Kamal Patel is a director of Examine.com, the research-based resource on supplementation and nutrition, and a nutrition researcher with an MPH and MBA from Johns Hopkins University. He is based in San Francisco, California.
There are many supplements on the market claiming to enhance testosterone but many of them are herbal supplements that may well improve libido and boost confidence and do absolutely nothing for testosterone levels.
These libido enhancers include herbs such as tribulus terrestris, maca, and fenugreek, all which have very noticeable effects on sex drive, yet have no effect on testosterone levels.
Other herbs, such as eurycoma and ginger, can only increase testosterone when supplemented by infertile people, or men with testicular damage.
Many other herbs, like horny goat weed, haven’t been studied in humans yet, so there is no reliable data on their ability. Therefore, the majority of supplements on the market have no effect on testosterone levels, although there are a few with a proven track record, especially if you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
Zinc is a dietary mineral that is often promoted for boosting testosterone, but it only helps in people with a deficiency. Athletes and people who work out a lot are prone to this because zinc is lost through sweat.
Zinc deficiencies are also associated with lower testosterone levels, so if supplementation brings zinc levels back into the normal range, testosterone levels will rise accordingly.
However, increasing zinc levels above normal body levels will not increase testosterone any further, and high doses of supplementary zinc can irritate the gastrointestinal tract and cause liver and kidney damage. Over time, high doses of zinc can also result in a copper deficiency.
How to take it Zinc should be supplemented in the range of 25mg to 30mg of elemental zinc per day. Elemental zinc refers to the weight of zinc itself, and excludes the weight of the compound it is supplemented with to help absorption. The label displays the elemental dosage, not the total dosage. Zinc should be taken with meals, since some people may experience nausea after taking it on an empty stomach. Do not pair zinc with minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron in combined doses of 800mg or more because the minerals will compete for absorption and limit the overall effectiveness of supplementation.
Magnesium is also a dietary mineral and a deficiency is also linked to lowered testosterone levels.
Supplementing magnesium when deficient will restore testosterone levels to normal, but if you are not deficient then supplementation will not raise testosterone levels above normal. As with zinc, magnesium is lost through sweat so it is often recommended for athletes.
How to take it
The standard dose for magnesium is 200mg of elemental magnesium, though doses of up to 400mg can be used. Elemental magnesium content is found on the supplement label. Magnesium can be supplemented through magnesium citrate, magnesium diglycinate, and magnesium gluconate. Magnesium oxide is not recommended for supplementation because it is poorly absorbed and is more likely to cause intestinal discomfort and diarrhea. Magnesium gluconate should be taken with a meal to increase the absorption of the supplement, but other forms of magnesium can be taken either with food or on an empty stomach.
Vitamin D has been long researched in the context of male fertility. In fact, vitamin D receptors are located on sperm cells. Vitamin D may also play a role in the production of steroid hormones. Studies have shown that for men with low vitamin D levels, supplementation over the course of a year resulted in an increase in testosterone levels.
It is not known if this is due to fixing low testosterone or due to an inherent increase in testosterone, as the study was conducted in middle-aged men who may have experienced an age-related testosterone decline. Vitamin D is a base supplement because it is very safe, cheap, and guards against low testosterone levels. Most people do not get enough vitamin D, especially those living in the northern hemisphere. Vitamin D should be supplemented throughout winter, since sun exposure is less frequent during cold seasons.
How to take it To supplement vitamin D, take between 2,000IU to 3,000IU per day. The lower end of the range is our usual recommended dose, while the higher end is similar to the dosages used in studies on vitamin D and testosterone. It should be taken with meals containing dietary fat. It is sometimes taken in the morning due to anecdotal reports that it may impair sleep quality if taken too close to bedtime.
Creatine is a small organic acid which serves as an energy intermediate, replenishing ATP levels in a cell faster than glucose or fatty acids. It is most well known for its ability to increase the rate of muscle growth and improvements in strength during training. Creatine has been investigated for its interactions with androgens, and in young men in the 18-35 age range it appears to cause a mild but reliable increase in testosterone concentrations by around 20%-25%.
This increase in testosterone is thought to be partially responsible for the effects of creatine on muscle growth and power output. Creatine is safe, but further research is needed to determine the mechanism through which it increases testosterone levels. An increase in dihydrotestosterone (DHT) was observed in one study, but this has not been replicated.
How to take it The best way to supplement creatine is to take creatine monohydrate. Other forms of creatine may be more expensive, but studies have not found them to be more effective. If you are particularly sensitive to creatine’s digestive side-effects, which include nausea and cramping, consider supplementing micronised creatine, which may be easier on the digestive system.
The standard daily dose for creatine is 5g a day, which is enough to improve power output. People with more muscle mass may benefit from a higher daily dose, as much as 10g taken in two doses of 5g, but this claim is not fully supported by the evidence. Some people are creatine non-responders, which means creatine is unable to pass from their blood to their muscles. If you do respond to creatine, you don’t have to worry about timing supplementation, though you will probably want to take it with a meal to lower the risk of an upset stomach.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a compound needed to produce testosterone and estrogen. People with low hormone levels can supplement DHEA to increase levels of both. DHEA does not act directly on the androgen or estrogen receptors, but instead circulates throughout the body and is called upon to create hormones as needed. Supplementing DHEA will not increase testosterone levels above normal, and people with healthy hormone levels do not need supplementation. DHEA is most reliable when supplemented by people suffering from age-related low testosterone.
How to take it To supplement DHEA, take 25mg to 50mg once a day with a meal.
The following outlines how to incorporate this supplement stack into your daily nutrition habits.
For young men, aged 35 or under, that want increased testosterone levels, take the base supplements zinc (25mg to 30 mg), magnesium (200mg to 400 mg) and vitamin D (2,000IU to 3,000IU) in the form of vitamin D3.
For middle-aged people who want to maintain testosterone levels, take the base supplements (at the same doses) of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D3, add DHEA (25mg to 50mg) and follow a healthy diet and exercise plan.