If you’re a health-conscious male, you already know that eating a balanced diet provides the necessary fuel for your body to exercise regularly and remain physically active.
As you’ve diligently worked to improve your physique and achieve a healthier lifestyle, you’ve probably heard about how the testosterone your body produces can have a significant effect on your progress. And during the last few years, you’ve more than likely skimmed many articles discussing how declining testosterone levels can negatively affect your health and well-being. However, one thing that most people don’t know is that the state of your testosterone is usually linked to the type of foods you eat.
Many people are usually unaware of testosterone’s impact on the body. Because of this, men will ignore the various blogs discussing testosterone and never learn its importance to their physical function. Instead, they place their faith in diets made popular by social media influencers and “health gurus,” typically assuming they simply need to continue eating healthy to maintain their body’s physical performance. But although eating healthy should be a necessary part of your daily routine, it is also imperative to understand how certain foods can affect your testosterone and indirectly impact your overall health.
In this article, we’ll briefly discuss testosterone’s importance to the male anatomy, what happens when your testosterone decreases, and explain how specific diets can affect your testosterone levels. Learning how your food consumption can increase or lower your testosterone can help to create a diet that is more beneficial for your testosterone levels, so you can continue to sustain your physical performance even as you get older.
Why Is Testosterone Important For Men?
Testosterone is the essential sex hormone responsible for many of the male anatomy’s physical traits, characteristics, and functions. It is a crucial component during puberty, as it helps to stimulate genital development, facial hair growth, and vocal changes that allow children’s voices to deepen as they grow into adults. The testosterone hormone is especially important in developing several critical aspects involving male physiology, including:
- Muscle mass
- Energy levels
- Bone density
- Sperm count
- Healthy fat distribution
After puberty, testosterone continues to regulate and maintain these biological functions as males transition through adulthood. However, as men continue to age into their 30s and 40s, their bodies will gradually cut back on testosterone production and eventually affect their defining characteristics, causing the body to exhibit several sudden symptoms, including:
- Reduced sexual desire
- Muscle weakness
- Joint inflammation
- Constant fatigue
- Unexplained weight gain
Although these symptoms may seem like a normal part of the aging process, they can also become indicators of more serious medical issues in the future, such as accelerated sarcopenia (muscle wasting), osteoporosis, and obesity ( which can lead to diabetes). In addition, since testosterone is primarily responsible for sexual desire and male fertility, decreased testosterone levels can also cause men to have a lower sperm count and even experience erectile dysfunction.
To maintain your health for as long as possible, you should have your testosterone levels checked periodically after your 30s. You should also familiarize yourself with the several types of testosterone and how they affect your body. Differentiating between the various forms of testosterone and their respective functions can help you to create a healthy lifestyle that allows you to take better care of yourself and preserve your normal physical capabilities.
Total Testosterone and Free Testosterone
If you’re curious about the state of your testosterone, there are a few things to remember before you take a testosterone test and check your levels.
For starters, 98% of your testosterone binds itself to one or two specific proteins, albumin and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), as a means of traveling through the bloodstream to regulate biological activity. Once it is attached to SHBG, this testosterone is unable to bind to other cells inside the body. This form of testosterone is known as bound testosterone.
Although the majority of bound testosterone remains connected to both proteins, there is usually a small percentage of testosterone that is only weakly bound to albumin and can easily detach to serve other purposes. The other 2% of your testosterone is left untouched and allowed to join with other cells in certain tissues (such as muscle mass) to help improve their function. This type of testosterone is commonly referred to as “free” testosterone.
The combined amount of your free testosterone and bound testosterone adds up to the total amount of testosterone inside your body at any given time. You’ll hear this commonly hear physicians refer to this as total testosterone.
Only free testosterone and weakly bound testosterone are biologically active out of your total testosterone, which means it’s the only testosterone available for the body to use. Researchers and physicians usually refer to the active amount of testosterone hormone as bioavailable testosterone.
Because free testosterone helps to facilitate the cellular processes responsible for the development of many characteristics and traits involving the male anatomy, many researchers have concluded that reduced free testosterone levels are typically the primary cause behind low testosterone symptoms. For that reason, physicians have determined that increasing free testosterone levels can help treat symptoms of Low T.
Whether you purchase an at-home testosterone test or request periodic checkups with your local physician, measuring your total and free testosterone can provide an accurate picture of your testosterone levels. However, checking your testosterone levels is just the first step to maintaining your health and virility as you grow older. Committing to a lifestyle that includes a carefully planned diet can also help keep your testosterone balanced and at peak efficiency. Naturally, regular exercise can help promote healthy testosterone levels, but without a nutritious diet to support your fitness regimen, you won’t be able to fully utilize your energy during physical activity and efficiently feed your testosterone. If you’re not too careful, the foods you consume daily can cause your testosterone levels to decrease and interrupt the regular flow of your healthcare regimen.
How Can Your Diet Affect Your Testosterone Levels?
Whether it’s acne or allergies, every food has the potential to impact various aspects of the male anatomy, including your testosterone levels. Of course, eating particular food individually and periodically won’t necessarily hurt your testosterone. However, if you frequently eat the same foods as part of a daily routine, your regular diet will have the potential to boost or lower your testosterone levels. If you want to remain healthy and physically active as you get older, you’ll need to research how each diet can affect your hormones.
How you eat can work as a gift or a curse for your testosterone, so you’ll need to be very careful of the type of food you put in your body. One thing is for sure: you definitely don’t want foods that will lower your testosterone levels and cause a hormone imbalance. That means you will need to avoid certain diets that may cause your testosterone to decrease. But, inversely, you should also look for diets that can help keep your testosterone levels elevated so your body can continue operating at peak performance. Unfortunately, thanks to all the new research and constant rotation of diet crazes that have become popular in the media, finding the right diet to accomplish this can be difficult. In addition, since science is constantly evolving, the conclusions drawn from the research into these diets and how they affect testosterone may periodically change and challenge the popular idea of what works best.
For example, in a clinical study from 2020, researchers found that men who adhered to a low-fat diet had lower testosterone levels than men who participated in other diets. However, these findings were found more applicable to healthy men than males with testosterone deficiency. Of course, that didn’t necessarily mean that men eating low-fat diets were guaranteed to suffer from testosterone deficiency. But it did mean that low-fat foods could cause a small decrease in testosterone levels.
A year later, a 2021 study revealed that men who ate a pro-inflammatory diet of high-fat foods and carbohydrates had lower total testosterone levels than men on less inflammatory diets. During the study, researchers concluded that men with a high intake of pro-inflammatory diets also had a 29.6% higher risk of testosterone deficiency than men on other diets. In addition, researchers found that inflammatory diets were closely linked to weight gain and obesity (which has been associated with low testosterone levels and hormone deficiency) as they discovered that many men with low testosterone were also overweight and primarily ate an inflammatory diet. Based on these findings, many believe there is a connection between inflammation and reduced testosterone levels.
Aside from inflammatory diets, several other diets incorporate different approaches to fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Some of these diets have even become very popular due to their health benefits. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common and well-known diets that are usually hotly debated for their effect on men’s testosterone levels.
Many men view vegan and keto diets as a more feminine method of dieting and prefer a more “masculine” way of maintaining their testosterone levels. Because of this, some men tend to commit to a more carnivorous diet, mainly consisting of fatty cuts of red meat and other animal products. Other foods that are commonly found in a carnivorous diet include chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, and low-lactose dairy products.
With the carnivore diet, the human body relies on fat as its primary energy source instead of carbohydrates. Specific research suggests that diets that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates can help to increase testosterone levels. Studies have also shown that high protein and low carb diets can also help with weight loss. Eating proteins and fats from an all-meat diet can help the body feel more satisfied after meals, so you eat less frequently and have a better chance of losing weight, which has also been shown to help increase testosterone levels and reduce body fat mass.
But although a carnivore diet can have a positive effect on your testosterone, it does have its downsides. Many of the meats in a carnivore diet can lead to high cholesterol levels and an increased risk for hypertension and kidney disease. In addition, eliminating fruits and vegetables from your diet can also exclude the vitamins and minerals needed for the body to remain healthy. Without proper nutrients, you’re more vulnerable to other health issues such as heart disease, colorectal cancer, and digestive issues from lacking fiber.
Renowned as a popular diet for weight loss, a ketogenic diet (also known as a keto diet) uses plenty of fats, small portions of carbohydrates, and a bit of protein, to prevent the body from using the glucose processed from carbs as an energy source. Reducing your carb intake causes your body to enter ketosis, a physical state where the body derives its energy from ketones (a type of chemical produced in the liver) after the breakdown of fats.
Research shows that keto diets can increase HDL cholesterol intake, which helps to boost testosterone production. For example, a clinical study found that 25 young men who adhered to a keto diet and participated in a resistance training program had higher testosterone levels than when they ate a typical Western-style diet. In addition, the study found that men who adhered to a keto diet were also able to increase their muscle strength while significantly reducing their body mass.
A plant-based diet limits meat, dairy products, and processed foods and instead focuses on foods like vegetables and fruits. Naturally, you may assume that committing to plant-based diets means you are strictly vegan, but that isn’t quite true. Plant-based diets can also include other, more flexible diets that incorporate poultry and other animal foods.
Studies have revealed that plant-based and vegan diets do not affect your testosterone levels. However, plant-based diets can affect other areas of your health, such as your body mass, which can also impact your testosterone levels. Eating a plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes, which are also associated with low testosterone.
However, if you’re looking to conceive in the future, you’ll need to be aware of certain foods used in plant-based diets, such as soy, which can negatively affect your sperm count. Soy products usually contain phytoestrogens, a chemical compound similar to estradiol, a female sex hormone similar to estrogen. Researchers believe that ingesting phytoestrogens on a daily basis may raise your estrogen levels, which can decrease your testosterone and affect your fertility.
Building a Diet To Increase Testosterone Levels
Several specific foods contain essential nutrients that you can incorporate into a personalized diet to help increase your testosterone. Here are some things to look for the next time you go food shopping:
Selenium is an important nutrient that can significantly increase testosterone production in the testicles. You can find abundant sources of selenium in various foods, including:
- Brazil nuts
- Dairy products
Zinc is fundamental to several physiological processes, including cellular growth and physical performance. In addition, previous research has revealed that zinc is closely linked to testosterone, as studies show that men with low testosterone levels also had a zinc deficiency. Conversely, men who took zinc supplements were shown to have increased testosterone levels, which leads researchers to believe that eating zinc-enriched foods can help elevate testosterone. There are several foods you can find to increase your zinc intake, including:
- Whole grains
Magnesium is an essential mineral required for muscle growth and reproductive function. It can help to reduce oxidative stress, which is proven to lower testosterone levels. Leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach are usually great sources of magnesium. Other vegetables rich in magnesium include:
- Swiss Chard
Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to only these foods. You can mix it up with the usual healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats for a well-rounded diet or customize your regimen with other foods you enjoy. But you’ll need to stay vigilant and research your favorite meals to ensure that you’re only purchasing foods that can elevate your testosterone levels. To get a jump start on your search, check out our content discussing some of the best foods to boost testosterone.
Consult With A Physician About Specific Diets To Boost Your Testosterone Levels
Whether you’re suffering from testosterone deficiency or simply aiming to maintain your current levels, you should always consult with a medical professional about customizing an appropriate diet for your body before searching for foods to boost your testosterone. A licensed and certified hormone specialist can perform a testosterone test to check your testosterone levels and determine the type of diet you would need to manage or raise your testosterone levels. After checking your testosterone levels, they can recommend the best foods and serving portions to add to your diet based on your physiology. And should your testosterone levels drop dangerously low due to a hormone imbalance, they can prescribe testosterone treatments to work with your exercise and dieting to help elevate your hormone levels until they’ve returned to normal standards. With the right diet and expert medical treatment, you can increase and maintain your testosterone levels to remain consistently healthy and physically active in your old age.