As a man, your testosterone levels are a major driving force in your overall quality of life.
The problem is:
Testosterone levels in American men have been steadily declining over the past few decades.
According to the research, approximately 24% of American men over the age of 30 have low testosterone levels (<300 ng/dL).
Now, the reasons for this generational decline in T are diverse but can largely be narrowed down to decisions regarding how we eat, train, and sleep. In this post, I’ll show you how to optimize these three areas so that you can move towards achieving and maintaining your energy, health, and virility well into old-age.
Taking the steps to naturally increase your testosterone levels will allow you to bring your A-game in every other area of life as well.
How To Eat For Naturally High Testosterone Levels
The building blocks of testosterone are formed by the foods you eat. If you don’t eat right, nothing else you do for testosterone will matter. This is why dialing in on your nutrition is the primary objective when looking to achieve hormonal balance.
How Body Fat Impacts Testosterone
Priority #1, when it comes to naturally increasing your testosterone levels, is to get in the range of 12-15% body fat. Research has consistently shown body fat to hold an inverse relationship with testosterone.
In other words:
The leaner you are, the more testosterone your body will naturally be able to produce.
This is because body fat produces an enzyme (called aromatase) that converts testosterone into the female sex hormone, estrogen. By lowering your body fat, you decrease the activity of this enzyme and allow more testosterone to remain unconverted.
Regardless of any preconceptions that you may have, there is only one rule of weight loss:
To be in a calorie deficit, i.e. to consume fewer calories than you burn.
If you follow this rule, you will lose weight regardless of what you eat. Notice how I wrote weight and not fat. If you want to ensure that this weight loss comes in the form of fat and not muscle, factors such as food choices, training, and sleep also come into play, which we’ll discuss coming up.
If you are currently over 15% body fat, then lowering your body fat is the single most important thing you must do to naturally boost your testosterone levels.
How Micro-Nutrients Impact Testosterone
Micro-nutrients are the vitamins and minerals that your body needs in trace amounts to ensure proper growth, development, and function.
After getting lean, the best thing you can do for your testosterone levels is to correct any underlying vitamin and mineral deficiencies that you may have.
With regards to testosterone, the most important micro-nutrients are vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium. Vitamin D can be acquired simply by spending more time in the sun. As for the other micro-nutrients, check out this great list of 25 powerful testosterone-boosting foods.
If including more natural, whole, and unprocessed foods in your diet seems difficult, then opt for a quality multivitamin. I emphasize the word quality because almost half of Americans take a multivitamin supplement, yet large portions of the population still have deficiencies.
Before buying a multivitamin, read the nutrition label and make sure that it delivers as close to 100% as possible of the daily value (DV) for the following:
- Vitamin A (only if it is mostly beta-carotene; otherwise keep it under 4000 IU)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
Depending on the extent of your current deficiencies, topping up your micronutrient levels can have an instant and drastic positive impact on your T.
How Macro-Nutrients Impact Testosterone
Calories are made up of macro-nutrients, which in turn, are made up of fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Each macro-nutrient has its own role in supporting endocrine function.
Considering that testosterone is literally made out of dietary cholesterol, dietary fat is the most important macro-nutrient for testosterone production. But more important than the amount of fat in your diet is the source that the fat is coming from.
There are four types of dietary fat:
- Saturated fats – found in foods like whole eggs, beef, and milk.
- Monounsaturated fats – found in foods like avocados, almonds, and olive oil.
- Polyunsaturated fats – found in plant-based oils like soybean oil, corn oil, and sunflower oil.
- Trans fats – man made and found in foods like doughnuts, crackers, cakes and pies.
According to the research, saturated and monounsaturated fat intake hold a direct positive relationship with testosterone. On the other hand, polyunsaturated and trans fat intake actually lowered T-levels.
Next up we have carbohydrates. Carbs get a bad rep these days, but they are actually very important for T production.
A recent study provides further insight:
- Subjects were divided into two groups and tested for there free testosterone to cortisol ratio (fTC).
- Group 1 ate 60% of their daily calories from carbs.
- Group 2 ate 30% of their daily calories from carbs.
- After three consecutive days of training, subjects in group 2 had significantly lower fTC ratio (-43%) while subjects in group 1 maintained their fTC ratio.
Carbs are your body’s preferred source of energy, and not eating enough of them means putting your body under added stress in the form of increased cortisol levels; this is especially true if you’re lifting weights or doing any other type of strenuous activity.
Cortisol is the stress hormone and is negatively correlated with testosterone, i.e. higher cortisol = lower testosterone.
And finally we have protein.
Believe it or not, protein is actually the least important macronutrient for T production. This is because, given a fixed number of calories, increased protein intake means less of fat and carbs, both of which are more important for T.
To provide this with a scientific context, let’s observe the results from a study that looked at how protein and carb intake impacted testosterone:
- Subjects were divided into two groups.
- Group 1 ate a high-protein, low-carb diet.
- Group 2 ate a high-carb, low-protein diet.
- Calories and fat were the same for both groups.
- After 10 days, subjects in group 2 had 26% higher testosterone levels.
Does this mean that a low-protein diet is best for testosterone?
Well, not quite.
An important point is that the subjects in this study were not put on any type of exercise program, whereby a higher protein intake would be needed to aid muscle recovery.
So the bottom line is to consume enough protein to support muscle growth and recovery but not more.
How To Set Up Your Diet For Optimal T Production
Only after looking at the big picture of how body fat, micro-nutrients, and macro-nutrients factor in to the testosterone equation can we move towards figuring out the numbers. I’ll walk you through the process step-by-step.
As an example, let’s say you weight 185 lbs and are currently at about 17% body fat. So your first objective is to get in the range of sub-15% body fat.
Step 1: Figure out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
BMR is the amount of calories you’d burn if you were to do nothing but rest for 24 hours.
I recommend using the Katch-McArdle equation because, unlike other popular BMR equations, it takes into account body composition:
BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM in kg)
LBM is lean body mass, i.e. your weight without body fat.
From the example:
- 17% x 185 = 31.45 pounds of body fat
- 185 – 31.45 = 153.55 pounds of LBM
- 55 lbs = 69.65 kg
Using the Katch-McArdle equation => 370 + (21.6 x 69.65) = 1874 calories
BMR = 1874 calories
Step 2: Figure out your Total Energy Expenditure (TEE)
TEE is the total amount of calories you burn in a day.
TEE = BMR x Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA)
We estimate TEA with an activity multiplier:
- Sedentary: Spend most of the day sitting (e.g. desk job, bank teller)
- Lightly active: Spend a good part of the day on your feet (e.g. teacher, car salesman)
- Active: Spend a good part of the day doing some physical activity (e.g. waitress, mailman, lifting weights)
- Very Active: Spend most of the day doing heavy physical activity (e.g. manual labor, bike messenger, lifting weights)
Let’s say you fall under the category of lightly active:
- TEE = BMR x 1.35 = 1874 x 1.35 = 2530 calories
So your total daily expenditure is about 2530 calories.
Now obviously these formulas are just an estimate and not 100% accurate. But that’s completely okay because, in the grand scheme of things, they provide a good enough starting point after which you can adjust as you track and measure your progress.
Step 3: Figure out your Calorie Goal
Given that your current objective is to get to sub-15% body fat, I would recommend a calorie deficit of 500 calories. This would amount to about 1 lb of weight-loss per week. To ensure that this 1 lb comes in the form of fat and not muscle, make sure that you’re lifting weights and maintaining/gaining strength.
So your calorie goal is:
2530 – 500 = 2030 calories
Step 4: Figure out your Macros
With T-optimization as your goal, aim to consume about 25-30% of your daily calories from fat. Each gram of fat is about 9 calories.
So your fat intake is:
- Dietary fat intake (in grams) = (2030 x 0.25)/9
- Dietary fat intake (in grams) = 56
For protein, remember that you should eat enough to support muscle growth and recovery, but not more. As per the exact recommendation, I look towards researcher Eric Helms who, after analyzing and reviewing a lot of other studies, recommends a protein intake between 0.8-1.3 grams per pound (1.8-2.8g/kg) of body weight.
I would recommend sticking to the lower end of this range.
As per our example:
- 8 x 185 = 148 grams of protein
Carbs are the final piece of the macro-nutrient puzzle. Carbs and protein each provide 4 calories per gram.
Fill up your remaining calories with carbs:
- Carbs in grams = [ 2030 – (56 x 9) – (148 x 4) ]/4
- Carbs in grams = 233.5
So a breakdown of your macros is to consume 2030 calories per day coming from 148 grams of protein, 56 grams of fat, and 234 grams of carbs.
Again, these numbers are not meant to be exact. They are merely there to provide you with a starting point after which you track your progress and adjust along the way.
How to Train For Naturally High Testosterone Levels
Testosterone is the primary hormonal driver of muscle growth. When you lift weights beyond the capacity of what your body’s currently used to, testosterone is released to signal the target muscle tissue to grow in order to adjust to the stimulus.
There’s a tendency in the fitness community to make training more complicated than it needs to be. With regards to naturally increasing testosterone, your goal is simple:
To get stronger in a medium rep range on big compound movements.
I like to narrow my training down to 6 exercises in particular:
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
- Weighted Pull-Ups
- Barbell Rows
I include isolation exercises in my training as well, but my primary focus is to get stronger on the above six exercises.
Check out this great guide to make your training more effective.
Here are some strength standards for you to strive for:
- Squat: 1.75x bodyweight for 5 reps
- Deadlift: 1.75x bodyweight for 5 reps
- Bench press: 1.35x bodyweight for 5 reps
- Overhead press: 1x bodyweight for 5 reps
- Weighted Pull-ups: 50% of bodyweight attached for 5 reps
- Barbell rows: 1.5x bodyweight for 5 reps
A note on cardio: Studies have found that men who consistently run long distances have lower long-term testosterone levels than even the non-athletic control group. If you like cardio and want to include it in your routine, make sure that you keep it under 3 hours per week and at high intensity rather than at slow-steady state.
How To Sleep To Ensure A Steady Surge of Testosterone Through The Night
If you do everything else right, but fail to get enough high-quality sleep, your results in terms of boosting T will be severely limited.
But it’s not only sleep quantity that matters; sleep quality is just as important. This is because T production peaks during the deep hours of rapid eye movement sleep. Research has shown that missing these cycles leads to lower testosterone levels in the long run.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every single night.
As for sleep quality, follow these 4 steps to improve it…
Step 1: Sleep in a pitch-black room
By pitch black I mean that you should not be able to see your hand in front of your face.
Use a sleeping mask or invest in some blackout curtains like they have in hotels. Even a little bit of light can disrupt your sleep hormones.
Step 2: Keep room temperature between 60-67 degrees F.
Researchers have found this temperature to be ideal. If your thermostat is above this range, it could compromise your sleep.
Step 3: Cut off screen stimulation 2 hours before bed
This means that you should put your phone away and turn your TV off 2 hours before the time you intend on going to bed.
Screens emit an artificial blue light that messes with your hormones and makes your body think that it’s still daytime.
If using your phone is a necessity, then opt for night-shift mode to dim the light. F.lux is a great software that does the same for your laptop.
Step 4: Sleep with minimal clothing
Sleeping with light or no clothing allows your body to better regulate its temperature.
Long story short, getting a full 8 hours of high-quality sleep is the best way to ensure a steady surge of testosterone through the night.
RECAP – The Definitive Guide to Achieving Higher Testosterone Levels
Forget expensive unnatural treatments and testosterone injections. Focus on getting your nutrition, training, and sleep on point to move towards a life where you are able to express what you’re truly capable of.
Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve gone over…
How to Eat:
- Priority #1 is to get in the range of 12-15% body fat
- Make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals through your diet (if you aren’t, then opt for a quality multivitamin supplement).
- Include more healthy fats (saturated and monounsaturated) in your diet.
- Eat enough carbs to power through your workouts
- Eat enough protein to support muscle growth and recovery but not more.
How to Train:
- Gain strength in a medium rep range in big compound exercises.
How to Sleep:
- Aim for 7-9 hours of high quality sleep every single night.
Maintaining your T above a particular range is a sure-fire signal that your mind and body are functioning near peak potential. As you can see, it all comes down to making simple changes in your diet and lifestyle.