young and senior men.
Young (23-years old) and senior (63-years old) men took part of a 12-week training program. Blood was taken immediately before and 15 minutes after each training session. They found that strength training “can induce growth hormone and testosterone release, regardless of age, but that the elderly response does not equal that of the young.”
Now, you might have noticed that I named this sub-point ‘improve testosterone levels’ rather than something click-bait like ‘do this training program to boost your testosterone.'
The reason is simple:
There’s no magical 45-minute workout that is going to raise your testosterone levels. More than enough studies have proven the positive effect strength training has on our testosterone levels.
You don’t need to overcomplicate your training.
But ‘regularly training’ is a bit vague, I know. We see generic advice about it all the time. The bad thing is, it leaves a ton of questions unanswered:
- How often should I train?
- What rep ranges should I use?
- How much training volume do I need?
- How much is too much and counterproductive for me?
These are all questions that need answers but are often left for you guys to figure out for yourselves. I’m going to answer each and every question in the simplest, most understandable way by providing as much value as I can.
I also strongly recommend reading my guide on muscle growth for a much more in-depth look at these questions.
1)How often should I train?
Depending on your lifestyle, athletic level, and training goals, you should be training anywhere between 3 and 6 days a week.
I don’t recommend inexperienced guys to jump to 6 days/week training; this is simply counterproductive. Neither do I suggest you do this (even if you’ve been lifting for some time) if your job is physically demanding.
The best way you can approach this is by starting at three days per week and working your way up over time.
As time passes, you’ll be much better able to learn what the optimal training frequency is, so it compliments your life, health, and energy levels while building muscle and strength.
2)What rep ranges should I use?
This is a highly debated topic, and you can hear a ton of misleading advice on it. However, the best thing for you as a natural lifter is to prioritize heavy, compound lifts and build your workouts around them.
You should always start your workouts with a compound lift in a strength-oriented rep-range (2-6). This way you will build much more strength and muscle over time (provided you’re eating in a caloric surplus). Also, heavy sets in the lower rep ranges have been proven to support the release of more testosterone and growth hormone.
High rep training has also been proven to help release more testosterone and growth hormone, and you shouldn’t ignore it.
A great way to design a training program that prioritizes heavy, compound lifting but also leaves a place for high rep sets is to follow the principles in the Reverse Pyramid Training.
There, you start off with your heaviest sets and gradually decrease training intensity and resting periods to ramp up work volume.
3)How much training volume do I need?
The term “training volume” refers to the amount of work you do each workout or within a given week. There are a few ways to track your training volume such as counting your total repetitions and sets done for each muscle group.
A good way of tracking your training volume is by multiplying the load you’re lifting by the repetitions done for the total sets done. This method has its limitations, but it is a much more accurate way of tracking your week-to-week progress.
It's worth noting that some intensity threshold needs to be broken for your training actually to be effective. While you can grab a pair of pink dumbbells and curl them for an hour, it won’t force growth. There needs to be a balance between training intensity (% of what you can lift) and volume for muscle growth.
Let me give you an example to illustrate:
Let’s take a regular lifter who can bench 255 pounds for a single. If he were to do five sets of 5 repetitions with 80% of his 1 RM (255*0.8= 204 pounds), that would be 204*5=1020 pounds. And 1020*5=5100 pounds of total volume for that one exercise.
It’s accepted that more = better. More time spent at the gym, doing more exercises and more sets = better results. However, there comes the point of diminishing returns where doing more won’t necessarily lead to further gains. In fact, if you push it too hard, you can start regressing.
I’m afraid that there is no optimal amount of volume that is going to work great for everyone, but there are certain guidelines you can follow:
- For your major muscle groups (quads, back, chest) shoot for anything between 10 and 16 sets per week.
- For smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps, delts, calves, forearms) a good amount of volume is between 6 and 9 sets per week.
Keep in mind that more or less volume CAN work for you and you need to figure out what is optimal for you.
4)How much is too much and counterproductive for me?
There comes the point where training becomes counterproductive for you. This usually happens because of one of two reasons:
- You’ve been training consistently for long periods of time, and you’re starting to feel overtrained. You can easily avoid it by scheduling a de-load or a complete week of the gym every 8-10 weeks of consistent, intense training.
- You’re training much harder than you should be, doing way too much work within each workout and taking each set to failure. This scenario is a bit easier to diagnose and fix. Reduce your training volume to the recommended ranges I wrote above and tweak slightly to find your sweet spot.
Improve Testosterone Levels Through Enough Quality Sleep and Recovery
Distractions and new things to do constantly surround our everyday life and sleep usually takes the backseat. But sleep is a great way to reduce stress and help optimize hormonal levels.
Sleep is especially important for testosterone. More than we realize. You see, testosterone levels follow a circadian rhythm. They peak in the morning and slowly taper off towards the evening.
When you sleep, your endocrine system kicks in, and testosterone production begins.
Let’s take a look at a study.
The researchers examined the effects of long versus short duration sleep on testosterone levels. They found that the subjects who slept only 4 hours had 60% lower testosterone levels than men who slept eight full hours.
This study found that sleep was an independent predictor of morning testosterone levels (this is probably why we associate morning wood with healthy levels of testosterone).
A general guideline is to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Here are some tips for better sleep:
- Turn off electronics and screens within one hour of going to bed. Read a book, take a shower, or plan the day ahead.
- Maintain a consistent schedule for going to bed and waking up. Over time, your body adapts and falling asleep/ waking up get easier.
- Keep your room cool, around 65-70 degrees. Also, make sure your room is completely dark.
- Cut off caffeine drinks within 8-10 hours of going to bed.
- Supplement with 3-5 mg of a melatonin before bedtime for improved sleep.