What is Low Testosterone and How to Boost Testosterone Through Food

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Testosterone is the predominant male sex hormone produced in men's testicles. But women produce smaller amounts of testosterone in their ovaries and adrenal glands as well. While testosterone plays a key role in male sexual health, women also need to maintain some level of testosterone to support their sexual wellness.

Among its many functions, testosterone is crucial for healthy metabolic function and disease prevention in men and women alike. Some research has even shown that long-term testosterone therapy can lead to fat loss in overweight and obese subjects with low testosterone.

Find out why it's important for men and women to maintain their testosterone levels to promote sexual health and overall well-being, plus tips to boost your testosterone naturally.

What Is Low Testosterone?

Low testosterone is a hormonal imbalance that inhibits sexual function in men and women and can lead to decreased muscle and bone mass and an increase in body fat. For most men, testosterone levels naturally start to decrease beginning at around age 40. Some women generally experience a dip in testosterone levels starting in perimenopause (around age 50), which will likely continue into the menopausal and post-menopausal stages.

Men should have anywhere from 80–1,100 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl) of testosterone in their blood, while women have much less, about 15–70 ng/dl. The American Urological Association (AUA) defines low testosterone (low T) as less than 300 ng/dL. For women under 50, low T is usually defined as less than 25 ng/dl. Low T is generally associated with the following symptoms:

  • Low libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Reduced bone mass
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depression

If you think you may have low T, schedule a visit with your healthcare provider for diagnostic testing. Although your physician may recommend a specific treatment, there are additional strategies you can try on your own.

How to Increase Testosterone Naturally

Taking measures to increase your testosterone production could naturally lead to weight loss. At the same time, following a weight loss plan could naturally increase your testosterone production.

Research has shown a correlation between low testosterone and weight gain. For instance, one study found that low testosterone was associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome, which contributed to both sexual dysfunction and an elevated risk of heart disease in men with type 2 diabetes.

The following suggestions for increasing your testosterone levels are substantiated by scientific research and could improve your overall health and well-being as a result.

Exercise and Strength Training

Regular exercise can contribute to a host of positive health benefits, including testosterone production. For instance, a 2016 study showed that increased physical activity was more effective for weight loss than calorie restriction alone.

In addition, strength training helps you build muscle and burn fat. Studies have also shown that resistance training can help induce testosterone production in both men and women.

Try short, intense workouts to boost your testosterone production and build muscle. Research shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts may be beneficial for boosting low T.

Proper Nutrition

Nutrition plays a powerful role in maintaining optimal testosterone production. Getting enough lean protein helps to build muscle while choosing complex carbohydrates like whole grains can help support weight loss and weight management.

Sugary foods or refined carbs can cause your insulin and blood sugar to spike, which may negatively impact your testosterone levels. Eat fewer refined, processed foods and more protein-packed foods like fish, eggs, nuts, beans, and lean cuts of meat. Also, incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables into your diet, such as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or leafy greens.

Healthy fats like flaxseed, olive, and peanut oils, avocados, and fish can also help you stay lean. Consider adding a flax or fish oil supplement to your diet as well, as these types of fats can aid in testosterone production. Aim to get 20% to 30% of your daily calories from healthy fats.

Consult with a registered dietitian or certified nutritionist to help you devise an eating pattern that works best for your lifestyle, budget, and preferences.

Vitamins and Minerals

Supplement a healthy diet with zinc, magnesium, ​and vitamin D. These three powerful vitamins and minerals promote testosterone production, especially when combined with exercise, and can also increase your muscle-building capacity and improve your mood and mental focus.

In addition, vitamin B12 has been associated with slight increases in testosterone production among premenopausal women.

Reduced Alcohol Intake

Many people like to enjoy a drink or two every now and then, but excess alcohol intake can disrupt the body's natural hormonal processes, including testosterone production. Cutting back your alcohol intake can not only help maintain optimal testosterone production but may also help you to cut additional calories to lose weight.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Adequate Sleep

Sleep is just as important to building muscle and burning fat as getting enough exercise. Getting enough sleep allows your body to rejuvenate and recover, which can help to regulate the body's metabolism to promote healthy weight management. 

Not getting enough sleep will inhibit your body’s testosterone production. One study showed that testosterone levels in men were lower following sleep restriction compared to getting sufficient rest.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night.

Reduced Stress

The health risks associated with stress are well documented. Long-term or ongoing stress can cause depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, heart disease, and cognitive decline. Research shows that stress is a contributing factor for dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Stress may also create a tendency to overeat and lead to weight gain and obesity, which is also linked to low testosterone. As such, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been associated with low levels of testosterone.

Managing your stress could help promote weight management and improve your testosterone levels. Fortunately, there are many proven techniques to reduce stress, from meditation to yoga to heart-pumping exercise. In addition, emerging research shows promise for herbs like ashwagandha for both stress relief and increased testosterone production.

A Word From Verywell

Testosterone and weight gain are inherently linked, which is why you might notice an increase in your testosterone levels when you lose weight. By following a healthy, balanced diet filled with nutrient-dense foods, exercising regularly, minimizing your alcohol intake, and getting adequate sleep, you can naturally give your testosterone levels a boost. Take good care of your mental well-being, too, and prioritize self-care to manage your stress.

If you think you may have low T, consult with your healthcare provider to get an assessment and ask if any of the above recommendations could work for you. Remember, anyone can benefit from ensuring they are producing enough testosterone, regardless of their sex. As a bonus, you will become healthier, stronger, and fitter as a result.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Chris Freytag
Chris Freytag is an ACE-certified group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and health coach. She is also the founder of GetHealthyU.com.