There is a long list of things that get better with age—jeans, whiskey, and cheese, just to name a few. However, getting older isn't always a picnic. When it comes to aging and our bodies, we start to see some not-so-favorable changes in strength and muscle mass as we pass through our third decade. What's to blame? Testosterone. In fact, after age 30, most men begin to experience a gradual decline in the hormone.
Testosterone is the main hormone associated with increasing muscle mass, strength gains, and sex drive. So it comes as no surprise that the search for ways to increase the body's natural production of T is, and will always be, an ongoing one.
Testosterone boosters are a class of herbal supplements aimed at naturally increasing your testosterone levels. They can work by directly increasing testosterone, or by inhibiting hormones responsible for converting testosterone to estrogen. Either way, in the end these supplements are meant to help you recover faster and build bigger, stronger muscles.
Top 4 Ingredients to Boost Testosterone Levels
You've probably noticed there's a wide range of ingredients when it comes to popular test-support products. If you want to achieve the best results possible, it's important to know which ingredients are effective and which ones deliver less-than-ideal results. Here's my list of top ingredients that can make a big difference in your T levels!
D-Aspartic Acid (D-AA)
D-AA is a naturally occurring amino acid found in the testicular leydig cells, where it acts as a messenger between your brain and leydig cells to convert cholesterol to testosterone. In theory, supplementing with D-AA should increase T levels by improving the messaging system between the brain and testes.
Scientists in Italy found that subjects who consumed roughly 3 grams of D-AA for 12 days observed a 42 percent increase in testosterone levels.1 The researchers also noted that the D-AA group still had 22 percent more testosterone than the placebo group three days after they stopped supplementing. Conversely, a more recent article published in Nutrition Research found no increase in testosterone levels in resistance-trained males after supplementing with 3 grams of D-AA for 28 days.2
Why the difference? The discrepancy in findings between these studies is likely due to the initial training status and base testosterone levels of the subjects. While more research is warranted on this ingredient, D-AA is one of several ingredients suggested to be effective in boosting test levels, especially for older men whose natural testosterone levels have declined due to the natural course of aging.
Tribulus Terrestris (TT)
Tribulus terrestris may be able to elevate luteinizing hormone, which in turn can stimulate the testes to make more testosterone. Not only can this thorny plant help you put on some sizeable muscle mass, it may even boost your performance in the bedroom.
Although it has been shown that consumption of a multi-ingredient supplement containing TT can increase testosterone levels, other studies have reported no changes in T levels following supplementation with TT.3,4 Regardless of the inconclusive results on testosterone levels, TT has been shown to have aphrodisiac properties and can increase sexual performance, which some may consider just as important as increasing their bench.
Don't get confused by the name: There's nothing Greek about this plant. In fact, it's actually produced primarily in India, but I'm sure you're more concerned with its properties than its origins. Traditionally used in the preparation of curry powders, pickles, and pastes, studies are now investigating Fenugreek for its anabolic properties.
A study out of University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Belton, Texas) examined the effects of fenugreek supplementation on strength and body composition in resistance-trained men. Researchers found that while both the placebo and fenugreek groups significantly increased their strength during the first four weeks, only the fenugreek group saw significant increases in strength after eight weeks of training and supplementation5 This lends to the idea that fenugreek could help you continue to increase strength after hitting a dreaded plateau. Additionally, only the fenugreek group saw significant increases in lean body mass at both four and eight weeks.
ZMA isn't a single ingredient itself, but a combination of zinc monomethionine aspartate, magnesium aspartate, and vitamin B-6. It's a recognizable name found on several supplement labels, including sleep aids and test boosters. Most often used as a recovery aid to help the body achieve deeper levels of REM sleep, ZMA claims to increase muscular strength and may even enhance hormonal profiles.
It's not uncommon for athletes to suffer from zinc and magnesium deficiencies, partly due to inadequate replenishing of levels after intense bouts of exercise. Deficiencies in these key minerals can lead to a poor anabolic hormone profile, impaired immune function, and increased cortisol, ultimately leading to decreases in strength and performance.6
In a placebo-controlled study, 27 Division II football players received either a placebo or a ZMA supplement for a total of seven weeks during their scheduled spring practice. At the end of the seven weeks, the players taking the ZMA supplement had a 30 percent increase in testosterone, while the placebo group had a 10 percent decrease. The ZMA group also saw an 11.6 percent increase in strength, compared to only 4.6 percent in the placebo group.7 Sleep better and get stronger—sounds like a win-win to me!
Test Yourself in the Gym
Test boosters can be effective for increasing muscle strength and size, but they won't take the place of a solid resistance-training program. The most important factor to achieve maximal results is having the appropriate training program. Although you should already be training hard, don't be afraid to step it up another notch and push your body.
Here are a few tips to take your training to the next level:
- Think big to small: Research shows that starting your workout with compound lifts (bench press, squat, overhead press, etc.) followed by smaller isolation movements leads to a larger anabolic response.8
- Get in, get out: Try to shorten your workouts without decreasing overall volume. Testosterone levels are higher after shorter workouts (less than 60 minutes) that keep rest periods short (30-90 seconds).9
- Keep more weapons in your arsenal: Utilizing lifting methods like forced reps, negatives, and dropsets will help keep intensity and testosterone high!
Once you have your training program locked down, you can optimize your gains with the right product. Research suggests you may be better off taking a product that contains a "cocktail" of ingredients rather than one single ingredient.
As a final note, start using any test booster with the proper mindset. Adding a test booster to your regimen can be beneficial for breaking through a plateau, but you'll need hard work and discipline in the gym to reach your dream physique.
Recommended Test Boosters
* Ratings as of article's date of publication
- Topo, E., Soricelli, A., D'Aniello, A., Ronsini, S., & D'Aniello, G. (2009). The role and molecular mechanism of D-aspartic acid in the release and synthesis of LH and testosterone in humans and rats. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 7(120), 1482-1488.
- Willoughby, D. S., & Leutholtz, B. (2013). D-Aspartic acid supplementation combined with 28 days of heavy resistance training has no effect on body composition, muscle strength, and serum hormones associated with the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis in resistance-trained men. Nutrition Research, 33(10), 803-810.
- Neychev, V. K., & Mitev, V. I. (2005). The aphrodisiac herb Tribulus terrestris does not influence the androgen production in young men. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 101(1), 319-323.
- Kohut, M. L., Thompson, J. R., Campbell, J., Brown, G. A., Vukovich, M. D., Jackson, D. A., & King, D. S. (2003). Ingestion of a dietary supplement containing dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and androstenedione has minimal effect on immune function in middle-aged men. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 22(5), 363-371.
- Poole, C., Bushey, B., Foster, C., Campbell, B., Willoughby, D., Kreider, R., ... & Wilborn, C. (2010). The effects of a commercially available botanical supplement on strength, body composition, power output, and hormonal profiles in resistance-trained males. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), 34.
- Wilborn, C. D., Kerksick, C. M., Campbell, B. I., Taylor, L. W., Marcello, B. M., Rasmussen, C. J., ... & Kreider, R. B. (2004). Effects of zinc magnesium aspartate (ZMA) supplementation on training adaptations and markers of anabolism and catabolism. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 1(2), 12-20.
- Brilla, L. R., & Conte, V. (2000). Effects of a novel zinc-magnesium formulation on hormones and strength. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 3(4), 26-36.
- Simão, R., Leite, R. D., Speretta, G. F. F., Maior, A. S., De Salles, B. F., de Souza Junior, T. P., ... & Willardson, J. M. (2013). Influence of upper-body exercise order on hormonal responses in trained men. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 38(2), 177-181.
- Kraemer, W. J., Marchitelli, L., Gordon, S. E., Harman, E., Dziados, J. E., Mello, R., & Fleck, S. J. (1990). Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols. Journal of Applied Physiology, 69(4), 1442-1450.