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The Best Testosterone Booster
- Updated: June 12, 2016
Amid a sea of acronyms, ingredients like deer antler velvet and horny goat weed, and sensationalist promises to pump up both your muscles and your sex life, T-boosters can feel as much magic potion as dietary supplement. These over-the-counter pills and powders promise to help increase testosterone production in the body and abracadabra: greater muscle mass and power output, improved athletic performance, and elevated mood and libido.
The big question: Do they actually boost?
Not so much. After poring over the labels; reviewing the scientific research; and consulting with doctors, fitness and nutrition experts, and professors of endocrinology and biochemistry, we were tempted to junk the industry entirely. Tenuous projections of vigor and virility aside, the actual contents of many of these supplements pose some health and safety concerns.
But the reality is: Testosterone boosters are legal, accessible, and in demand. So we set out to weed through the questionable ingredients and false claims to find which formulas are the safest to consume and have the best chance at giving you at least some of the results you’re looking for.
How We Found the Best Testosterone Booster
We started with a list of 214 testosterone boosters, found in their natural habitats on websites like Bodybuilders.com, BroScience, and The Art of Manliness. These supplements are marketed almost exclusively to men looking for that extra edge in the weight room, the bedroom, and the mirror. One problem: A big chunk of those on the hunt for the best testosterone supplements are looking to compensate for a more serious condition.
Men who suspect they are suffering from a true deficiency in testosterone (“low T”) are advised to bypass over-the-counter supplements and make an appointment with a doctor to get tested. “At the very least, it’s important to get a baseline assessment with a blood draw,” Dr. Mehran Movassaghi, director of the Providence St. John’s Men’s Health Center told us. “A lot of the symptoms of hypogonadism have overlap with depression and other medical conditions. If you don’t know where you’re starting from on a hormonal level, self-medicating with these supplements can be very dangerous.”
If you’re an otherwise healthy guy just looking for a little boost, read on. We’re about to give some ingredients a real hard look.
At the very least, any products we recommended had to include fenugreek or D-aspartic acid.
Testosterone boosters typically pack in a whole mess of ingredients. We wanted evidence that at least one of them can actually boost T — and frankly, we found very little confirming that any do.
Herbs like Tribulus terrestris and stinging nettle have cool-sounding names, and there are a handful of studies that show longjack and maca can improve libido and erectile dysfunction, but they are all about as useful as water when it comes to increasing testosterone levels. Horny goat weed, the ole devil, has boosted testosterone — but only in rats. N-Methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), a synthetic amino acid derivative, failed to make any impact.
The only agents clinically proven to increase testosterone in healthy men at all are the amino acid D-aspartic acid (DAA) and the herb fenugreek. Don’t get too excited: Each has studies showing an increase in testosterone, as well as studies showing no effect whatsoever. Dr. Darryn Willoughby, a professor of health, human performance and recreation and the director of the Exercise and Biochemical Nutrition Laboratory at Baylor University, has conducted some of the most commonly cited studies on agents in testosterone supplements, including the fenugreek study showing a boost and the DAA study showing none. He told us flat out if any of these products had some effect, it would be “minimal at best in ‘boosting’ testosterone.”
“The body tightly regulates its own levels of testosterone so that anything that boosts the body’s natural production of it will not be large-fold,” he explained. “This is where anabolic steroids can be effective, as a person is actually taking synthetic testosterone, not trying to induce the production of it. Steroids bypass the tightly regulated testosterone axis in the body.”
The distinction between taking anabolic steroids and testosterone boosters is key: With the former, you’re putting more testosterone in your body. With the latter, you’re trying to trick your body into pumping out more.
These are not exactly inspiring results, but compared to the rest of the bunch, a couple of positive clinical studies went a long way. That’s not to say that all those extra goodies are worthless — maca and longjack can’t increase testosterone, but they are both shown to increase sex drive in healthy men.
We cut formulas containing harmful, counterproductive, or banned substances.
Testosterone boosters, like all dietary supplements, are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration prior to marketing. This lack of oversight dates back to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which stipulated that purveyors of supplements weren’t required to prove the safety of their products or the veracity of what’s on the labels to the FDA before listing them for sale.
The controversial law was pushed by lobbyists from health food companies reacting against the Nutrition Advertising Coordination Act of 1991, which sought to tighten FDA regulation of dietary supplements. Under DSHEA, it’s only after supplements hit the marketplace that the FDA can exercise its “safety monitoring responsibilities,” which include reviewing labels and evaluating reports of “adverse events” by consumers or health care professionals. As such, the FDA advises you consult with a doctor before taking any given dietary supplement, and warns of potential risks associated with taking them improperly, in combination with other medicines, or if you have certain medical conditions.
With this disclaimer in mind, we looked for any red flags. We cut formulas containing caffeine anhydrous (pure caffeine powder) after news came out that it can be lethal even in small doses. We also cut ingredients that aren’t necessarily unsafe, but might interfere with a supplement’s potentially testosterone-boosting effects. Calcium D-glucarate poses no known health risks, but can reduce the body’s production of steroid hormones, which include testosterone. Additionally, agmatine sulfite can block the body’s NMDA receptors, which aid in testosterone synthesis.
We also flagged substances banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Granted, these agencies are notoriously hard-nosed when it comes to supplements. Their prohibited lists are long and include catch-all asterisks: Substances that are at all chemically related to a banned drug are also banned by proxy, as are any substances that “violate the spirit of the sport.” That said, many are banned for good reason, and we cut out formulas containing glaring offenders: the pro-hormone DHEA, which carries risks when used long-term, and growth factors like HGH and IGF-1, which have been linked to heightened cancer risk and earlier death in adults.
We cut all proprietary blends.
Posing as a trade secret, proprietary blends can act as a ruse for manufacturers to bulk up their products with cheap, unsafe, or ineffective junk. This is also thanks to a protection established under the DSHEA, which only requires manufacturers to list the total mass amount of the proprietary blend and its ingredients in descending mass order, but not the individual amounts of each ingredient.
Shawn Wells, a diet and nutrition expert and chief scientific officer at BioTRUST Nutrition, says, “Ninety percent of the time, proprietary blends are about listing things for marketing purposes and saving a lot of money.” He explained that “people think they are getting all these listed ingredients, but out of a total of 4,000 mg of a supplement, 3,999 mg could be, say, creatine, and only 1 mg could be BCAAS, which is what you really want. There’s no way to know.” He added that proprietary blends can also pose a danger when they contain certain ingredients, say, stimulants like caffeine or synephrine, which can be unsafe in larger doses.
Ultimately, the T-boost industry has more false promises than actual results.
According to Dr. Willoughby, even in studies where there was an increase in testosterone, it was only around 15–20 percent. “In men with clinically normal testosterone levels, this modest increase will most likely not be anabolic enough to improve exercise performance,” he says.
There you have it: These do not work. So to make our top picks, we looked for the best balance of other vitamins, herbs, and minerals that have proven results: zinc and vitamin D, for example, which can help replenish a dip in T levels, and maca and longjack, which are reported to amplify libidos. If these supplements aren’t going to guarantee a boost in your T, at the very least our favorites will boost your good health.
Our Picks for the Best Testosterone Booster
With just over 3 grams of D-aspartic acid (2-3 grams per day is recommended) and a bevy of vitamins, herbs, and minerals, Axis Labs Hypertest XTR is a T-booster with benefits. The biggest of those benefits is ZMA, a patented formula combining efficacious levels of zinc (30 mg), magnesium (450 mg), and vitamin B6 (10.5 mg), which work together to help strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and regulate metabolism. Zinc is the cornerstone of that trio. Deficiencies in zinc, which can result from excessive exercise and sweating, are associated with low testosterone; supplementing with high doses (24–40 mg) has been shown to bring low testosterone levels back up to normal. (There’s a difference between boosting and restoring, which is what zinc can do. Boosting indicates breaking that testosterone axis, the equilibrium that your body regulates, whereas restoring helps your body regain that axis if you’ve overdone it.)
Also beneficial, particularly for athletes: The herb ashwagandha can increase muscle strength and aid in recovery, while stinging nettle serves as an anti-inflammatory. An added bonus: While longjack doesn’t boost testosterone, it has been shown to increase libido and aid erectile function, albeit by subjective (read: self-reported) measures.
If we were judging by name alone, TestoFuel would get nothing more than an eye roll. But it really is packed with good stuff: a mix of 2,300 mg of D-aspartic acid and 100 mg of fenugreek, plus tons of vitamins and minerals. Panax ginseng has immune-boosting and antioxidant properties. Vitamin K2 (the natural form of vitamin K that’s made in the body) regulates blood clotting and improves bone density; that works synergistically with vitamin D (included in TestoFuel as vitamin D3, the natural form of vitamin D that your body synthesizes in the sun), which is also good for bone health. Important to note: As with zinc, deficiency in vitamin D can cause low testosterone, and supplements can help restore it to normal levels.
Zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6 all show up in TestoFuel as well — although at 10 mg, the zinc is on the low side. TestoFuel’s inclusion of 100 mg of oyster extract makes up for it: Essentially dried oyster meat in powder form, it’s a powerhouse of nutrients, rich in zinc, vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, and calcium.
At $1.33 per serving (as opposed to Hypertest XTR’s $1.50 and TestoFuel’s $2.17 per serving), Athletic Edge APE Libido ekes out the best value of our top picks — and it’s the one most likely to improve libido. In addition to 500 mg of T-boosting fenugreek (the amount recommended to see results), it includes high doses of libido amplifiers maca and longjack.
On the “athletic edge” side of things, we’ve got vitamin D3, vitamin B6, and zinc, as well as vitamin B12, which plays a role in regulating metabolism, and folic acid, which can reduce muscle pain.
Other Testosterone Boosters to Consider
Pure DAA and fenugreek — Vitamins and minerals are typically a welcome addition to any fitness supplement, but just like you might prefer taking a wheatgrass shot over mixing it into a smoothie, you might be looking for a pure T-booster to fuel your workout.
Each of these DAA supplements has a serving size around 3 grams, which is on the high side of the recommended effective dose of 2–3 grams. The one pure fenugreek supplement on our list has a serving size of 300 mg — slightly lower than the 500 mg shown to be effective.
The DAA options should be, essentially, the exact same product, so we say shop by value. AI Sports Nutrition D-Aspartic Acid Powder, at $0.22 per serving, is your best bet if you are looking for a powder. Prefer pills? AI Sports Nutrition also offers its D-Aspartic Acid line in capsule form. Keep in mind, though, any results you might get are minimal — and temporary. It’s like when you were a little kid and your mom put you in a booster seat. You seemed taller for a little bit during dinner, but once the booster seat went away, you were right back where you started.
In total, 35 testosterone boosters made it through our cuts — they are safe to use and clinically proven to at least maybe work. They just didn’t have as many of the excellent additional ingredients to push them into our top picks.
Did You Know?
“Low T” is a part of getting older — but it can be a sign of something more serious too.
Testosterone levels are at their highest during puberty and early adulthood, and from age 30 on, they decline by about 1 percent a year. While that gradual decline is a natural part of aging, there are a slew of medical conditions that can cause low testosterone in men of any age. Obesity, diabetes, and prostate cancer are a few culprits. Alcoholism and thyroid disorders can also contribute to low levels.
What’s tricky is that symptoms of low testosterone — ranging from decreased sex drive and lower energy levels to infertility and impotence — are associated with so many different root causes. If your libido is low and you feel tired all the time, you could be suffering from depression. Or your body could be failing to produce sufficient amounts of testosterone (hypogonadism). Or something else entirely! Either way, no amount of boosting will be a cure. Only a blood test can determine your actual levels of testosterone. From there, your doctor can help figure out the right next steps.
There are ways to increase testosterone naturally.
Exercise induces temporary boosts in testosterone as quickly as 15 minutes after a workout, although the levels recede to their pre-workout baseline within a few hours. Studies show that when you exercise can make a difference too, as testosterone levels vary throughout the day (they’re highest in the morning, lowest in the afternoon). Resistance-training workouts, specifically, have more of an impact on testosterone when completed in the evening. Overtraining can have the opposite effect: drops in testosterone.
Lowering both mental and physical stress, can reduce the body’s release of cortisol, which has a negative correlation with testosterone (one goes up; the other goes down). High levels of stress are also known to have a negative physiological impact on the body, causing many of the same symptoms as low testosterone, such as decreased energy and libido. Keeping your stress levels in check, and not under sleeping or overtraining, might kill two birds with one stone.
What about steroids?
Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone that induce supraphysiological levels of testosterone in the blood — meaning they really do “boost.” They are illegal without a doctor’s prescription, and illegal for a doctor to prescribe to improve athletic performance. While they do increase strength and muscle mass, they also cause a whole mess of puzzling, dangerous side effects. People who take them can become manic and super aggressive (we’ve all heard of “‘roid rage”). Men grow breasts and their testicles shrink. Steroids are also known to increase blood pressure, create tumors, and cause liver disease and heart attacks. In short: stay far, far away.
The Bottom Line
DAA and fenugreek are the only agents that have shown any impact on T levels. Still, if you’re looking for a testosterone boost, you’re likely going to be disappointed — your body is just too good at regulating itself. A combination of zinc and vitamin D, though, can help replenish testosterone when there’s a temporary dip.
Start small. Even if T-boosters seem like a quick way to get to beast mode, managing your stress, getting enough sleep, and not overtraining are the real first steps to improving your athletic performance.
Tell your doctor. Testosterone boosters aren’t regulated by the FDA and are largely unstudied. If you start playing with powders and pills, make sure your doctor is in the loop. They’ll be able to let you know if and when you’re taking any unnecessary health risks.