Can Bodybuilding Supplements Boost Testosterone?

Can Bodybuilding Supplements Boost Testosterone?

Bodybuilding supplements cover a large range of products. But a surprisingly large percentage of them mention the ability to increase your testosterone levels. Can bodybuilding supplements boost testosterone? This article investigates.

Some bodybuilding supplements can help support testosterone production, or bring it back to normal levels. But no supplements can increase testosterone levels in the same way that anabolic steroids can.

In this article, I will be looking at some of the most common testosterone boosting supplements, and explaining how they work (if they do), and whether they are worth considering. I will also look at ways to boost your testosterone naturally, without supplementation.

Can Bodybuilding Supplements Boost Testosterone?

Testosterone is a big word in the bodybuilding community, and any supplement that promises to boost your testosterone levels is obviously going to do well. This is why so many products mention their testosterone-boosting ingredients.

This has led to a backlash from fitness experts, who understandably feel that any product that promises to raise testosterone levels is lying. But the reality is not quite as black and white as that. My job has led me to write hundreds of supplement reviews for websites. Each review has required a lot of research.

Because of this, I have perhaps more experience in researching testosterone-boosting ingredients, than most fitness professionals. My supplement research bible has always been examine.com, and thanks to their hard work and diligence, I have managed to build (what I believe to be) a more informed opinion on the subject.

Can bodybuilding supplements boost testosterone?

That depends on what you consider boosting to be. If a man is deficient in vitamin D, then his testosterone levels may be affected. If the man then supplemented with vitamin D, his testosterone levels may be restored to healthy levels.

By most definitions, vitamin D would therefore be a testosterone boosting ingredient. But, that does not mean that a man with healthy vitamin D levels would see a further boost in testosterone when taking vitamin D. Meaning that vitamin D supplements are only testosterone boosting in certain situations.

This scenario occurs with many supplements.

For some men, who may have deficiencies or may have low testosterone (for several reasons), certain supplements may help to increase testosterone. But the idea that a man with a healthy diet, good sleep, and no deficiencies, will see a big increase in testosterone from supplementation is, sadly, a fantasy.

Causes of Low Testosterone

If you’ve read any of my other articles then you may know that one of the biggest causes of low testosterone is poor sleep, followed by excess body fat, poor diet, and age. Overtraining can cause low testosterone by raising cortisol levels, which is certainly something that can affect bodybuilders, but rarely affects the general public.

Another issue that affects bodybuilders, in particular, is anabolic steroid use. When you take anabolic steroids for a long time, your body will start to slow down production. It may even start to convert testosterone into estrogen via an enzyme called aromatase.

So long as you are taking the steroids this won’t be an issue. The problem arises once you stop taking steroids. Now you aren’t getting any testosterone from the steroids, your body has massively lowered its production of testosterone, and it will also be converting testosterone into estrogen.

This can lead to low testosterone levels, which is why so many bodybuilding supplements talk about boosting testosterone. Where fitness professionals often get confused is that they think that bodybuilders are buying natural testosterone supplements to work like steroids. Whereas they are actually just hoping that they can get their testosterone levels back up to healthy levels after a post-cycle slump.

Benefits of Increasing Testosterone Naturally

Having healthy testosterone production has a lot of benefits for all men. Increased libido, better sleep, more muscle mass, better recovery from exercise, improved mood and cognition, and a reduced risk of depression.

What’s great about testosterone, is how so many benefits can tie into each other. For example, increased testosterone can lead to improved sleep quality. A good night’s sleep can help to regulate appetite, which can help reduce the amount of food you eat and lead to weight loss.

Good sleep can also help with recovery from exercise, leading to greater muscle gains over time. Which can raise your metabolism, and lead to further fat loss. Better sleep can also improve mood and cognition, and give you more energy in the day.

As you can see, each benefit provides a further benefit, which is why having healthy testosterone production is so useful for men. Doing so naturally, rather than using anabolic steroids is healthier and less dangerous too.

Testosterone Boosting Supplement Ingredients

The following 9 supplements have all been described by supplement companies as “natural testosterone boosters”. In turn, I will look at each, explain whether they actually work or not, and in what circumstances.

Supplement #1 Vitamin D

Men who are deficient in vitamin D may also have low testosterone levels. Studies have found that supplementing with vitamin D can increase testosterone levels in men deficient in vitamin D.

Our results suggest that vitamin D supplementation might increase testosterone levels. Further randomized controlled trials are warranted to confirm this hypothesis.

Pilz et al (2010)

Vitamin D will not lead to a massive increase in testosterone production unless you happen to be deficient. So calling it a natural testosterone booster is a bit of a stretch. It technically could help some men, but so would getting some more sunlight during winter months.

If you are deficient in vitamin D, then supplementation is a good idea anyway, with supported testosterone levels an added bonus.

Supplement #2 ZMA

ZMA is made from a combination of Zinc, Magnesium, and Aspartate. It is often recommended for improving sleep quality and recovery from exercise. In fact, it is one of the supplements that I have recommended for recovery (though always consult your doctor before supplementation).

ZMA can indirectly support testosterone production by helping you sleep better, as sleeping well is associated with higher waking testosterone levels. Zinc deficiency can also lead to low testosterone levels, so ZMA can help to address a zinc deficiency and therefore improve testosterone production.

ZMA cannot boost testosterone in an otherwise healthy man. If you are deficient in zinc, then supplementing with ZMA may help, and the improved rest and recovery after exercise may also help support testosterone production. But that’s it.

Supplement #3 Fenugreek

Fenugreek is an interesting ingredient. There has been one study where taking Fenugreek led to increased testosterone production, and two other studies where it had no effect. Obviously, the supplement world went crazy for it, while the sceptics decided it was useless.

The truth is that there isn’t enough evidence, either way, to say for sure.

The authors concluded that 500 mg of daily AI* supplementation significantly affected percent body fat, total testosterone, and bioavailable testosterone compared with a placebo in a double-blind fashion.

Wilborn et al (2010)

Note: Fenugreek works as an aromatase inhibitor, hence the term “AI” in this study. Aromatase inhibitors block an enzyme (aromatase) that converts excess testosterone into estrogen.

If you are coming off a steroid cycle and have high levels of aromatase in your system, then fenugreek might be able to help you. Similarly, overweight individuals may seem some benefit (fat stores can create aromatase). But there isn’t enough evidence to say for certain that fenugreek works or not.

Supplement #4 Eurycoma Longifolia Jack

Eurycoma Longifolia Jack is a herb with amazing aphrodisiac abilities. If you are looking for something to increase your libido and strengthen your erections then this could well be the right supplement for you. As a testosterone booster, there is not much evidence that it works, but some scientists are excited by its possibilities. As examine.com says:

No peer-reviewed evidence currently establishes Eurycoma as a testosterone booster in otherwise healthy persons or rats but many studies are quick to cite presentations by an M.I Tambi claiming these boosts in testosterone.

Kamal Patel, Examine.com (2019)

Just because there isn’t enough evidence to support it as a testosterone booster. It does not mean that it definitely doesn’t work. Just that the current evidence is lacking. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with it. Anyone claiming that it does or doesn’t work is just guessing.

Supplement #5 Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng may help to improve testicle health, which can help to restore testosterone function in men who are infertile. But there is no evidence that Panax ginseng can help fertile men to improve testosterone production. There are other benefits such as improved libido, cognition, and mood.

I would not call Panax Ginseng a natural testosterone booster, but if you are infertile, it may be slightly beneficial. Of course, talking to a fertility doctor would be a better course of action!

Supplement #6 Horny Goat Weed

There is some evidence that Horny Goat Weed can increase testosterone production, but so far these results have only been found in animal trials. It does appear to work as a decent aphrodisiac though.

Supplement #7 Coleus Forskohlii

Forskolin, the active ingredient in Coleus Forskohlii does not have much evidence behind it at the moment. But what has been done so far has been surprisingly positive. This could well be an effective testosterone booster!

Oral ingestion of forskolin (250 mg of 10% forskolin extract twice a day) for a 12-week period was shown to favorably alter body composition while concurrently increasing bone mass and serum free testosterone levels in overweight and obese men. The results indicate that forskolin is a possible therapeutic agent for the management and treatment of obesity.

Godard, Johnson, Richmond (2005)

As you can see, this 2005 study found that overweight and obese men who took forskolin saw improvements in body composition, bone mass, and testosterone compared to placebo. This has so far only been tested on overweight and obese men though, it is unlikely to increase testosterone in men who already lead healthy lifestyles (i.e. bodybuilders).

Supplement #8 D-Aspartic Acid

D-Aspartic acid does appear to increase testosterone, in both men with low levels and men with healthy levels. We could be looking at a true testosterone booster in every sense of the word! But before you get too excited, there does appear to be a time limit.

Most men with healthy levels of testosterone will see a temporary testosterone boost, lasting about a month. But after that month their levels will return to baseline. Men who have low testosterone will see an increase, and this should last for as long as they take it.

D-Aspartic acid appears to work by increasing the production of luteinizing hormone and testosterone, building up in the testicles and helping with a minor increase in testosterone.

D-aspartic acid is a physiological amino acid occurring principally in the pituitary gland and testes and has a role in the regulation of the release and synthesis of LH and testosterone in humans and rats.

Topo et al (2009)

D-Aspartic acid may not lead to a huge increase in testosterone, and for healthy men the increase may only last a month or so. But D-Aspartic acid appears to be a true “natural testosterone booster”.

Supplement #9 Tribulus Terrestris

This is a very common ingredient in natural testosterone boosting supplements. But in truth, the number of men it could actually help is very limited. Some men who are infertile appear to see a small increase in testosterone. But fertile men will see zero improvements. One to avoid.

Do You Need to Take a Testosterone Booster?

Few men need to take a testosterone boosting supplement. If you have very low testosterone levels then seeing your doctor would be a much better idea. If you have slightly low levels, then you should probably take a look at lifestyle factors such as bad sleep, high body fat, and lack of exercise, before you try and fix things with a supplement.

That being said, if you want that extra 1-2% improvement, and you believe that your testosterone levels are low, then there are a couple of ingredients that could help you to reach healthy levels. I’m not a fan of the so-called fitness experts who blindly call all natural testosterone boosters snake oil. The science just does not support that rationale.

My advice if you think that you have low testosterone is to do the following:

Talk to your doctor

This is a smart move as not only will they be able to test your testosterone levels, but they can fully analyse your lifestyle and give you advice on areas where you may need to make improvements. They can also check for other reasons why you may be feeling low or lethargic.

Look to Improve your Testosterone Naturally

There are so many strategies for improving your testosterone production that you should be focusing on before worrying about supplementation. Diet, exercise, sleep, stress management. All of these are vastly more effective and have many other benefits for your health and fitness.

Consider Deficiencies in your Diet

If you have read the supplement section above. You will see that several supplements only work in men who have deficiencies. Vitamin D and Zinc for example. But low-fat diets can also be a common cause. Take a look at your current diet (or lifestyle if Vitamin D deficiency is likely). And see whether you can improve your health with food and drink.

Only after following all three of these steps would I consider a testosterone booster supplement. Even then, I wouldn’t take them for too long. As you age, supplementation may become slightly more effective, as your testosterone levels drop slightly. Even so, diet, sleep, and lifestyle changes will still be the most effective methods.

How to Increase Testosterone Naturally

In this section, I am going to give you a brief rundown on ways in which you can improve your testosterone levels without having to resort to bodybuilding supplements. While bodybuilders tend to lead healthy lives, there are still many who may be leading a sub-optimal lifestyle.

Eat a Diet High in Saturated Fat

Don’t get me wrong, if your diet is too high in saturated fat, you will see a reduction in your testosterone levels and an increase in heart disease risk. But diets that are very low in saturated fat are also likely to result in lower testosterone.

A decrease in dietary fat content and an increase in the degree of unsaturation of fatty acids reduces the serum concentrations of androstenedione, testosterone and free testosterone.

Hämäläinen et al (1984)

Saturated fat is a great source of cholesterol, which is required for healthy testosterone production. Men who follow low-fat diets may well expect to see a drop in testosterone production as a result.

Men adhering to low fat diets had lower serum testosterone levels even when controlling for comorbidities, age, body mass index and activity levels. As differences in serum testosterone between the diets were modest, the avoidance of fat restrictive diets should be weighed against the potential benefits on an individual basis.

Fantus et al (2020)

Finding a variety of foods that are good sources of “healthy” fats is preferable to just eating a load of processed meat (which have obvious downsides). Also, we’re talking about eating enough saturated fat for testosterone production. That is not the same thing as saying “eat a high-fat diet”. Sorry, keto fans, but high-fat diets are not more effective than regular fat diets.

Lower Your Body Fat

While eating enough healthy fats can be good for testosterone production. Overeating, and storing excess body fat is bad for testosterone production. If you are overweight or obese, one of the best things you can do is to get into a calorie deficit and burn some fat. Doing this in a healthy way is crucial (you will see why later), and you don’t need to rush things. A minor calorie deficit should be enough.

a 2007 study of 1,667 men ages 40 and above found that each one-point increase in BMI was associated with a 2% decrease in testosterone.

Harvard Health Publishing (2011)

Luckily, following the steps in this article should help you to lose weight anyway. Exercise and diet are the most effective tools for fat loss.

Sleep 8 Hours or More

Sleep has been repeatedly proven to lead to increased morning testosterone levels, any man who has woken from an eight-hour sleep will probably have experienced this first-hand (pun intended). Good sleep will lead to healthy levels of testosterone, while bad sleep will severely affect testosterone.

Daytime testosterone levels were decreased by 10% to 15% in this small convenience sample of young healthy men who underwent 1 week of sleep restriction to 5 hours per night, a condition experienced by at least 15% of the US working population.

Leproult & Van Cauter (2011)

Bad sleep can also lead to weight gain (reducing daily activity and increasing appetite) which will, in turn, lead to reduced testosterone. If you follow any advice here, make sure that you are sleeping enough!

Avoid Overtraining

Overtraining can lead to raised cortisol levels. This can affect your stress levels, your sleep, and they can slow down recovery. Cortisol also affects testosterone production, by affecting the testicles, where testosterone is mostly produced.

I talk about this in detail in my article on overtraining in bodybuilding.

Improve How You Handle Stress

Overtraining is not the only cause of high cortisol levels, stress is a bigger influence on cortisol. A stressful life can affect sleep, mood, cognition, and it can also affect testosterone. I know that saying “remove stress from your life” is pretty useless advice. Stress is a part of life. But you need to find a way to deal with it.

Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, are all useful. Stress management techniques are also very helpful. In stressful situations, you may find that talking to your doctor or a therapist may be the best option. Just don’t expect stress to go away if you avoid tackling it. Sadly, that’s not how stress works. Too many men try and ignore stress and anxiety, and it really is not good for us.

Lift Weights Regularly

As a bodybuilder, you (hopefully) already have this covered. But lifting weights is an incredibly effective way to increase testosterone levels. Not only does the act itself help boost testosterone, but exercise can help increase your metabolism and burn calories. Leading to less body fat, and therefore better testosterone production.

 In conclusion, the data presented here indicate that strength training can induce growth hormone and testosterone release, regardless of age.

Craig, Brown, Everhart (1989)

Just ensure that you are recovering sufficiently between workouts, as I’ve already covered, overtraining has the opposite effect!

Don’t Follow a Low-Calorie Diet for Too Long

As we’ve already established, being in a calorie deficit can help you to burn fat and therefore increase testosterone. But in the same way that too much exercise can be counterintuitive, so can too long a diet.

When your body fat levels are too low, you are unable to produce as much testosterone. You are also likely to be suffering from deficiencies such as a lack of saturated fat (see above).

 long-term severe CR reduces serum total and free testosterone and increases SHBG concentrations in humans, independently of adiposity.

Cangemi et al (2010)

Note: CR stands for calorie restriction and SHBG stands for sex hormone-binding globulin, which can lead to reduced free testosterone.

This is pretty simple, don’t stay in a calorie deficit for too long, or you will begin to see a drop in testosterone. Avoiding prolonged bulks and cuts can help prevent this.

Can Bodybuilding Supplements Boost Testosterone? Final Thoughts

If you are looking for a simple, yes-no answer, then I guess the answer would be YES. But it really isn’t that simple. While some ingredients may lead to small or temporary increases in testosterone. This is usually only seen in men with very low testosterone levels. Or in men with nutritional deficiencies.

Your best bet is to focus more on lifestyle factors, with bodybuilding supplements that boost testosterone as a backup plan. You will save money in the long run. And those lifestyle factors will help improve your health and fitness in many other ways.

Bodybuilders who are coming off a cycle may benefit from natural testosterone boosters while their natural testosterone levels reset. But most bodybuilders will prefer to use illegal drugs that do the same thing (but better).

About the Author Matt Smith

Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.

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