I’d like to share my review on the classification of supplements known as “testosterone boosters.” Supplement manufacturers claim these pills and powders increase or maximize levels of the manly hormone.
I’ll start this review with three points:
1. First and foremost, the wrong people are often the most eager to buy this kind of supplement. I regularly see guys in their 20’s wanting to take them or asking which one is the best (on forums, etc). Please read carefully: if you are in your 20’s, you are already in your natural peak of testosterone production. Your hormones are most likely not the limiting factor in your gains (I’d say the same thing to guys in their 30’s).
2. This kind of supplement also doesn’t have a great track record as far as real research goes. I remember when tribulus terrestris hit the market back in the 90’s. It had all the usual hype and “scientific” explanation as to why it would raise t levels. But one study in 2007 showed tribulus supplementation didn’t make any difference in terms of testosterone/epitestosterone (T/E) ratio, strength, or mass.1 An older (2000) study concluded “Supplementation with tribulus does not enhance body composition or exercise performance in resistance-trained males.”2
The industry has changed little–there’s a lot of hype and wasted money with no results to show for it. I remember another supplement that came out a few years ago with claims of outrageous increases in testosterone levels. They had “studies” to back their claims, but ATD (1,4,6-androstatriene-3,17-dione) was the main ingredient. This compound can be mistaken for testosterone.3
3. You’d need a significant increase of testosterone beyond natural levels for it to actually make any difference in strength, size or body composition. Let’s use steroids as a reference point. A beginner steroid cycle would be somewhere between 250-500 mg of testosterone a week (it might include other drugs, but this would be the base). A new user would probably make significant gains by using this dose for 3 months. But even this beginner cycle is much higher than “natural” testosterone levels: a standard dose of testosterone replacement therapy would probably be around 100-250 mg every 2-3 weeks.
In summary, I don’t see any reason for young men to invest in “testosterone boosters” for the purpose of getting bigger, stronger, or leaner. Change your diet and exercise program if you aren’t getting the results you want.
What about older trainees? Are there any promising formulas out there?
I haven’t seen anything conclusive as far as research goes. Maca, for example, may be able to affect hormone levels enough to improve sex drive, but the evidence is “limited” at best.4
Here’s another reason to be very cautious: The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition recently published a study on 23 athletes who regularly used “natural (plant-derived) dietary supplements with ergogenic aims.” 15 of these athletes had abnormal hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone). 5 I’m not sure exactly what these subjects were using, but it makes me think twice about taking something that isn’t backed by extensive research.
I’m 40 years old, so I’d love to find a natural herb proven to safely maximize testosterone. But I’m underwhelmed by what I see right now. I’ll just stick to strategies to boost my testosterone naturally.
Note: You may want to check out my post on Supplements for Sexual Health.
1. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 May;21(2):348-53. The effect of five weeks of Tribulus terrestris supplementation on muscle strength and body composition during preseason training in elite rugby league players.
2.Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2000 Jun;10(2):208-15. The effects of Tribulus terrestris on body composition and exercise performance in resistance-trained males.
3. Steroids. 1980 Dec;36(6):717-21. Immunological interference of the synthetic aromatase inhibitor 1,4,6-androstatriene-3,17-dione (ATD) and its metabolite(s) in the radioimmunoassay for testosterone.
4. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010 Aug 6;10:44. Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review.
5. JISSN 2012, June 19 Consumption and biochemical impact of commercially available plant-derived nutritional supplements. An observational pilot-study on recreational athletes