Testosterone is an important hormone, especially for men. It plays a critical role in many aspects of our health, including maintaining good muscle mass, bone density, and libido, as well as keeping our mental and cognitive wellbeing where we want them.
Low testosterone levels can therefore lead to a range of health issues, including decreased energy, mood changes, and reduced muscle mass, with a commensurate loss in strength and athleticism, reduced drive, and low libido/poor sexual function.
If your testosterone levels are clinically low (somewhere in the sub- 10 nmol/L range), medical intervention may be necessary. This will likely include the use of exogenous testosterone.
However, if they are simply sub-optimal (above 10nmol/L, but still far short of a more optimal 30-35 nmol/L), then simply making some basic lifestyle changes can help you to boost them.
In this article, we’ll explore a few ways to naturally increase testosterone levels, including several that I have done myself to optimise my own testosterone output over the years.
1. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise is an important factor in maintaining overall health and wellbeing. It has been proven beyond doubt to have numerous benefits. This includes increasing testosterone levels, especially in men.
Both intensity and duration of exercise play a role in determining the testosterone response. High-intensity exercise, such as weightlifting with heavy loads or interval training, tends to have a greater impact on testosterone levels compared to low-intensity exercises like jogging or walking.
General exercise is good. Strength and resistance training exercises are particularly effective.
I lift heavy weights three times per week and practice yoga most evenings, which is pretty much a perfect athletic combination for naturally bolstering testosterone output.
Strength training exercises involve movements that exert force on the muscles – think lifting weights through proper, functional ranges of motion. Hard swimming, sprinting, and bodyweight exercises can also be very effective – calisthenics, gymnastics, yoga, and so forth.
Compound exercises – think squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups, which I typically build my training around – are particularly good for increasing testosterone levels.
In addition to strength and resistance training, incorporating cardiovascular exercises like running, swimming, or cycling into your routine can also help your testosterone levels. They all help to maintain overall cardiovascular health, which indirectly supports testosterone production (as well as being good for your overall health in its own right).
If in doubt, chat to a fitness professional, a coach or personal trainer, who will be able to put a decent training plan together for you with your testosterone output in mind.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for overall health, and it also plays a significant role in testosterone levels.
When I suffered with low testosterone levels a few years ago, it was not incidentally when I was at my heaviest – though I wasn’t too overweight. I’ve since shed a few pounds, largely of fat, and it’s helped in numerous areas of my health and wellbeing.
Research has shown that excess body fat, particularly abdominal fat, can lead to lower testosterone levels in both men and women.
Adipose tissue, or fat cells, can convert testosterone into oestrogen through a process called aromatisation. This aromatisation can quite naturally result in a decrease in total testosterone levels. In addition, excess body fat can negatively affect your metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and inflammation, all of which can further limit natural testosterone output.
Obesity and overweight conditions are linked to various health problems, including metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. These conditions are all associated with hormonal imbalances, including imbalanced (or too low) testosterone levels.
Losing excess weight where relevant can be a massive step towards healthy, optimal testosterone output. Focus on a balanced and nutritious diet, regular exercise, and a sustainable lifestyle.
Incorporating regular physical activity, including both cardiovascular exercises and strength training, can help shed excess fat while promoting muscle development and maintaining a healthy weight. As above, this will also help to boost testosterone output in its own right.
You can support healthy weight management by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats – more on this below. These food choices help regulate insulin levels, improve metabolism, and provide essential nutrients for hormone production.
Try to forego ultra-processed foods and foods with high sugar contents wherever possible.
3. Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial for various aspects of health, including hormone regulation. Lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can ruin your testosterone levels.
Research suggests that sleep deprivation or insufficient sleep disrupts the normal hormonal balance in the body, leading to decreased testosterone production. Testosterone production occurs primarily during sleep, specifically during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep.
Therefore, not getting enough quality sleep can limit your ability to produce a healthy, optimal volume of testosterone. Just as my low testosterone levels coincided with a period of excess body fat, so too did they coincide with a period of sleeplessness, when I was simply too busy (and wired from being so busy) to get enough good-quality sleep.
I changed this, and that change has been profound. I now enjoy 7-9 hours of good-quality sleep per night, and my testosterone output (and overall wellbeing) has leapt accordingly.
In addition to affecting testosterone levels, sleep deprivation can also lead to increased cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels can further disrupt testosterone production, as high levels of cortisol inhibit the release of luteinising hormone (LH), a hormone that stimulates the production of testosterone.
Try to practice good sleep hygiene and aim for 7-9 hours of largely interrupted sleep per night. This should go a long way to boosting your natural testosterone output. Find out more about sleep and testosterone here.
4. Reduce stress
As we’ve touched on, high cortisol levels can mean low testosterone levels. Again, my own period of low testosterone coincided with a period of intense stress – I was moving house, starting a new business, finishing a degree, and publishing a book, all over a period of about eighteen months (this also coincided with the global coronavirus pandemic, which didn’t help matters!).
When the body is under chronic stress, it produces increased levels of cortisol, which we have seen can negatively impact testosterone production. High cortisol levels can interfere with the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis, the system responsible for regulating testosterone production.
There is, thankfully, a lot that you can do to help mitigate stress levels. I practice all of these regularly, feel better for doing so, and have seen my testosterone levels reach an all-time high:
Meditation practice involves focusing your attention and eliminating the stream of thoughts, promoting a state of calm and mental clarity. Regular meditation has been shown to reduce stress, lower cortisol levels, and promote overall wellbeing.
Even a few minutes of meditation per day can have significant benefits – I sometimes only practice ten minutes, but it all counts.
Deep breathing exercises help activate the body’s relaxation response by slowing down the heart rate and reducing blood pressure. By focusing on your breathing and taking slow, deep breaths, you can quickly shift your body into a state of relaxation and decrease stress hormone levels.
I actually incorporate this into my meditation practice, which has a very potent cumulative effect.
We all know that yoga is good for our stress levels. It combines physical movement, breath control, and meditation, making it a comprehensive practice for stress reduction. Again, I combine all three, practicing some form of each most days.
Regular yoga practice has been shown to lower cortisol levels, improve mood, and promote relaxation. Various yoga poses, such as forward bends and gentle twists, are particularly effective for stress reduction.
The word ‘mindfulness’ gets chucked around a lot these days. However, there’s nothing new about it. My Shaolin Master, with whom I lived in China for six months when I was nineteen, preached it. That was nearly fifteen years ago, and it was based on a centuries long tradition.
I revisited it during that period of stress, going through my old practices, and found it to be nothing short of miraculous.
Mindfulness involves being fully present and aware of the present moment, without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, you can cultivate a state of calmness and reduce stress. Mindful practices, such as mindful eating, walking, or body scanning, can help alleviate stress and improve overall wellbeing, as can active pursuits like tai chi and chi gong.
You need to take care of yourself properly if you want to manage your stress levels. Make sure you regularly get enough restful sleep, eat a balanced diet, engage in regular exercise, and maintain social connections.
Take up a hobby – you would be surprised at just how healthy this can be, in very physically quantifiable ways. These self-care practices can help to reduce your stress levels and, therefore, of course, support healthy testosterone production.
Of course, stress is a personal journey, and different techniques may work better for different people. Medical intervention can often be helpful – without getting too personal, it has done for me in the past.
5. Eat a balanced diet
Few things will change your health and wellbeing like improving your diet. Eating a balanced diet is crucial for overall health. This includes hormone regulation, and thus testosterone production, as much as anything. Here are some dietary tips to consider for optimising testosterone levels:
You should aim for good protein intake. Protein is essential for hormone production, including testosterone. Good sources of protein include the likes of lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts in your diet – include something like this is every meal, if you can. This should help support heathy testosterone production.
Do note, I’m a vegetarian, a diet not typically associated with high protein intake. However, I manage to get around 140g in per day, which is a lot. This comes from a mixture of plant and dairy sources, including plenty of high protein yoghurt, whey protein shakes, and nuts.
Healthy fats are also highly important for hormone production and overall health. Include sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet, including the likes of avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish (salmon and so forth).
These healthy fats also help with nutrient absorption and maintaining proper cholesterol levels, which is necessary for testosterone production.
You should also eat plenty of fibre. Though it won’t directly lead to higher testosterone output, it can indirectly support hormone health in quite a large way. High-fibre foods – like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts – will help to regulate your insulin levels, improve your metabolic function, and reduce body fat.
All of these should lead to higher natural testosterone output.
Certain vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients play very important roles in testosterone production. Ensure you are getting sufficient amounts of zinc and vitamin D if you do nothing else. They are crucial for testosterone output.
Vitamin C and magnesium are also important. Foods rich in these nutrients include shellfish, beef, poultry, fortified dairy products, fatty fish, citrus fruits, berries, leafy greens, and nuts. Supplement if you need to – plenty of commercial, natural testosterone boosters are built on these micronutrients.
6. Eat plenty of vitamin D and zinc
I know I’ve mentioned them both above, but honestly, I’m not done talking about vitamin D and zinc. They are essential nutrients that play significant roles in testosterone production. I never take a testosterone boosting supplement seriously if it doesn’t include them.
Supplementing with them is a good idea. I do. Also look for natural sources in your food intake.
Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish, egg (particularly the yokes), mushrooms, and certain fortified dairy products. For zinc, you want oysters, beef, poultry, some commonly fortified cereals, and seeds (particularly pumpkin seeds).
7. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
Try not to drink too much alcohol. While small amounts of alcohol may not harm your testosterone levels too badly, excessive or chronic alcohol intake can greatly diminish your ability to produce testosterone.
Limit your alcohol consumption to moderate levels, or consider eliminating it altogether if you have concerns about your testosterone levels. I did – I only generally drink at special occasions and on holidays – and it’s worked a treat.
The liver is responsible for metabolising hormones, including testosterone. Alcohol can increase the production of a protein called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which binds testosterone and prevents it from exerting its effects. This leads to lower levels of free testosterone, testosterone’s biologically active form.
Alcohol can also disrupt testicular function, affecting the Leydig cells within the testes that produce testosterone. Chronic alcohol consumption can interfere with the signals that stimulate testosterone production, leading to decreased levels.
Alcohol can also greatly disrupt the delicate balance of hormones in the body, including those involved in testosterone production. It can increase the production of cortisol, and can reduce the production of luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), both of which are central to testosterone production.
You can also struggle to absorb and properly utilise many key nutrients when you drink. Chronic alcohol use can lead to deficiencies in vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, and other key nutrients necessary for testosterone production.
Alcohol is also atrocious for your sleep quality. It can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to poor-quality sleep. As we know, good-quality sleep is fundamental to keeping up healthy testosterone production, so this alone can be brutal to your output.
To optimise testosterone levels and overall health, try to maintain drinking within healthy bounds. Moderation is key. If you want to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, though even this may harm your testosterone output.
Again, I only drink on special occasions and holidays. This gives me quite long natural periods of abstinence, which is crucial for giving my body a chance to recover and restore hormonal balance. Completely abstaining from alcohol for a set period, like a week or a month, can be a great way of promoting overall health and, of course, supporting healthy testosterone production.
By being mindful of your alcohol consumption and adopting a healthy lifestyle that supports hormone balance, you can help optimise testosterone levels and overall wellbeing.
If you’re struggling to keep your alcohol consumption down to within healthy bounds, or if you suspect any kind of addictive behaviour or reliance at play, contact your healthcare provider. They will be able to assess your health and put together any treatment plan that may be necessary/relevant.
There’s a lot here. However, it all comes together nicely to support you in living a healthy, active life. A large part of what makes these lifestyle choices so effective in keeping you healthy is that they keep your hormonal balance in check, including your testosterone output.
I do everything in this list, largely automatically. Certainly, it all started to feel automatic after just a few weeks of putting it all in place. And after just a few months of doing everything in this list, my testosterone production had tripled, from a borderline medically problematic 10 nmol/L, to an outrageously healthy, supercharged 30-34 nmol/L.
Even just putting a few of these things in place will benefit you. Start with a couple, then add a couple more. Reflect on how you feel with each change. Measure your bloods if you can – a £50 kit online will give you a very accurate reading with a fast turnaround. I measure my own testosterone levels every six months to ensure that what I’m doing is working.
And what I’m doing is following the above advice. And, thus far, it works. It really works.
I’ve never felt better.