The 2023 Guide To Getting Back Your Testosterone

23 min read
What You're About To Get Into
Why it’s key to your peak mental state
The symptoms of Low T
The dangers of TRT
How to naturally boost your androgen levels

The Dangers Of Low T

It’s time to put the spotlight on a magical molecule that doesn’t get the hype it deserves. The playground of testosterone shouldn’t get condensed to the usual buzz on muscle, aggression, and sex drive.

This hormone is a driving force for the psyche. To put it down in simple terms, testosterone makes you more of what you already are. It enhances mood, self-confidence, cognition, motivation, and puts you in an exteroceptive mindset. 

If you’re thinking that all this sounds much like the effects of dopamine, you’re not wrong. It can be hard to separate the two. Both of them effectively put you in a front-foot mindset, with the objective of reaching something ‘out there’. They are essential cogs in the pursuit of effort and productivity.

For what it’s worth, testosterone does a pretty good job building muscle, by increasing satellite cell proliferation, myonuclei count, improving nutrient partitioning, and ramping up protein synthesis. Pile those perks onto the nootropic bandwagon, with a sprinkling of boosts to immune function, and you’ll start to wonder how you could possibly cope without it.

Truth is, you can’t. Low testosterone opens you up to all sorts of nasty smoke.

Symptoms Of Low T
Low wellbeing
Physical fatigue
Bone loss
Muscle loss
Cognition changes
Memory loss
Low sex drive

And we’re not honing in on the men here. Women need testosterone just as much as we do. In fact, and this might surprise you, testosterone is the most abundant biologically active female hormone. All those side effects can also plague the women who are trying to grind on Low-T.

Low-T, also known as TD (Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome) could be affecting 2.1% of men, but that’s just the extreme end of the picture. People looking to get the best out of their endogenous testosterone production would likely prefer their levels at the high-end of normal, which happens to encompass a ridiculously large range. 

If you had your testosterone levels checked, and it came back reading 11 nmol/L, then your doctor would put you down as ‘normal’. All the way up at 28? That’s still in the healthy range. The only thing being, at 11, you’re a few points away from being labelled Low-T. At 11, you’d still be getting plenty of suppression. Whereas the risks while perched up at 830 would be minimal, assuming you’re metabolically healthy.

Whether you’re Low-T, or on the low-end of normal, pumping up testosterone is in your best interests. This hormone is plummeting, and it’s not just because you’re getting older. Since the 1980s, levels have been dropping by 1% each year. A 50-year old male in 1980 would have been an altogether different beast to the average 50-year old we are blessed with today.

There’s definitely something funky going on here, and it’s not something that age or toxic masculinity can attempt to explain. What we can say is that we need to build a better relationship with testosterone. Love it, treasure it, spike it.

If you can’t be bothered getting a blood test, you can go back to the list of symptoms of Low-T, and see how well you match up. Even then, you don’t need to feel the suppression in order to appreciate the boost that comes with raised testosterone.

Why You Shouldn’t Jump Straight To Pharmaceutical Support

This guide is going to be applicable for practically everyone, bar the ones that have hopped on the pharmaceuticals, shut down their endogenous production, and now operate exclusively on exogenous support. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just that these lifestyle hacks won’t do much good when the body’s whittled down its natural testosterone levels to a flat zero.

You can certainly solve Low-T with a few vials of testosterone, but chances are you’d be jumping the gun. Low-T is a situation that emerges a long way down the metabolic stream. It’s not the problem, it’s something that occurs as a result of an existing problem. Simply titrating in testosterone will do nothing to fix the dysfunction taking place further up the channels. 

The Potential Drivers Of Low T
Insulin resistance
Alcohol abuse
High prolactin
Sleep apnea
Excess aromatase activity (Estrogen)
Medications, such as opioids

Pharmaceutical warfare, even with doses as moderate as Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT), is the lazy way to fix Low-T symptoms. It might well get the job done by relieving those side effects, but chances are it will merely mask them, while bringing a set of its own.

At the risk of making things even more complicated, Low-T can be quite hard to diagnose. Testosterone operates on a diurnal rhythm, and the results can be smudged by various acute triggers. 

A hard session at the weights? Your testosterone goes down.

A few successive nights of disjointed sleep? You’ve got a case of Low-T.

Testosterone can be easily swayed by short-term events, and that won’t reflect an actual, chronic deficiency. But TRT clinics exist to give you testosterone. Get yourself checked in, chances are, you’re coming out with a new prescription.

As for supra-physiological testosterone, by which I mean steroids, that’s a whole other beast. Like any drug, exogenous testosterone has a dose-response relationship, and going beyond the physiological extremes can open you up for much stronger side-effects. 

In short, I wouldn’t recommend treating Low-T with exogenous testosterone. At least, that shouldn’t be an option until you’ve exhausted your arsenal of natural boosters and fixes.

Strap in, it’s quite a big list to get through.

1. Early Morning Light

It’s yet another reason to get out early and let the sun blast your retinas. Exposure to bright light in the morning can increase testosterone levels by raising luteinizing hormone. Which makes perfect sense, considering that testosterone operates on a diurnal rhythm. In case you run out of early morning sun over the winter, all hope isn’t lost. A SAD lamp can be swapped in to mimic sunlight and get the circadian cycle up and running.

Grab some early light, ideally within 1-2 hours of sunrise. Keep in mind, you’re not going to get much while sitting behind a window. Get outside, even if it’s looking gloomy. There will still be plenty of blue light to go round.

2. Intense Weight Training

Don’t get me wrong, overtraining can certainly put a dent in your androgens, and that’s a topic that we’ll soon get into. But weight training done in a sensible manner, with plenty of resources dedicated to recovery, will have the effect of increasing testosterone levels

Lift at least 3 times per week, keeping your sessions around 45-90 minutes. And make sure you’re going in hard.

3. Zone 2 Cardio

The goal of Zone 2 training, also known as Aerobic Base, is to find a sustainable intensity that’s just below the aerobic threshold. The more time you spend in that zone, the better the body gets at handling oxygen, the easier it becomes to expend effort. It’s by far my favourite mode of cardio, even though I rarely get around to it. I just like the comfort of having an option.

What Zone 2 also does, is improve the delivery of testosterone to the places that desperately need it. The muscles, the brain, the organs. Through this mechanism, research has shown that going into a brisk mode has beneficial effects on the anabolic hormone.

A spell of Zone 2 cardio won’t wreck you quite like a half-dozen hill sprints, so there’s no real limit to how many sessions you can fit in over the week. 20 minutes of exercise, 3-5 times per week, should cover it.

Unless you’re running, in which case I’d keep it down to 2-3 times per week, since there’s inherently going to be more impact involved.

As for the all-important question of how to know when you’re in the right zone, that could be done by keeping your heart rate at around 60-70% of maximum. But here’s an easier, and more accurate method. Just find the best pace you can keep up while exclusively breathing through the nose.

  • Jogging
  • Stairmaster
  • Brisk uphill walk
  • Hiking
  • Backpacking

4. Don’t Diet All The Time

There needs to be a yin to the yang of being in perpetual calorie deficits. Weight loss can be like opium for those of us who continuously chase transformative results. It’s fast, it’s noticeable, and assuming that the nutritional side has been dialled in, it’s going to keep delivering for a while. 

Calorie deficits can be healthy, but it’s contextual. If it’s mimicking starvation, by depleting the body’s nutrient stores, and by stripping muscle as well as fat, then it can end up doing more harm than good. Even with a nutrient dense diet, a calorie deficit can still be pushed into the danger zone. At some point, you just won’t have enough body fat to be regarded as healthy. Prolonged states of energy starvation cripple testosterone.

On the other hand, a caloric surplus provides the perfect platform for fixing nutrient imbalances, maximising muscle gain, and reviving hormones. Once again, it’s contextual. An energy surplus with nutrient sparse foods could easily push you towards Low T, through effects like insulin resistance.

Balance out the suppressive effects of excessive dieting with sustained periods of bulking. As a general rule of thumb, rack up two months of bulking to every month of cutting.

Fasting & Feeding

5. More Saturated Fat

Want to know the best diet to tip your testosterone levels over the precipice? That would be low-fat, which has been shown to sink the hormone by as much as 26%. And I’d wager you’d be able to go one better with a low-fat vegan diet, otherwise known as the antithesis of nutrition.

The underlying mechanism here is an incredibly simple one. Testosterone, like many other hormones, is created from cholesterol, which is itself derived from fat. Now you’ll see where the low-cholesterol craze of the 80’s began to trip up.

So you obviously need fat in your diet, but then we get to the point that all fats are not created equal. On one hand, you have plant-derived polyunsaturated fats, which were universally promoted as healthy not too long ago. Well, they’re inflammatory, easily oxidised, favour fat gain, and cause metabolic dysfunction. 

Then there’s saturated fat, mainly acquired from animals. Saturated fat has been shown to lead to higher testosterone levels, as well as the thing we all crave. Sculpted lean mass.

Don’t shy away from the generous lump of fat that’s nestled around your ribeye steak. And if your diet is currently made of the traditional chicken breast and white rice, you might want to rethink it. Make sure you get at least 0.5g of fat per pound of bodyweight, preferably higher, and prioritise sources of saturated fat.

  • Fatty red meat
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Grass-fed pork
  • Coconut oil
  • Cacao butter

And in case you’re trigger-shy, don’t worry, saturated fat won’t clog your arteries.

In the meantime, you might as well double up on the profit by minimising vegetable oils and other Omega 6 sources, which have been linked to lower testosterone levels. Much of this can be due to their pro-inflammatory effects, such as causing increases in TNF alpha and prostaglandin. As I’ve said, there’s plenty to be worried about excess Omega 6 as it is, so there’s no harm in wiping them out.

  • Vegetable oils
  • Processed foods
  • Fast food
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

6. Reverse Insulin Resistance

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but metabolic dysfunction, which is driven by insulin resistance, actively lowers testosterone levels. And you don’t need full-blown diabetes to take the L on this one. Pre-diabetes occupies the grey zone between healthy and diabetiic, and it’s skyrocketing. More than a third of adults in England are prediabetic, which basically means they show some level of pathological insulin resistance (the bad kind), and glucose intolerance.

As luck would have it, all this is reversible, it just takes some man hours. Maybe a few years, depending on how deep a hole you’re in.

Back off the seed oils, make a habit of lifting heavy weights, and consider going keto. At the very least, you’ll want to lower carbs to a manageable level, since they’ll only serve to block fat adaption and insulin sensitisation.

7. Don’t Be Fat

Weight gain, amongst other culprits, can increase aromatase activity, the mechanism by which the body converts testosterone to estrogen. The purpose of aromatase is noble enough, to maintain a healthy testosterone to estrogen ratio. But when this mechanism gets hijacked, it can result in an imbalance of low testosterone and high estrogen. Incidentally, this primes the body for more fat gain, so you better hop off this dysfunctional aromatase train while you can.

Reduce testosterone-pinching aromatase activity by getting rid of unwanted bodyfat. The other culprits include:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Chronic stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • Hypothyroidism

8. Lower Fructose

I’m not a huge fat of using fructose as it is, since it gets metabolised by the liver, rather than reloading the muscle tank. With testosterone, that leads to another whammy. The liver can only store about 80g worth of glycogen (stored carbs), which makes it prone to overflowing. 

Excess fructose in this scenario can be made into lipids, which in turn shuts down sex hormone binding globulin. SHBG controls the amount of testosterone that the body can use, and the lack of it reduces the hormone’s availability.

Overloading on fructose also leads to increases in intracellular cortisol, which detracts from testosterone production. A point that would be obvious if I’d taken the time to cover it earlier on.

Minimising processed foods and soft drinks will generally be enough to minimise fructose consumption. As it happens, fruits do contain fructose, but the amounts are manageable and are partially ameliorated by fiber.

9. Manage The Cortisol Curve

Remember back when I was espousing the virtues of cholesterol? Well, testosterone isn’t the only hormone that appears next on the chain. Cortisol, a major hormone for stress and immune function, also uses cholesterol as its precursor. All this means that cortisol competes with testosterone.

It has to be said, having high cortisol isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A well-timed morning spike will get you bouncing out of bed with barely a cobweb to show for it. But that’s as long as we’re talking acute pulses. 

If cortisol is allowed to stay chronically elevated, you miss out on much of its energising effects, and get saddled with a whole sack of negatives. If your body is constantly pumping out more cortisol, testosterone takes a hit

This means you have to take a few exercise and lifestyle approaches with caution, because you don’t want cortisol running away with it. HIIT produces much more cortisol than Zone 2, for instance, so it can be tough to juggle it alongside weight training and phone calls from unknown numbers.

Funnily enough, high testosterone enhances the negative effects of cortisol, so it does go both ways.

As for how to avert or rescue yourself from the emasculating crisis on chronic cortisol, it’s easy enough to plan out, and frustratingly hard to execute. 

Seeking out acute triggers in the morning will encourage the cortisol curve to peak early and decline by the late afternoon. Which happens to be the ideal curve for avoiding chronic levels and thereby encouraging testosterone production.

10. Minimise Soy And Other Phytoestrogens

Welcome to another corner in the world of plant toxins, a new reality where one accepts that plants aren’t the panacea. Like all other living creatures, they’d much rather survive than be eaten, and plant toxins represent their attempts to prevent that from happening. 

Phytoestrogens are hormone disruptors that are designed to control herbivore populations, such as rabbits and vegans, by lowering fertility. They accomplish it by binding to estrogen receptors in the body, and emitting weaker signals. Subsequently, testosterone can also be reduced, particularly the derivative DHT. Soy is a class example of a phytoestrogen, and it’s been shown to hurt testosterone levels.

As a low-quality protein and source of widespread deforestation, you really shouldn’t be messing with soy anyhow. Here are a few notable sources of phytoestrogens that you might want to avoid.

  • Soy
  • Evening Primrose Oil
  • Lavender Oil
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Tofu
  • Tempah
  • Flax Seeds
  • Wheat
  • Oats
  • Berries
  • Brown rice

11. Don’t Drink Too Much

Now that we’ve touched on the dangers of phytoestrogenic compounds, we can head straight to the most obvious one. Alcohol is a popular plant-derived supplement that increases aromatase activity, which is a different mechanism that results in the same outcome, lowered testosterone. 

Aromatase activity is basically the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Not a huge problem when you’ve got plenty of testosterone to spare, but assuming you’re not bursting with androgens, it’s going to make a bad situation worse.

Not that alcohol could just leave things at that. Taken chronically and to excess, which covers at least half of the British population, alcohol can interrupt testosterone production by interfering with each of the three responsible glands.

Even in the shortest of terms, alcohol can lower testosterone by raising cortisol. But that can’t really be helped, so the best step forward is simply to avoid heavy alcohol consumption, which works out at around 15 drinks a week for men, and 8 drinks a week for women.

Not that you needn’t worry if you’re just throwing down ten drinks every weekend. These things add up.

12. Ease Off The Caffeine

It’s one thing to start your morning with a well-timed coffee, another to spend the entire day hooked on the world’s favourite drug. Caffeine spikes cortisol, which as we’ve already covered, isn’t great for testosterone when allowed to stay chronically elevated.

The same goes for the other uppers that you might need to stay awake. They have to be dosed sparingly, and with caution, otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for a whole armada of unwanted side effects.

Moderate caffeine and other stimulants, ideally keeping them within the morning window.

13. Sleep Like A Baby

Or rather, give it your best shot. Adults have far too much psychosocial baggage to ever get back to the heady nights of blissful baby slumber. Nonetheless, it’s a heavy priority that I’ve deceptfully placed lower down the list. 

Anything that works on a diurnal rhythm is going to be massively dependent on your sleeping prowess. Testosterone levels are highest in the morning, and that peak can be significantly dented by sleep deprivation, even in the acute term. In fact, going from 5 hours to 8 hours of sleep can have the same effect as TRT.

Sleep deprivation has an intimidating list of effects, even with testosterone suppression tossed to the side. So really, you should take this as a chance to down 21 birds with one stone.

Going about it can be complicated, and frustrating, but that’s the price you have to pay for scoring the biggest wins. You can head over to my more comprehensive guide to patching up sleep. Otherwise, there are a few golden rules that can’t go wrong.

  • Spike cortisol with stressors in the morning
  • Avoid stressors in the evening
  • Fast for at least two hours before bedtime
  • Limit blue light in the evening hours
  • No clocks in bed
  • Keep a regular bedtime and wake schedule

14. Avoid Xenoestrogens

These are foreign chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system by binding to estrogen receptors. Which sounds exactly like something we’ve already covered, phytoestrogens. But the situation’s a little different here. Xenoestrogens encompasses all foreign estrogenic chemicals, and include many subsets, one of which are the phytoestrogen family. These aren’t necessarily synthesised by plants, and can often come from synthetic sources, like the ink on the receipt you picked up at Aldi.

They basically do the same thing, weaken estrogen, lower testosterone, and typically they’ll do it imperceptibly, at a snail’s pace. It’s a slow death that you don’t see coming until you’re already deep in the mire. For the price of exposure to these fake estrogens, you pay up in fat gain, depression, infertility, and if you’re a male, feminisation.

Mycotoxins – These are fungal metabolites that like to flourish in dark and damp places, like in storage containers for various long-life foods.

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Grain Fed Animals

Atrazine – A herbicide that’s still very popular in the USA, but thankfully has been banned in Europe. So nothing to see here, folks.

Triclosan and Alkylphenols (APES) – Chemicals found nestled away in your personal care regime.

  • Toothpaste
  • Lubricants
  • Soaps
  • Mouthwash
  • Hand Sanitizer

Benzophenone (BP) and 4-Methylbenzylidene (4-MBC) – Found in many sunscreens

Food Dyes – Just another thing to worry about in the body-destroying makeup of processed food. Certain ingredients used to colour foods and other products, have been marked down as known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

  • Red #3
  • Red #40

BPA & BPS – This one’s a classic. A common additive used in plastics, that performs a variety of functions, such as encouraging obesity, cancer, hormone imbalances, and testosterone suppression.

And when you stop to think about just how much plastic you come into contact with on a daily basis, you might well be facing the final boss of xenoestrogens.

  • Plastic bottles
  • Plastic food containers
  • Receipt paper

15. Maintain A Healthy Gut

Much depends on that slender wall that protects your insides from the toxins and triggers of the outside world. In the case of leaky gut, where gaps are created in the mucosal barrier, endotoxins released by invading intestinal bacteria can initiate inflammation that results in testosterone deficiency.

Personally, I see that as a great reason to continue my avoidance of lectins, plant toxins that scrape away at the precious gut lining, leading to leaky gut. But there are a few more boxes to moderate and minimise if you really want to be assured of integrity.

  • Sugar 
  • NSAIDs
  • Alcohol
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Chronic stress

16. Get Out And Compete

As summer stretches into autumn, the Red Stag’s testosterone levels begin to rise, priming the deer for the dangers of rutting season. It’s going to be fierce, there might be some broken antlers involved, and then there’s always the threat of losing the pitched battle. That timely injection of testosterone makes the risk, the pain, worth the struggle. It’s very nature is to make effort feel easier, and the threat of failure less daunting.

Across the animal kingdom, this hormone plays a pivotal role in engaging in competitive behaviour. And it’s not just for mating.

Taking on risks, competing, dominating, striving for status, all these trigger the secretion of testosterone. Winning tends to work out better than losing, but the important thing here, is that you have to put yourself out there, if you truly want to get the best out of your anabolic potential.

Another Case For The Primal Lifestyle

Having low testosterone doesn’t mean you need to be charging back in with exogenous support. Virtually all cases of Low T will have underlying metabolic causes that can be reversed, with enough time and diligence. And for your effort, you’d be able to enjoy the benefits of healthy testosterone without the side effects of supraphysiological doses, unsettled hormonal rhythms, and niggling metabolic dysfunction.

It’s not to say that TRT should never be an option, but you shouldn’t be stepping up to that plate until you’ve exhausted all your other options. Because by lining up your lifestyle to support healthy testosterone levels, you stand to gain so much more beyond the simple but potent addition of extra anabolism and willpower. All these recommendations happen to hit the same beats of the apex ancestrally consistent blueprint

Did our cavemen brethren have sky-high levels of testosterone? Compared to the modern day cubicle-monkey, probably. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to match a few of their tried and tested strategies.

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