By: Andrea Givens, MS, RD, CSSD
Disclaimer: I am a dietitian and physiologist, not a physician.
Testosterone is the male sex steroid hormone naturally produced in the body by the testes and adrenal glands. Testosterone is important for maintaining muscle mass and strength, bone mass, fat distribution, sex drive, and sperm production in men. Healthy blood values for adult males range anywhere between 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). More is not better. Low testosterone associations include low energy, reduced strength, decreased cognitive function, lower libido, increased breast size, and depressed mood. Routine annual blood work from your doctor does not usually include measuring testosterone levels; thus, you may need to specifically request the test be added to your labs. Even if you are not experiencing any signs or symptoms of altered levels, having a baseline level when you are healthy can help provide context if anything changes in the future. Make sure to schedule your blood draw in the morning before 10am, as that is when natural levels of testosterone peak (with a low at around midnight).
Low testosterone levels and hypogonadism are clinical conditions diagnosed by your medical doctor or hormone specialist, such as an endocrinologist. While a doctor may prescribe testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), taking it without a prescription is illegal. Testosterone is an anabolic steroid and is listed as a Schedule III controlled substance. As such, it is prohibited by governing bodies of professional sports and the DoD (DOD Instruction 6130.06, https://www.opss.org).
In general, healthy testosterone levels are supported through lifestyle and behavior factors such as adequate sleep, stress management, a well-programmed strength and conditioning program, and nutrition.
Nutrition tips to support normal testosterone in healthy males:
Adequate energy intake to support well-programmed strength and conditioning program: regular meals every 4-6 hours throughout the day, build a performance plate: ¼ to ⅓ plate high-quality protein, ¼ to ⅓ plate complex carbohydrates (whole grains or starchy vegetables), the remaining portion colorful non-starchy vegetables. Use healthy fats in cooking or to flavor your food: olive oil-based dressings, nuts, avocado, or choose fatty fish as your protein source.
Protein: 0.25 to 0.40 grams per kilogram per meal or evenly distributed throughout the day to meet a daily goal of 1.2 – 2.0 grams per kilogram per day.
Example for 190 lb male (86 kg)
86 kg x 0.25 = 22 grams
86 x 0.40 = 35 grams
86 x 1.5 = 130 grams – 190 grams
Aim for 22-35 grams of protein at each meal, adding up to 130-190 grams of total protein for the day
Breakfast: eggs + turkey sausage (35 grams) with veggies, dave’s killer bread, avocado
Lunch: 5 oz chicken thigh (35 grams) with brown rice and a side salad topped with olive oil dressing + nuts
Snack/post workout: blend 1 cup frozen fruit with a handful of spinach, 1-1.5 scoops vanilla protein powder (Ascent whey, momentous whey, 25 grams protein), 1 scoop (5 grams) creatine monohydrate (Klean or Thorne), and fluid of choice (water, milk, juice)
Dinner: 6 oz salmon (34 grams) with potatoes, vegetable of choice
Fat: chicken thighs (not always chicken breast!), add avocado to salads and sandwiches, whole eggs (yes, eat the yolk), snack on walnuts, fatty fish like salmon, add chia seeds or flax seeds to a smoothie or top oatmeal, nut butters, hummus
Alcohol: avoid, or at least limit. Reduce by choosing lower ABV beer, wine, and spirits or limit volume you drink by alternating alcoholic drink with water or other non-alcoholic beverage. Have happy hour instead of night cap to minimize negative effect alcohol has on your sleep. Many non-alcoholic beer and wine options are now available at most large grocery retailers.
Creatine monohydrate 5 g/day (Klean or Thorne): take at any time of day. Convenient to mix into protein shake/smoothie or oatmeal. Take daily, even on rest days, x 6 weeks, off for 2 weeks, repeat. For responders, muscle levels will remain saturated during the 2 weeks off while your routine and wallet get a break.
Vitamin D: ask your doctor to measure your 25(OH)D level. Serum level will guide supplement recommendations. Without knowing your level, 1,000 IU daily is a sensible dose (brands: Thorne, Nordic Naturals, Klean). While vitamin D is found in some foods and produced through skin exposure to the sun, these are often not sufficient to reach optimal levels.
Zinc and Magnesium: Balanced diets (e.g., the performance plate described above) with a wide variety of foods are generally adequate in these micronutrients. RDA for zinc for males 19+ is 11 mg/day, magnesium is 400 mg/day. Zinc-rich and magnesium-rich foods…
3 oz beef patty: 5.3 mg zinc, 20 mg magnesium
3 oz pork loin: 2.9 mg
3 oz chicken dark meat: 2.4 mg zinc, 22 mg magnesium; chicken breast: 0.9 mg zinc
1 oz cashews: 1.6 mg zinc, 74 mg magnesium
1 oz almonds: 0.9 mg zinc, 80 mg magnesium
1 oz roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds): 2.2 mg zinc, 156 mg magnesium
½ cup black beans: 60 mg magnesium, ½ cup baked beans: 2.9 mg zinc
If on a restricted or inconsistent diet, a high-quality multivitamin could be considered to obtain adequate amounts of zinc and magnesium (Nordiac Naturals, Thorne, Klean).
Supplement companies mentioned above that have third-party testing (look for NSF Sport logo) and offer military and or first responder discount: