Man Food: Nutrition to Increase Testosterone
Testosterone is the hormone that makes men, men. It stimulates the growth of the penis and scrotum, is vital in the production of sperm, controls fat distribution on the body, increases the growth of facial and body hair, is anabolic to muscles, gives us greater bone density, and gives men the shape and attributes we associate with masculinity.
Testosterone is the main male sex hormone, and it belongs to a group of other male sex hormones known as androgens, which include dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Men and women both produce testosterone and DHEA, but men make about ten times more testosterone than women.
Why Low Testosterone Matters
Low testosterone has a negative impact on just about every major system in the male body, including insulin resistance,1 obesity,2 shorter life,3 and cardiovascular disease.4 Some of the symptoms of low testosterone are: low sex drive, hard time getting and keeping an erection, hair loss, fatigue, trouble with memory, loss of muscle mass and difficulty gaining muscle, decreased bone density, increase in body fat, and difficult time losing it.
The signs and symptoms of low testosterone are not immediate, and can take time to build up. This is why the symptoms of low testosterone can be easily ignored for months, or even years. The sad part is that most men will wait until they have developed some of the severe signs and symptoms, typically associated with libido and erectile dysfunction,5 before taking action to improve testosterone.
Lifting heavy things isn't the only way to increase testosterone.
Your Testosterone Nutrition Plan
Increasing testosterone naturally requires a full lifestyle overhaul, impacting everything from sleep habits, to stress management, and diet. Today I will focus on nutrition. Nutrition plays a pivotal part in your ability to make testosterone, because it supplies the raw materials your body will use to make the hormone.
Here are some simple nutrition habits you can adopt to naturally increase your testosterone production.
1. Eat More Cruciferous Vegetables
Why: We want to keep testosterone and estrogen in a certain balance. When that balance heavily favors estrogen in men, it is a sign that testosterone is being aromatized (converted) into estrogen, which is not good.
How: Eat cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, radishes, kale, watercress, bok choy, broccoli, and cauliflower. When these foods are ingested, they release a phytochemical that helps the body with estrogen metabolism11 and clearance.
2. Consume More Zinc
Why: In one study,12 dietary zinc restriction was associated with a significant decrease in serum testosterone in otherwise healthy men. Zinc is an aromatase inhibitor, which blocks the estrogen receptor site. We are looking to optimize the ratio of testosterone to estrogen and zinc to make sure testosterone isn’t converted to estrogen.
How: Some of the best sources of zinc are oysters, beef, lamb, shellfish, crab, clams, lobster, mussels, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, spinach, and cashews. Jarrow Formulas and Now Foods both sell high-quality zinc supplements.
3. Consume Selenium-Rich Foods
Why: Aside from being an essential trace mineral that people rarely get in their diet, selenium is essential for male fertility13 and plays a crucial role in the production of testosterone. Both zinc and selenium have been correlated to male fertility and testosterone levels in men.
How: Brazil nuts, liver, crab, and other shellfish are good sources of selenium. Most high-quality multivitamins should contain enough selenium to meet the needs of a man who is looking to increase testosterone through nutrient optimization.
4. Consume Foods Rich in Omega-3s
Why: Inflammation and stress are invariably linked in the body, and make each other worse. In times of chronic inflammation, stress will also be heightened. When the body can’t keep up with the production of the stress hormone cortisol, your body will sacrifice other hormones to support your stress response, known as the pregnenolone steal, and the precursors that would become testosterone and estrogen are used to make cortisol instead.14
Omega-3 fatty acids are a powerful anti-inflammatory, and have shown to lower stress in the body.15 Lower stress and inflammation leads to less pregnenolone steal, and allows for greater testosterone production.
How: Common foods that have omega-3 fatty acids that are easily absorbed are sardines, walnuts, salmon, and mackerel. While there are some foods that contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids like flax and chia seeds, their conversion rate into the beneficial EPA and DHA are very poor, around 1-5%,16 where the other sources listed above are more easily digested and used in the body. You can always use a supplemental form of omega-3 fatty acids. I recommend Barleans, Nordic Naturals, or Carlson Labs brands.
5. Optimize Vitamin D3 Levels
Why: Higher vitamin D3 status in men is associated with greater levels of testosterone. When men are deficient in vitamin D3, supplementation has been shown to increase testosterone levels.17 It also works to regulate the aromatase enzyme,18 which converts testosterone to estrogen.
How: Vitamin D3 is the bio-available form that our body can use. Avoid the fortified vitamin D2 in most foods, which doesn’t provide the same benefits as D3. Because the bioavailable form of D3 is difficult to get from foods, I recommend spending as much time in the sunshine as possible, and use a supplement to top levels off.