When most people think testosterone, they think huge muscles, better workouts, and a raging sex drive, and look: that’s not totally unfounded. Testosterone plays a significant role in muscle mass, bone strength, and libido, as well as mood and cognition.
Which, of course, is why “boosting testosterone” is an extremely lucrative market and an irresistible angle for shady supplement makers. Some day, we’ll have laws in place that prevent supplement makers from making inaccurate or overblown claims about their products, but for now, finding the truth depends on you.
“Honestly, test boosting is a really weird thing to research when it comes to supplements,” says Kurtis Frank, the research director for the independent nutrition research organization Examine.com. “Almost nothing works, and at the same time, almost everything could be rationalized to work with buzzwords.”
If something helps you lift heavier weights, then higher testosterone might be a byproduct. If something helps you sleep, higher testosterone might be a byproduct. But as far as nutrients go — we’re talking vitamins and minerals, not evocatively-named powders like horny goat weed and deer antler — there are only three that have a solid amount of research behind them on humans, and that’s only if you’re already deficient.
The majority of Americans are deficient in this mineral, so listen up. Magnesium is usually touted as the relaxation nutrient: it’s strongly linked to sleep quality, lower stress, better blood pressure, and improved intra-workout recovery. It’s less well known for its effect on testicular health.
“Among its numerous roles include one in the testicles where it helps protect tissue from free radicals,” says Frank. “If you’re deficient, then the testicles get damaged to a degree and testosterone may be lowered; supplementing magnesium simply prevents test from being abnormally low while it doesn’t ‘boost’ it beyond normal levels.”
The effect on testosterone appears to be stronger for people who exercise regularly, so if you’re not getting your recommended daily intake of 400 milligrams — which can be found in foods like nuts and leafy greens — consider a supplement. Magnesium citrate a smart pick, as it absorbs pretty well without being too expensive.
As much as 25 percent of the world’s population is deficient in zinc and it’s estimated that as much as twelve percent of Americans may be at risk, which may be partly because a lot of soil is lower in zinc than it once was.
“The benefits of zinc are related to immune health as well as optimal production of testosterone and other androgens,” says Frank. “It’s relatively easy to attain adequate levels in diets containing meat products, but since it’s lost in sweat and eating more meat can be expensive, zinc is commonly used as a supplement.”
Forty milligrams is the recommended daily intake, and it’s most commonly found in oysters, (5.3mg per oyster), beef (3.5mg per three-ounce serving), chicken (0.6mg per three ounces), and lentils (0.6mg per quarter cup). But if you’ve had an especially sweaty workout, your recommended intake can rise, and it’s not a bad idea to supplement with 15mg on workout days.
3) Vitamin D
Somewhere between half to three quarters of Americans are deficient in the sunshine vitamin, due in no small part to the amount of time we spend indoors. Adequate intake has been linked to reduced inflammation, stronger bones, a healthier heart, and a better mood. And of course, more optimal testosterone levels.
“It is critically involved in steroid production; critically, in this sense, means that it is pretty much absolutely required,” says Frank. “Lots of things do this, and pretty much all these things have sort of a limit capacity where they don’t assist further, but it seems that Vitamin D’s limit cap is above the RDI of 800 IU and probably somewhere near 3000 IU or so. Taking the latter dose is a bit more ideal than the RDI since then you’re running at 100 percent rather than 80 percent or so.”
Again, these nutrients only increase testosterone production if you’re already deficient. But since deficiencies are so common, it’s smart to take a close look at your intake and make sure you’re optimizing your intake.
Featured image via @ceresfairfood on Instagram.