Testosterone is the most significant of hormones, being vital for fitness and physical and mental health. Unfortunately, more and more men are suffering from suboptimal testosterone levels due to a combination of unhealthy diets, stress, chemical estrogen exposure, and other aspects of modern life. In fact, the average male testosterone level has dropped by at least 15 percent over the past 20 years (Anderson, Travison).
Low testosterone is bad news. It is associated with numerous health problems for men, including the following
Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
Fatigue and low energy
Low sex drive and reduced fertility
Increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia
Poor self-esteem and low mood
The good news is there are actions you can take to naturally raise your testosterone and restore your health. A lot of guys will turn to testosterone replacement or other medications to treat health conditions linked with low testosterone, before trying the natural route. This is a mistake because these drugs treat symptoms, not the root cause. Putting in the effort to raise your testosterone naturally allows you to restore hormonal function and get your body working as it should. To help you make this happen, here are 40 actions you can take to reset your hormones and boost testosterone.
1. Take Your Health Seriously
It’s easy to take your health for granted when you feel good. A lot of guys don’t make changes until they get a lifechanging diagnosis or wake up in the hospital. By optimizing your nutrition, training, and lifestyle, you can normalize your testosterone and get ahead of the biggest health challenges that face you down the road.
2. Don’t Drink Alcohol
Alcohol increases an enzyme called aromatase that changes testosterone into estrogen. Alcohol also harms the liver, which you need working in tip top shape to allow the body to easily eliminate toxins. Most important: Avoid beer, which acts as a phytoestrogen, in favor of red wine, which may have anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
3. Eat Whole Foods With Plenty of High-Quality Protein, Complex Carbs & Healthy Fat
Maximizing testosterone requires you to balance blood sugar and insulin, while also supplying the building blocks for the body to synthesize testosterone. These goals are best achieved by focusing on the following priorities:
Solve insulin and blood sugar issues with targeted dietary interventions, such as a low-carb boot camp or short-term keto diet.
Include saturated fat to provide cholesterol, which is used to synthesize testosterone.
Once insulin and blood sugar are balanced, get complex carbs for a steady glucose level, which is necessary to initiate testosterone release.
Eat high-quality proteins that promote satiety and preserve muscle mass.
Go for variety, eating a diverse array of antioxidant-rich foods to tamp down inflammation and improve hormone balance.
4. Avoid Added Sugar
Testosterone is temporarily reduced any time your blood sugar spikes. In one study, men with normal insulin health who were not diabetic had a 25 percent decrease in circulating testosterone levels after ingesting a drink containing sugar (Caronia). Testosterone remained low for 2 whole hours and nearly 80 percent of the men had their testosterone drop to levels that would be considered clinical testosterone deficiency.
5. Replace Processed Carbs With Healthy Complex Carbs
Added sugar isn’t the only thing that hampers testosterone release. When grains are refined to make processed foods like bread, chips, pasta, crackers, and cereal, the fiber is removed, making them rapidly digested so that they spike blood sugar and impair insulin sensitivity. Over time, this can lead to prediabetes and a decrease in testosterone. That doesn’t mean you should shun carbs—fibrous carbs are necessary for testosterone release, so gravitate towards healthy complex options of vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc.
6. Eat High-Quality Protein But Not Too Much
You need abundant amino acids for detoxification and muscle building, but excessive amounts of protein, as can be common among some bodybuilders, is associated with lower testosterone. Glucose is necessary for the release of gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), which is the precursor to testosterone. If glucose levels drop on a high-protein, lower carb diet, they lead to a decrease in testosterone, as seen in a study of young healthy men who went high-protein and lower carb (Helms).
7. Avoid A Low Fat Diet
Lack of dietary fat is also associated with lower testosterone in men (Salinen). Steroid hormones like testosterone are made from cholesterol, which means that low-fat diets, especially those that shun animal fats from butter, meat, eggs, and cream will not provide the cholesterol building blocks so that the body can have a robust release of testosterone.
8. Eat Plenty of Healthy Fats
In addition to saturated fats, the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA are important for overall hormone balance, allowing a robust release of testosterone. Plant based fats from avocado, olives, nuts, and seeds are also beneficial: They are satisfying and delicious, can help your body be more anabolic, spending more time in muscle building mode. These foods also improve nutritional status by ensuring absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
9. Try A Short Term Keto Diet To Reset Insulin
In healthy men with optimal testosterone levels, a keto diet isn’t going to be the first choice because of the need for glucose to signal the brain initiate testosterone release. However, in men with high insulin, obesity, or diabetes, a short-term low-carb intervention such as a keto diet will reset insulin sensitivity and restore metabolic health, which is necessary for optimizing testosterone levels.
10. Try Carb Cycling
Eating a lower carb diet but incorporating higher carb meals at strategic times will allow you to overcome the increase in cortisol and subsequent drop in testosterone associated with lower carb diets. This approach is most suited for men who are cutting carbs to improve insulin and metabolic function but still want to maximize testosterone release. When using carb cycling in conjunction with keto dieting, be sure to get fat adapted first with a 2-week low-carb phase in which carbs are kept to below 50 grams a day before incorporating higher carb meals every 3 to 7 days.
11. Use Coffee Wisely
Along with conveying anti-inflammatory and overall health benefits (lower risk of Alzheimer’s, brain disorders, diabetes, and all-cause mortality), regular coffee drinking may support hormone balance and improve testosterone release. In one study, men who regularly drank coffee had total testosterone levels that were 5.3 percent higher than non-drinkers. Estrogen, which opposes testosterone in men, was 5.7 percent lower (Hang).
12. Avoid Unnecessary Stimulants
Despite the apparent health and hormonal benefits of coffee, using it as a crutch to overcome chronic exhaustion is bad news because this will have a negative effect on stress hormone balance. Caffeine stimulates cortisol release and if you drink it throughout the day, it can lead to an altered cortisol curve, which depletes testosterone.
13. Eat Broccoli, Cauliflower & Other Cruciferous Vegetables
Besides being some of the most powerful anti-cancer foods on the planet, the cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts help the body metabolize excess estrogen, which opposes testosterone and has a feminizing effect on men when it is out of balance.
14. Minimize Soy
Although a little bit of organic soy is perfectly healthy and will not negatively impact hormone levels, chronic soy consumption may lower testosterone. A 2005 study found that young men who took a soy protein supplement for two months had lower testosterone and higher estrogen than a group that took milk protein instead (Dillingham). Soy brings other problems: It has flooded the American diet and soybean oil in particular is associated with obesity when consumed in large quantities (Blasbalg, Deol).
15. Optimize Vitamin D Level
Vitamin D supports testosterone production because there are vitamin D receptors on every cell in the glands that release testosterone (Lee). Additionally, vitamin D inhibits aromatization whereby testosterone is transformed into estrogen. One study found that when men who were deficient in vitamin D and also had low testosterone took 3,332 IUs of vitamin D daily for a year, their free testosterone levels increased by a robust 20 percent (Pilz). Supplementation also brought vitamin D levels up to 36 ng/ml, a completely adequate level for health. A placebo group had no changes in either value.
16. Get Enough Magnesium
If you are deficient in magnesium, like the majority of Americans are, you are compromising your testosterone levels and putting yourself at risk of diabetes. Magnesium is best known as the mineral of insulin sensitivity, but it also plays a role in allowing the body to metabolize cortisol and handle stress. It’s unclear if this is how magnesium impacts testosterone but we do know that a 2011 study of older men found that those who had low testosterone also had low magnesium—an association that remained when other variables such as body fat or disease were accounted for (Maggio). Additionally, an earlier study of martial artists who took about 750 mg a day of magnesium for 4 weeks revealed an increase in baseline testosterone (Cinar).
17. Avoid Zinc Deficiency
Having adequate zinc in the body allows for a robust release of testosterone. If you are deficient, simply getting your zinc levels into the normal range will improve your testosterone levels by enhancing conversion of androstenedione into testosterone and reducing its aromatization into estrogen (Chang, Neek). Adequate zinc also enables peak function of your cells’ testosterone receptors, while downregulating estrogen binding. It’s important to avoid chronic zinc supplementation—too much zinc is toxic. It’s possible to raise zinc levels from deficient to normal by taking 20 mg/day for a week. To test levels, get a red blood cell zinc test.
18. Adopt A Stress Management Plan
There are all sorts of behavioral actions you can take to improve testosterone but probably the most impactful is getting a handle on your stress. The sex hormone system is in your body to drive reproduction. If you are under chronic stress, your body senses that it is not capable of taking care of children and blunts reproductive drive, lowering testosterone and raising cortisol.
19. Do Deep Breathing
When you’re bowled over by stress, it can be hard to take action. A great way to start is with deep breathing, which will calm the sympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing may not directly increase testosterone, but because it improves cortisol balance, it will benefit release of all the anabolic hormones. One study found that university students who did weekly deep breathing sessions improved mood and lowered stress, as measured by a reduction in cortisol levels (Perciavalle).
20. Do Meditation
Meditation allows you to take deep breathing to the next level by coming into the moment. It is a great tool for coping with stress that has been shown to lower cortisol and improve release of testosterone and other anabolic hormones such as growth hormone and DHEA. Scientists theorize that mediation resets the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis that results in testosterone release, while also restoring cortisol balance (Maclean).
21. Solve Your Sleep Situation
Just one night of poor sleep will alter testosterone release, leading to low morning levels. Longer term sleep deprivation leads to chronically suppressed testosterone as the stress hormone cortisol rises (Reynolds). Develop good sleep hygiene and plan your sleep schedule so that you go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
22. Sleep According to Your Chronotype
Chronotype refers to your natural tendency to being a “morning” or “evening” person.” Research suggests that testosterone and cortisol are better balanced when you plan your sleep based on your natural chronotype. In one study, subjects who were forced to go against their chronotype (such as an “evening” subject who had to get up early) had lower testosterone, whereas those who were able to sleep according to their natural tendency had higher testosterone (Randler).
23. Avoid Low-Fat, Low-Calorie Dieting
Ok, losing excess body fat is critical to normalize testosterone levels, but you don’t want to make the mistake of using a low-fat diet or getting into a yo-yo diet pattern. Both of these habits are linked with hormone imbalances and will suppress your testosterone. In the same way that the body downregulates fertility in response to stress, it dials back reproductive drive when calories are scarce. Additionally, the cardiovascular system takes a hit in response to yo-yo dieting as inflammatory processes are activated and disease risk increases. Therefore, if excess body fat is an issue, you need a comprehensive fat loss plan that combines nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle.
24. Strength Train
Your first line of defense for improving testosterone with exercise is to get strong. Strength training leads to an immediate—if transient—increase in testosterone and growth hormone. It also improves fat burning and builds muscle, which will pay off in less excess body fat—a primary goal for any guy seeking to optimize your testosterone.
25. Train Compound Lifts For Heavy Weights
Through hundreds of studies, scientists have determined that the best training protocol for increasing testosterone and related fat burning hormones is to train whole body multi-joint exercises like deadlifts, squats, and chin-ups for heavy loads. Shorter rest periods that are just long enough to maintain training quality are recommended.
26. Do Some Form of HIT or Sprints
Sprints or high-intensity training (strongman workouts are good) a few times a week is great for improving body composition and resetting your hormonal axis. Studies show that exercise at an intensity above the lactate threshold (the point where it burns), correlates with a bigger testosterone response. It also increases the enzymes and proteins involved in the use of energy by the body.
27. Avoid Long Endurance Training
Although moderate-intensity aerobic training may improve hormone balance if you use it as a stress reliever, chronic long-duration cardio will lower testosterone and raise cortisol (McArdle). Studies show that endurance athletes have enlarged adrenal glands due to high cortisol output and androgen levels that are 20 to 40 percent below normal (Arce, Hackney). Individuals most at risk of low testosterone are those training a high volume (intense workouts longer than an hour) on a regular basis. Marathoners, long-distance runners, and triathletes are most susceptible.
28. Prioritize Leg Day
Lots of guys only care about the mirror muscle of the upper body when hitting the weight room. This a mistake. Lower body exercises engage the greatest muscle mass and have the biggest metabolic effect—a combination that is associated with a large testosterone response. Focus on compound movements like squats, deadlifts, Olympic lifts, heavy carries, and other strongman exercises. Opt for total body training instead of body part splits to trigger a large testosterone response.
There is a distinct link between higher testosterone and a stronger competitive drive in both men and women. Genetics likely play a role, but scientists theorize that exposure to competition enhances motivation to win, which drives the ability to produce testosterone at critical moments to ensure victory. In one study, Division 1 wrestlers who won their matches had higher pre-match testosterone than the losers (Fry). Researchers think the greater elevation may have been conditioned through years of experience competing. The testosterone response to one competition will likely affect the hormonal profile for a subsequent match, making the effects of winning or losing cumulative.
30. Practice A Martial Art
Martial arts such as judo, tae kwon do, and aikido offer a refreshing option for individuals who need to manage stress and improve testosterone but need more variety than heavy lifting and sprints. Studies show that the mind-body nature of martial arts improves cortisol balance and lowers inflammation, while also giving you less body fat and more muscle (Abed). Although no studies have directly tested testosterone levels in response to martial arts training, this combination is certain to improve body composition and hormone balance for higher testosterone.
31. Clear Cortisol Quickly After Training
A bump in cortisol is a natural result of an intense workout as the body burns fat, but if cortisol stays elevated for longer than necessary it will delay recovery and deplete testosterone. Post-workout nutrition is an efficient way to encourage cortisol clearance and set you on the path to recovery. In addition to magnesium, vitamin C can help clear cortisol after intense exercise or during mental stress, while reducing the fatigue and giving you an immune boost (Davison, Abasi). Taurine is another good option that lowers cortisol by facilitating the production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (Fagiano). Old-fashioned recovery modalities also help: Foam rolling, massage, and stretching will also help boost your testosterone-to cortisol-ratio.
32. Get Early Morning Sunlight
A lot of times guys have tunnel vision on jacking up testosterone and don’t realize that the true key to robust levels is balance between testosterone and all your metabolic hormones. That’s where bright light exposure come in.
Scientists found that when young healthy men were woken at 5 am and then exposed to bright early morning light for an hour, they had an increase in luteinizing hormone (LH), which is used by the body to produce testosterone (Yoon). The men exposed to bright light had LH levels that were 69.5 percent higher than a control group that was exposed to a “sham” dim light. After light exposure, the men reported they were “feeling good” more often than before they got the extra rays, and other studies have shown that bright light in the morning can boost cognition and exercise performance.
On the flip side, be sure to avoid bright light from lamps and computer screens at night because both alter melatonin, which is a sleep hormone. Continued exposure to bright light at night will reduce testosterone and other metabolic hormones.
33. Control Estrogen Levels
Although men do require a small amount of estrogen for sperm production and brain health, too much of this hormone has negative effects including raising body fat, stimulating breast development, and increasing cancer risk. Nutrition is one way to help the body eliminate excess estrogen: That’s why cruciferous vegetables are recommended but you can also supplement with a compound in these vegetables known as DIM. This is a good choice if you think you are aromatizing testosterone into estrogen or have experienced exposure to chemical estrogens.
34. Be Ruthless About Plastics
Many plastic products contain BPA, which is a chemical that mimics estrogen in the body, while negatively affecting testosterone. One of our biggest exposures to BPA is in food: It is often used in packaging, including aluminum cans and plastic bottles. The BPA can seep into the food, where it enters the body and wreaks havoc on hormones. In addition to taking an estrogen-clearing supplement that contains DIM, you need to ruthlessly protect yourself from exposure to BPA and similar products. Look for BPA-free packaging, use glass for food containers and water bottles, and never microwave plastic.
35. Watch Out For Other Chemical Estrogens
Another form of testosterone-lowering chemicals is from personal care and cleaning products that contain scents and other petroleum-based chemicals. These can be identified by the words “phthalates” or “paraben,” as in “methylparaben” on the labels. Opt for plant-based cleansers and check out the Environmental Working Group’s guide to non-toxic personal care products, including everything from shampoo to toothpaste.
36. Get Your Gut Health Under Control
If your gut function is suboptimal, you can reabsorb estrogen that is on its way out of the body. This contributes to excess estrogen circulating in the blood stream, which will disrupt testosterone action on cells. It is also associated with inflammation and increased cancer risk, so it’s important to get your gut working like clockwork: Taking a probiotic, getting plenty of natural fiber from vegetables, fruit, and other plants, and avoiding gut-harming foods like gluten and sugar is a good place to start.
37. Give Your Liver Some Love
The liver is a powerful metabolic organ that is involved in the elimination of chemical estrogens that impair hormone balance. You can support your liver by avoiding alcohol and medications and loading up on nutrients that support detoxification: high-quality protein to supply amino acids, antioxidants, and fiber—none of which the average man gets enough of.
38. Don’t Smoke
39. Get Active
Even if you lift heavy or get in a soccer game or sprint workout a few days a week, a sedentary lifestyle is still linked with low testosterone. Think about the lifestyle of the cavemen we evolved from: They were moving all day long, hunting, gathering, finding water, erecting shelters, protecting their families and so on. You have the same body and it will respond accordingly by leaning you up and raising testosterone if you give it the movement it craves.
40. Be Generous
Although testosterone is conventionally thought of as increasing aggression and anti-social behavior, recent research shows that it can improve generosity and promote fairness when dealing with others (Dreher). This translates into more pro-social behavior that may enhance mood and self-confidence. Taking the wisdom to “fake it 'til you make it,” the lesson is to practice generosity and kindness as a tool to promote your social status, while also laying the nutrition and lifestyle groundwork for robust testosterone levels.