- Neuroplasticity – An In-Depth Guide to How it Works and How to Transform Your Brain
- Training to Develop Synaesthesia for Improved Memory and Maths Ability (Theoretically)
- How to Train Like Bruce Lee for Insane Power and Speed
- A Complete Guide to Transhumanism
- The Surface Pro 3 – Ideal Productivity for Web Entrepreneurs
- Can You Bench Press a Dinosaur??
- The Neuroscience of Genius And Increasing Intelligence
- How Caffeine Affects Neurotransmitters and Profoundly Changes Your Brain
- A Detailed Guide to Your Brain – So You Can Start Hacking It
- Almost Every Bodyweight Exercise Ever (150+ Moves)
The Best Ways to Safely and Significantly Increase Testosterone Without Using Steroids – What’s the Closest Thing?
Increasing testosterone is one of the best methods there is of getting a ‘full body upgrade’. For men, testosterone will enhance musculature, reduce body fat, increase drive and energy, improve recovery and help you to give off that ‘alpha male’ aura.
I’m not interested in getting a 10% increase in testosterone by eating a strange herb or staying away from screens at night. I’m wondering if there is a steroid out there with no side effects, a SARM that does the same thing, or an undiscovered supplement that is far more effective than all the rest. How about pro-hormones?
Is there a safe, legal way to boost testosterone that you’ll actually feel?
I’m sure you’ve wondered the same thing at some point…
How Steroids Work – For Non-Steroid Users
Of course the best-known way to significantly raise your testosterone is through the use of steroids. Steroids are synthetic compounds that you inject or swallow and which elevate or mimic testosterone in one way or another. Let’s look at this first, so we can see just what it is we’re trying to achieve through other means.
The most straightforward way of doing this is to inject yourself with pure testosterone in huge quantities. Another option is to inject with DHT and DHT derivatives – DHT being ‘dihydrotestosterone’ which exerts many of the same effects. Other steroids will bind to your androgen receptors and trigger the same effects as testosterone as a result.
But there are problems with going the steroid route. Steroids are kind of controversial. I don’t know if you’ve heard…
‘You heard it here first: steroids are controversial!’
The problem with steroids is that they elevate testosterone by insane amounts. Testosterone is measured in NG/DL – or nanograms per decilitre – and normal is anything from 250 up to about 900. Using steroids, professional bodybuilders will get their T levels up into the thousands, even tens of thousands.
This brings about all of the unwanted side effects associated with testosterone: acne, hair loss, mood swings etc.
Worse, excess testosterone can also convert into oestrogen, causing water retention and gynecomastia: man boobs.
The body can also adapt to a steroid cycle by reducing natural, endogenous testosterone production. This means that when you come off steroids, you put yourself at risk of very low T levels which can lead to depression and impotence. This is where a lot of people will then use a ‘PCT’ or ‘Post Cycle Therapy’, which uses testosterone boosters like Gonadotrophin-releasing Hormone (GnRH) or DAA to try and restore their natural levels. But it doesn’t always work and it does pose a significant risk.
Then there’s the fact that many steroids are liver toxic. The fact that many of them need to be injected (nu-uh). The fact they’re expensive. And the fact that they’re illegal.
Of course it’s entirely up to you and I get it. But for me, it’s just not worth the considerable number of risks. Which is a shame, because steroid users look incredible and their performance is out of this world.
The question a lot of people might have at this point, is whether they can take a tiny dose of a weak steroid and see some benefits without the side effects. Indeed, this is a strategy some athletes go for and in that case they might choose to use Anavar (Oxandrolone). Anavar is among the weaker steroids and especially in small doses of around 20mg. It has been suggested that using Anavar in these quantities for an 8 week cycle will only moderately impact on testosterone levels and studies suggest that this can be effective in building muscle in over 60s (1). It also shouldn’t put too much of a strain on the liver. But it still poses a risk, you still need PCT and the results are likely to be very minimal comparatively.
Still, if you wanted to know the ‘safest’ steroid cycle, that’s probably it!
So, what other options do we have?
Are SARMs a Safe and Effective Alternative to Steroids?
One alternative that is knocking around at the moment are SARMs like Ostarine. SARMs are ‘Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators’. The idea is that these drugs can selectively bind to only the androgen receptors located on the muscles. In theory, this could create muscle growth without the hair growth or acne.
The promise is steroid-like muscle growth but without the virilisation effects.
And SARMs are legal too. As long as you’re buying them for ‘research purposes’.
But you know what they say: if it sounds too good to be true…
Reviews of SARMs are unfortunately very mixed. Some people say that they’re effective, others say that they see no real results. What’s more is that they can still be suppressive and lower your natural testosterone levels. That’s because they are ‘more selective’, rather than perfectly selective. They have anabolic-to-androgenic ratios that range from 3:1 to 90:1 – but the androgenic part is still there. There have also been reports of SARMs leading to increases in oestrogen. And they’re prohibitively expensive as well.
For me the biggest warning sign is that a lot of companies marketing SARMs recommend them as part of a PCT to restore testosterone. Seeing as we know that SARMs are suppressive and they in no way encourage testosterone production, it’s very clear that this is completely misguided and ineffective and that companies are just trying to shove their latest nonsense chemicals on us.
Again, this comes down to personal preference but to me, you’re still taking risks, still spending a lot of money and actually getting lesser results as compared with steroids…
Is this the closest ‘safe’ alternative to steroids? Probably not. But either way, it is not a useful option for PCT.
Do Pro-Hormones Work?
Which brings us to prohormones. Prohormones are substances that the body can convert into testosterone or DHT and that can thus raise those levels without taking those substances directly.
Do prohormones work? Different people get different results as ever. I actually took a prohormone called Oxavar in my early twenties because I thought it was a testosterone booster. True story. And for me, the results were pretty impressive and I gained quite a lot of lean muscle mass.
But I also had some pretty bad mood swings. And a lot of other people say they experience the mood swings but not the muscle growth. They have many of the same risks as steroids, aren’t as strong and are on shaky legal grounds (the majority are now banned across the UK and in most US states). So again, you might as well just do the real thing if you’re going to go that route…
Hey, I used one and my balls didn’t drop off. But I got lucky and ultimately, I have seen similar increases in muscle mass before without the pro-hormones, so even for me it wasn’t game-changing.
The Top Testosterone Boosters
Now we’re starting to get to the ‘legal and safe’ end of the spectrum. Which is not to say that everything is still necessarily going to be effective…
Testosterone boosters are supplements containing natural ingredients that will encourage your body to increase testosterone production naturally.
These ingredients include the likes of saponins likes tribulus terrestris and minerals like zinc and magnesium. In studies, tribulus has been found to boost testosterone by around 52% in animal primates and 30% in rabbits and mice (2). In another study, it was found to have no effect at all (3).
The problem is that there is an awful lot of guff on the market and you’re going to find you get very mixed results from these products. Many, like tribulus, are backed by a fair amount of research. But that research is often flawed and in the real world, you’ll find that you often don’t see many major benefits.
Let’s look at it this way: best case scenario is normally that you can raise your T by around 30%. Steroid users have testosterone levels in the thousands. So if you’re an average bloke with T levels at 500ng/dl, then you’re looking at increasing up to 650ng/dl – and even that is unlikely.
In short, the benefits likely won’t translate to increased muscle mass or improved recovery. They’re too marginal.
But before we write testosterone boosters off entirely, remember what I said at the start of this post. Testosterone has a ton of benefits which go beyond merely building muscle. 30% might not do much for your gains but it certainly could improve your mood, your energy levels and your drive. At least a little…
DAA and Cordyceps
As far as the best testosterone boosters go, your mileage will vary. I am currently testing out DAA (D Aspartic Acid) which is an amino acid (a form of l-aspartate) that acts like a neurotransmitter and which appears to encourage the leydig cells to produce more testosterone. Again, the results are mixed but fairly promising overall (4) and then there’s the fact that a lot of people will rely on DAA as part of their PCT, especially after a SARMs cycle. This suggests to me that it must have some beneficial effect, even if it is only in those with lowered endogenous T levels.
And something else to consider here is that most people have low testosterone – so that may well be you. As the excellent Art of Manliness article points out, we should aim for ‘optimal’, not ‘average’. I’m experimenting with DAA right now, because to me, it is the testosterone booster with the most promise. The downside is that most studies suggest that the effects of DAA fade rapidly when you stop using it.
Then again, I’ve also been using something that isn’t traditionally considered a T booster: cordyceps. Cordyceps is a fascinating mushroom that is mainly interesting to athletes for its ability to increase red blood cells and mitochondrial performance. But it has also been implicated in raising testosterone under certain circumstances (5, 6). It has not as yet been demonstrated in humans (as far as I can tell) but it is a popular aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine, which is normally a clue. I’m mentioning it here because I’ve been using it and possibly noticing an effect.
Cordyceps works due to glycoproteins and polysaccharides that are able to bind to luteinizing hormone receptors to stimulate the release of testosterone. I can’t find the study right now but there are reports of in-vivo use in mice raising testosterone up to 170%. Apart from anything else, cordyceps seems to benefit the adrenal glands and could help to combat adrenal fatigue, thereby restoring testosterone after periods of high stress. This is possibly what I’m feeling after my recent house move!
Other interesting testosterone boosters to try out are:
- Boron – This helps to free testosterone that is attached to ‘sex hormone binding globulin’ thereby increasing ‘free’ (read: useful) testosterone for use in the bloodstream. SHBG is effectively inert testosterone. This is what I’ll be trying next.
- Tongkat ali – Another herbal source of saponins found in many testosterone products
- ZMA – Zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6, a combo that improves sleep and testosterone production (I notice a slight benefit to my sleep)
- Forskolin – A substance that may help cells to react better to hormones and enzymes that trigger testosterone production
Don’t expect transformative results but check them out if you’re interested.
Diet and Lifestyle for Raising Testosterone
How about diet and lifestyle?
There are countless articles out there on lifestyle changes that can improve testosterone but most of these will improve your testosterone levels fractionally at best. Like testosterone boosters that improve your T levels by 30% or thereabouts, you may question to what extent many of these life changes are worth it.
The point of this article is to show you the stuff that really does work and make a big difference. So with that in mind, here are the best things you can do to improve your testosterone levels…
Seeing as many testosterone boosters work by providing us with minerals like zinc and magnesium, it stands to reason that we can get similar benefits by getting more of those through our food. And this will in fact work to some extent. Vitamin C is also able to increase testosterone at least in vitro (7) and lower cortisol.
And seeing as vitamin D is absolutely crucial for increasing testosterone levels and improving sleep (vitamin D acts like a ‘master switch’ for your hormones)… I highly recommend taking some kind of multivitamin and mineral tablet. I like Men’s Health Body Lab Defence but to each their own!
Perhaps most important of all though, is to get a decent amount of saturated fat. That’s because saturated fat gives us cholesterol and our bodies use cholesterol to make steroid hormones like testosterone. This is the most important raw material for increasing T, so make sure you’re getting your whole milk, your avocados and your eggs. Consuming eggs or whole fat milk just before bed is a great way to ensure you have a good supply of cholesterol during your sleep when your body can use it.
The other important ingredient is carbs. Carbohydrates decrease cortisol and SHBG and low carb diets are known to deplete testosterone levels (8). When our blood sugar dips, our body responds by producing ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone). When cortisol is released, so too is myostatin – which breaks down muscle!
To remain anabolic, you need to eat a lot. A dirty bulk then is probably the best way to boost testosterone levels – and that means eating tons of fat, tons of carbs and lots of protein to provide amino acids for muscle building.
As soon as your blood sugar dips, you’re going into a catabolic, lower-testosterone state.
And stress can have a similar effect!
(Looking for a quick-fix for raising testosterone and not worried about side effects like bloating and acne? You can always try GOMAD – or Gallon Of Milk A Day. It’s not recommended though!)
I’ve written a much longer article on maintaining an anabolic state here.
To be highly anabolic and high in testosterone at all times, you need to ‘live like a lion’. That means you’re training big, eating big and resting big. You produce the most testosterone during your sleep and according to some, at 4am. Getting more sleep will also reduce cortisol and repair tissue damage. In short, sleep is probably the very most powerful tool for elevating your testosterone levels there is. It’s also the one I notice the most. If I sleep longer, I wake up with a morning glory. If I get disturbed before I’m done, then I feel like a weak, shaky husk.
Yes, exercise will increase your testosterone levels on the whole. But keep in mind that the oft-quoted ‘fact’ that compound movements like bench press and squat will increase your T levels dramatically are somewhat exaggerated.
In fact, a recent study shows that exercise-induced testosterone does not enhance hypertrophy (9). Keep training of course (to benefit from that T as much as anything else) but don’t fret too much about squats and deadlifts being the only way to gain T and don’t expect this on its own to turn you into an alpha male!
Sunlight is also highly important for testosterone production. Spend more time in the sun, go for long walks and let your body produce more vitamin D. You’ll also sleep better, resulting in better testosterone production during the night.
Conclusions – How to Raise Testosterone as Much as Possible Without Using Steroids
I’ve gone over a lot of different methods for raising T here, many of which will have varying effectiveness depending on who uses them.
But for me, the best results come from:
- Increasing carbohydrates
- Increasing saturated fats
- Maintaining blood sugar
- Getting more sleep
- Getting more sunlight
- Taking a multivitamin with zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin D
- Using cordyceps, maybe DAA and maybe boron
- GOMAD if you don’t care about side effects
- Oxavar – again if you don’t care about side effects
I’d love to hear if there’s anything I missed, or that has been actually effective for you!