You probably fuel your body a certain way before and after you work out. You’re thinking that you need energy to maintain a certain level of intensity, and you need certain nutrients to support muscle growth and recovery. Do you ever think about the foods that you eat to boost testosterone levels?
While testosterone doesn’t make you the man that you are, it contributes to factors that are deemed “manly” by society. Testosterone is associated with hair growth, strong muscles and a virile sex drive.
It’s also partly responsible for your general wellness. Testosterone helps you maintain healthy bones, create red blood cells and balance your mood (source).
Testosterone begins to decline around age 30. That’s probably why you don’t feel like the man you once were. You start to get a little paunchy. You have trouble keeping the weight off. You definitely notice that you’re not in your sexual prime anymore.
You start to worry. What’s going on?
The decline in testosterone as you age is natural. However, it looks like general testosterone levels are lower in men today than they were in men of the same age two decades ago (source).
If you live in this world, you’ve probably heard about testosterone replacement therapy (source). Should you be introducing more testosterone into your system in order to thwart the symptoms of low testosterone?
Many argue that the best way to stop the slowdown of testosterone is to make lifestyle changes that help your body manage its own hormone levels. With the stress, sedentary habits and processed food that are prevalent in modern society, it’s no wonder testosterone is taking a nosedive.
One of the ways in which you can balance your testosterone levels is through diet. When you hear the word “diet,” you probably imagine a restrictive regimen that encourages you to avoid eating.
Shunning certain foods, like plant-based estrogens, processed foods, estrogen-mimicking preservatives and alcohol, can help prevent a drop in testosterone levels. However, you can add plenty of other foods to your diet to support a healthy hormone balance.
While it’s important to watch what you eat, we don’t necessarily recommend that you follow the low-fat diet craze that was popular in the ‘90s or the low-carb fads of the ‘00s. Everybody’s physique is different, and you should listen to your body to determine the best way of eating.
In fact, dieting by restricting calories or certain groups of macronutrients can cause your testosterone to plummet. If your body thinks that it’s being starved, it’s going to shut down less essential systems, including the reproductive system (source). Therefore, maintaining a balanced diet may be the key to optimizing your testosterone levels.
In general, a balanced diet that’s rich in whole, unprocessed foods will support healthy testosterone levels. You should eat enough, but not too much, protein.
Animal protein can enhance your testosterone better than plant-based protein (source). Animal protein contains a comprehensive amino acid profile. Some plant proteins, like those that are found in soy, mimic estrogen and can drive down testosterone.
Should you pack your system with protein? Probably not. Getting too little protein can be detrimental to your testosterone (source). However, eating too much protein can drive testosterone levels down as well (source).
An optimal amount of protein would be .8 grams per pound of lean body weight (source). You can also plan out your protein consumption by eating approximately one-third of your calories in protein. If you don’t eat a balanced diet, you could be missing out on all of the other nutrients that are important for testosterone.
It can be tempting to swap out carbs for protein. Eating a high-protein diet supports muscle growth. However, your muscles only need so much protein. The more you restrict carbs in exchange for protein, the more your testosterone can drop (source).
Eating carbohydrates does help with testosterone production. A 1987 study found that men who ate a high-carb, low-protein diet had more testosterone than men who ate a high-protein, low-carb diet (source).
You especially need carbs if you train intensely. Many types of exercise can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol can cause a drop in testosterone. One study found that men who ate more carbs during a period of regular, intense exercise had more free testosterone and lower cortisol on their exercise days (source).
Carbohydrates may be the most essential macronutrient for keeping your hormones balanced. To understand this, it’s important to know that brain cells release gonadotropin-releasing hormone, or GnRH.
This is the dominant hormone that starts the chain of events that leads to the production and release of testosterone. It is released when there is a certain amount of glucose in the blood (source).
This doesn’t mean that you should load up with carbs, however. The theme of this article seems to be “everything in moderation.”
In addition, things can get dicey when it comes to the type of carbs you eat. Grains that contain gluten can increase prolactin levels (source). Prolactin inhibits the release of GnRH (source). Therefore, increased prolactin can lead to lower testosterone levels (source).
Are gluten-free grains the way to go then? In some people, grain consumption can cause inflammation, which can lead to decreased testosterone (source).
Try to aim to get 40 to 60 percent of your calories from carbs. Focusing on getting carbohydrates from vegetables and milk can help you load up on nutrients instead of empty calories.
The best types of fats to eat for a testosterone boost are monounsaturated and saturated fats, such as those found in coconut and olive oils, avocados, eggs, nuts and red meat.
Cholesterol is also essential for testosterone production. Before you start getting anxiety because your doctor told you to stop eating cholesterol, you should know that the idea that dietary cholesterol is bad for your health is a myth that’s beginning to be debunked.
The Leydig cells that help make testosterone convert cholesterol into the hormone. Eating certain types of fats, like the ones found in coconut oil, can increase your HDL, which is the beneficial type of cholesterol (source).
If you’re eating a diet that contains 30 percent protein, and 40 percent carbohydrates, you can complete it with 30 percent healthy fats. Doing this and making sure that you’re getting enough calories is an ideal way to maintain your testosterone levels.
Although limiting the total number of calories that you eat each day can lower your testosterone, intermittent fasting can boost levels of this hormone.
In general, people who fast intermittently eat only during certain parts of the day. They may stop eating after dinner and skip breakfast. Intermittent fasting can help you burn body fat (source).
As your body fat diminishes, estrogen levels go down, and testosterone levels go up.
The Testosterone Shopping List
Now that you know that eating a balanced diet is important, you can start learning what to add into that diet to support your testosterone. Some of these foods help maintain a hormonal balance. Others have been shown to increase testosterone levels when consumed.
You may start your day with a few cups of coffee to get your energy going. Did you know that coffee can also ramp up your testosterone?
Some studies show that coffee increases cortisol levels. If your cortisol levels are high for a long time, they can suppress testosterone (source).
However, coffee can improve anaerobic function, strength and endurance. In one study, men who performed resistance training after drinking coffee saw a bigger surge in testosterone than men who took the placebo (source). In this study, however, cortisol levels also went up.
Another study found a link between a caffeine-containing gum and increased testosterone levels (source). The act of chewing the gum may have helped to bring participants’ cortisol levels down too.
Coffee inhibits the PDE-4 enzyme. This enzyme normally breaks down cAMP, a neurotransmitter that encourages the release of testosterone. With the suppression of PDE-4, cAMP can do its job and promote testosterone production even in the presence of cortisol.
Most of the studies on caffeine and testosterone involved participants consuming caffeine before working out. We’re not sure what the effects would be if you drank a ton of coffee throughout the day while sitting at your desk.
Since we’re talking about what you eat in the morning, let’s discuss eggs. They’re a convenient, complete protein source.
One large egg contains about 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat (source). As long as you eat the egg yolk, you’ll supply your body with healthy protein and fatty acids that can promote testosterone production.
Certain oils can encourage healthy testosterone levels whether you use them for cooking, marinating or dressing.
Many people are unfamiliar with argan oil, but it is widely used in the Mediterranean region. One study found that using this oil as the primary source of dietary fat for 14 days improved participants’ testosterone by 20 percent.
The same study found that participants who consumed olive oil increased their testosterone by 17 percent. Olive oil also contains oleuropein, an antioxidant that has been found to increase testosterone levels in mice (source).
Olive oil is low in polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs. Research shows that diets high in PUFAs can depress testosterone.
You might be wondering about coconut oil for testosterone. Nutritionists and the alternative medicine community sing the praises of coconut oil frequently. Therefore, you’re probably not surprised that it can help improve your testosterone levels.
Coconut oil is made up of more than 92 percent saturated fat. One tablespoon contains about 12 grams of saturated fat (source). This type of dietary fat is the most productive when it comes to boosting testosterone (source). The antioxidants in coconut oil may also help prevent oxidative damage to testosterone in the testicles (source).
If you’re adding these oils to your diet, make sure that you choose the extra-virgin options. These are less refined than their counterparts and contain more health-improving nutrients.
This is a vague term for a wide variety of animal protein. Every type of meat isn’t necessarily going to boost your testosterone production. However, the right balance of protein to other macronutrients can help maintain it. We’ll talk about some types of meats that are especially effective in promoting healthy testosterone production.
Bacon is loaded with saturated fats and protein. However, you have to be careful when selecting your bacon. Eating the type that comes from hormone-injected pigs that eat GMO food can raise your estrogen levels.
Estrogen-mimicking compounds that come from soy-based food or hormone injections are stored in the animal’s fat cells (source). Guess what you’re eating when you chow down on bacon? Organic bacon is generally healthier for your testosterone production.
Red meat also contains saturated fat and protein. As with bacon, it can be healthier for you to choose grass-fed, organic meat that hasn’t been treated with hormones. You’ll avoid the estrogenic effects of soy-based food and injections that may be given to non-organic cows.
Although gelatin comes from meat, we’re including it in a category of its own. Gelatin is found in the connective tissue and bones of animals.
You can extract gelatin from chicken, pork or beef bones by simmering them in water with a splash of apple cider vinegar for 24 to 48 hours. This creates a nourishing bone broth.
If you don’t have time for that, you can add gelatin to foods and drinks to derive the benefits. Gelatin can help you sleep and lower your cortisol levels. Better sleep and less stress can boost your testosterone.
Gelatin also contains certain types of protein that are no longer common in the diet. Hunters used to eat the entire animal. Now, we toss the bones and connective tissue and focus on the muscle meat. This can be bad for your health (source). Balancing out muscle protein with some protein from connective tissue can boost your overall health.
Nuts are rich in saturated fats. Therefore, you might assume that they would benefit your testosterone levels, right?
Almonds and walnuts can increase sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG (source). This binds to testosterone, making it useless for the body. Therefore, eating almonds and walnuts may actually make your testosterone less bioavailable.
Many nuts are high in PUFAs. We discussed how PUFAs can lead to decreased testosterone in the section on oils.
Walnuts and pine nuts contain high levels of PUFAs. Almonds, pecans and pistachios fall in the middle. Cashews and hazelnuts contain low levels of PUFAs.
Macadamia nuts barely contain any PUFAs. Therefore, if you’re going to eat nuts to improve your testosterone balance, you might want to focus on macadamia nuts, cashews or hazelnuts.
These tiny fruits pack a punch when it comes to managing testosterone. They contain resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that helps increase blood testosterone levels. Raisins also contain boron, a mineral that can lower the amount of estrogen in the blood and raise the levels of testosterone (source).
Speaking of resveratrol, dark berries such as blueberries, blackberries and acai berries are loaded with it. This antioxidant can lower insulin levels. High insulin levels have been associated with low testosterone (source).
Eating berries can give you a chance to satisfy sugar cravings without developing insulin resistance, a condition that leads to chronically high insulin levels, diabetes and low testosterone. Berries also contain glucarate, a fiber that may lower levels of estrogen in the blood (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3091283).
If you love to slather butter on your bread, you’re in luck. High-quality, grass-fed butter contains many vitamins associated with increased testosterone.
Vitamin D can be synthesized when you’re out in the sun. However, many people in our culture don’t get enough UV exposure to create enough of this mineral. Getting more vitamin D has been found to increase testosterone levels (source).
The most bioavailable form of vitamin A is found in some animal products. You can get vitamin A from orange veggies, such as carrots and sweet potatoes. However, the kind found in butter may be more effective for enhancing testosterone levels (source).
Vitamin E has also been found to help increase levels of testosterone in the blood (source).
Organic, grass-fed butter won’t have the estrogenic properties that regular butter may have. Also, margarine and other hydrogenated spreads are made of a whole bunch of PUFAs. They’re not the same as butter.
Milk, yogurt and cheese contain protein and vitamin D. The old tradition of drinking a glass of warm milk before bed is backed by science. Consuming full-fat dairy products can help reduce cortisol. The casein in milk might be responsible for this stress-busting characteristic.
The probiotics found in fermented dairy products that contain live cultures can also help balance your hormones.
The oils found in fatty fish can boost testosterone in a number of ways. Fish oil:
- Has been found to prevent insulin resistance.
- Can lower SHBG levels.
- Increases luteinizing hormone, the compound that triggers testosterone production.
Eating fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, can be the best way to consume fish oil. A high-quality fish oil supplement can also give you the testosterone-supporting dose you need.
Your mother always told you to eat your vegetables. She probably wasn’t concerned with your testosterone production. However, consuming cruciferous vegetables can help raise levels of reproductive hormones.
Some cruciferous vegetables are:
- Brussels sprouts
Eating these vegetables can reduce the amount of estrogen in your body. Cruciferous vegetables contain diindolylmethane, or DIM. This chemical binds to estrogen in the body and gets it out of your system.
Increased estrogen can bring about symptoms that are similar to those of low testosterone. High estrogen can increase belly fat, which can lower testosterone levels. It can also lower your libido.
If you combine the consumption of cruciferous vegetables with a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet, your estrogen-to-testosterone levels are more likely to balance themselves out.
This spicy root adds flavor and nutrition to many meals. Although it has a unique flavor, it’s quite versatile and can be used in baked goods, savory dishes, desserts and smoothies.
Raw cacao and dark chocolate are on the list of testosterone-boosting foods. Raw chocolate hasn’t been heated and over-processed. Therefore, it still contains its nutrients and antioxidant properties.
Raw cacao is high in zinc and magnesium, which can help improve testosterone production. Eating it can help boost your circulatory health, which can help reverse erectile dysfunction and increase testosterone levels (source).
The capsaicin in chili peppers delivers that strong, spicy flavor. Capsaicin has been studied for its effects on the reproductive system. However, most of the studies involved using much more of the substance than the human body can handle (source).
Still, it might not hurt to add hot peppers to the list of foods that can improve testosterone production. Eating chilis can also help you lose weight, which can result in higher testosterone levels.
Pomegranate juice has been found to increase testosterone levels in men (source).
In this study, men who drank pomegranate juice daily saw a 25-percent increase in testosterone levels after 14 days.
Oysters are considered to be an aphrodisiac. They’re high in zinc, which can help raise testosterone levels and boost your libido (source).
Because zinc is not stored in your body, you must consume it regularly to maintain a consistent level. Eleven milligrams per day is the recommended daily value for adult men over age 19.
Oysters are high in zinc. One oyster contains more than 7 milligrams of the mineral.
Because you probably don’t want to eat oysters every day, you can also get your zinc requirements by eating red meat, chicken, beans and cashews.
Eating parsley can help your body convert cholesterol into free testosterone. This is due to a compound called apigenin (source). Parsley is also a powerful antioxidant that can help improve your overall health.
Eating sweet potatoes is a great way to get in carbs without eating grains. Plus, sweet potatoes contain carotenoids, which are a plant-based form of vitamin A. Although your body can’t use that type of vitamin A as well as the animal-based version, it doesn’t hurt to add it to your diet.
If you’re trying to avoid gluten in baked goods, you can cook with sorghum flour. One study found that sorghum can suppress an enzyme that restricts the conversion of testosterone into its more potent form, DHT (source).
If you love Italian food, you might already have healthy testosterone levels. Garlic has been found to increase the levels of testosterone in rats. It can also lower cortisol.
The mechanism through which garlic achieves this result is unclear. However, other studies found that when it’s combined with vitamin C, garlic can lower blood pressure as well as some hypertension medications (source). This makes it a great food to eat before working out.
If you can enhance your workouts, you might be able to build more lean muscle, which—you guessed it—helps raise your testosterone levels.
Recipes and Ideas
Now you have a comprehensive list of foods that can help enhance your testosterone levels. However, putting them all together can be overwhelming. How can you incorporate more of these items into your balanced diet? Here are some suggestions.
Start out the day with a smoothie. You can pack several of these testosterone-boosting foods into one drink, making a smoothie a convenient option for optimal nutrition.
Start with a base of dark berries. If you have a high-powered blender, you can use frozen, dried or fresh berries. Stick to fresh or thawed berries if you have a regular blender. You can also use bananas since they are also great option containing numerous micronutrients necessary for your body.
Add in some fresh ginger. Ginger root is relatively affordable. You can keep it in the refrigerator and cut off a half-inch piece for a smoothie.
A scoop of gelatin and coconut oil provides protein and fat for the smoothie. A handful of kale provides the cruciferous vegetable benefits. Even adding a tablespoon of parsley can make your smoothie a more effective testosterone booster without changing the flavor too much.
You can simply use water to blend everything together.
It’s easy to think of red meat as a protein that you can cook up for dinner with vegetables. However, it makes a great snack.
Buy organic, preservative-free beef jerky for the most health benefits. You can make your own by thinly slicing grass-fed beef, marinating it overnight, and drying it out on a rack in an oven set to 200 degrees. Just stick a metal utensil in the door to keep it open a crack and prevent the meat from overheating.
Another snack that you can prepare in advance to thwart unhealthy eating is trail mix. Combining raisins, dried berries, macadamia nuts, cashews and shredded coconut makes for a sweet indulgence with testosterone-enhancing powers. You can grab a handful after a workout or sprinkle it over yogurt for breakfast or dessert.
If you limit your consumption of dessert and treats, you might end up binging on something that’s pretty terrible for you at some point during the day. Allowing yourself to eat more healthy sweets can be beneficial for your testosterone and your waistline.
Make a quick fudge by combining equal parts coconut oil, raw cacao and honey (or maple syrup). Heat the mixture a little bit if the coconut oil is not liquid enough.
Spread the fudge over parchment paper in a shallow pan, and refrigerate it until it’s hard. Score it with a knife and crack it into bite-sized pieces to enjoy it. Keep it in the refrigerator; this fudge will soften at room temperature.
Sweet Potato Bar
Whenever you have a free hour, stick several sweet potatoes in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Making baked sweet potatoes ahead of time can make for a convenient snack any time of day.
You can add many of the foods in this article to your sweet potato for added flavor. Top it with butter, fried egg and parsley. Scoop some yogurt and trail mix over the top of your sweet potato. Coconut oil and ginger makes it taste a little exotic.
You can even make a really manly sweet potato by pouring ground beef chili all over it. Keep your chili spicy for that added testosterone boost.
Add some health benefits to your coffee for maximum testosterone-enhancing capability. Pour in some full-fat dairy, like heavy cream or half and half. Add a pat of butter or a teaspoon of coconut oil, and blend it. This will give you an extra dose of healthy fat, and it tastes much better than it sounds.
A well-balanced, healthy diet is the best way to eat for healthy testosterone levels. Making sure that you have plenty of whole foods available for meals and snacks can prevent you from relying on sugar-laden, processed foods that can derail your efforts.
While lowering your body fat and building lean muscle can help keep your testosterone levels in the clear, cutting calories to stay slim can make your testosterone tank. Your best bet is to eat more of the foods that promote healthy hormone levels.
Eating more of these nutrient-rich foods will help you get all of the vitamins and minerals you need for overall wellness. Eating foods that deliver a lot of nutrition will also help you stay satisfied and reduce cravings.