By Jonathan Mike, PhD (c) CSCS, NSCA-CPT, USAW
It’s no surprise that nearly all lifters have favorite foods they feel help to increase strength and size. While some might be skewed by personal taste or bro-science, clinical studies clearly show that certain foods do indeed support testosterone production. Testosterone is a hormone primarily produced in the testes and in small amounts in ovaries in women; it’s most often associated with virility, libido, strength and muscle mass, and is strongly linked to decreases in body fat. Testosterone levels can be wildly influenced by external stimuli, not the least of which is the food you eat. Add these foods to your weekly menu in order to support your testosterone production.
Oysters contain zinc, a mineral that has a positive influence on hormonal production and beneficial implications for strength athletes and those involved in training. A 2011 study published in Biological Trace Element Research reported that when trained athletes were given a zinc supplement for four weeks (30 grams a day) prior to exhaustive exercise, it resulted in higher postworkout testosterone levels than a placebo. The authors further stated that zinc increases the conversion rate of androstenedione to testosterone, and that the combination of training and supplementation enhanced testosterone production. Other foods rich in zinc include chicken liver and pumpkin seeds.
When choosing healthy oils for regular use, olive oil is a strong option with proven testosterone-boosting powers. Research shows that olive oil helps your Leydig cells to absorb more cholesterol (from healthy fats), which then converts into free testosterone. A recent study found that men placed on a diet that included daily consumption of extra virgin olive oil experienced increases in testosterone levels of nearly 20 percent after just three weeks. Athletes can certainly optimize their testosterone production by making olive oil their main form of fat.
Cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli are all cruciferous vegetables and all contain a substance called indole-3-carbinol. A study found that diets high in indole-3-carbinol increase the excretion of an estrogen hormone known as estradiol in men by up to 50 percent. This allows optimum testosterone production throughout the body. Crucifers are also high in fiber and low in calories, which can regulate weight control.
The skins of red grapes contain resveratrol, a proven aromatase inhibitor. Aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone and other androgens into estrogen. Consuming grapes and other sources of resveratrol (such as red wine) supports testosterone levels. Researchers in Korea recently reported that high-dose resveratrol was able to enhance testosterone and sperm production after 28 days. In particular, resveratrol significantly enhanced blood testosterone levels by 51.6% percent. The researchers speculated that resveratrol may act as an estrogen receptor agonist and contribute to enhanced sperm counts and motility.
Many strength athletes can benefit from saturated fats, such as those found in steak, whole eggs and avocado. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition randomly assigned 43 men to either a high-fat/low-fiber diet or a low-fat/high-fiber diet. After 10 weeks, the HFLF diet yielded 13 percent higher levels of total serum testosterone compared to the LFHF group. Another study from the International Journal of Sports Medicine studied eight strength athletes and 10 active non-athletes. After comparing the subjects’ dietary analyses and blood tests, only the strength-training athletes had significant correlations between fat intake and testosterone levels. So if you train with weights (particularly heavy weights) and eat a diet higher in fat, you’ll enjoy an increase in testosterone levels compared to those on a normal “active” lifestyle and a higher-fat diet.
Researchers from the Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland, gave pomegranate juice to 22 men to study its effect on their salivary testosterone levels. After two weeks, their testosterone levels increased by an average of 24 percent. Positive effects on blood pressure, mood, anxiety and emotions were also expressed in a large group of workers from different disciplines.