The Test for Testosterone

Testosterone boosting pills tug at that niggle of self-doubt that tells you could be manlier, more muscled and better than the guy next to you. It’s an easy sell, if it were true, so here’s how to make sure you’re not scammed. By Dale Taylor

Like a good bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label, a cast iron skillet or a well-worn pair of Levis, a great many things do improve with the passage of time, but the same cannot be said for your manly juju. Only once you’ve had enough trips around the sun to amass the modern man’s trappings of success – like that ridiculously high mortgage – does your “manopause” decide to creep up on you at a glacial pace.

While the fairer sex are more aware of the commencement of their menopausal change, your decline is much subtler, seeing your testosterone falling by roughly 1.3 percent per year from the age of 30, suggests a paper in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. You scarcely notice the shade thrown on your mojo, then suddenly there’s a little less glory to your mornings, the guns aren’t quite as peaky and you just don’t have the same level of fight to carry you through a difficult day at the grind.

A great many things do improve with the passage of time, but the same cannot be said for your manly juju.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone: a study in Human Reproduction Update found men’s sperm counts have halved in the past 40 years. It’s not hard to see why men are beginning to consider testosterone boosters as an opportunity to regain their youth – you need testosterone to regulate the amount of sperm produced.

Seldom do these supplements work off the merits of a single ingredient, as manufacturers prefer to use proprietary blends of herbs, chemicals and oestrogen blockers to return your levels of free testosterone to their optimum levels. Sadly, there are plenty of ingredients that don’t actually do what they claim on the tin so we’ve outlined what you need to look out for so you’re always becoming more man than you once were.

Breaking down the boost

Boosters often contain a cocktail of ingredients with studies that both support and discredit their claims. These are ingredients that are worth spending on and those you should shun.

THUMBS DOWN

Tribulus Terrestris

The marketing blurbs suggest this product massages your adrenal glands, telling them to cough up the maximum natural levels of testosterone. Older research found it might improve blood flow to working muscles as well as boosting your testosterone levels. There is a catch: it tends to work better for guys over 25 years old because your testosterone levels decline as you age and this tops them up to their highest natural level. A more recent analysis in the Journal of Human Kinetics, which reviewed all the literature on this ingredient, found no strong evidence for either the usefulness or safe usage in sport. Take home message: don’t bother with it.

The yellow flower of devil’s thorn (Tribulus terrestris plant)

Fenugreek

While there are plenty of studies that support the efficacy of this ingredient, if these outcomes aren’t replicated you should be suspicious that those results may have been paid for. An independent paper in the International Journal of Exercise Science, discovered that fenugreek did nothing to improve the hormonal profiles of resistance trained men, showing no anabolic potential. It might work, but a maybe is just not a good enough reason to put your hard earned money to the test.

THUMBS UP AND THUMBS DOWN

These ingredients still need more stringent testing and research to determine if they live up to their claims

  • Maca
  • Tongkat Ali
  • Mucuna Pruriens
  • Horny Goat weed
  • St John’s wort
  • Ginseng

THUMBS UP

D-aspartic acid

While it may read like a CIA chemical weapon, D-aspartic acid actually does increase testosterone by 42 percent when taking 3g per day, found a study in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. This has seen it become somewhat of a breakthrough ingredient, because it’s a natural amino acid and it’s one of those rare beasts where the longer you take it for the better the results can be.

ZMA

ZMA is a combination of zinc, vitamin B6 and magnesium, which is needed for your body to produce the maximum amount of testosterone and get a better night sleep – the cornerstone of any healthy hormonal profile. It is not a testosterone booster per se, but can help you maintain optimum testosterone levels when you’re training hard. A paper in the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online got football players to take ZMA every night during an eight-week spring training routine and found there was a 30% in testosterone levels while those taking the placebo say a 10% drop in their T levels. This means you’ll get to your highest possible natural levels, but won’t push them into Hulk-like levels.

The best time to use boosters

Most suggest that you take them morning and at night. This is definitely the case with ZMA, which should be taken before bed because your body will use the zinc to repair your body after those gruelling workouts and give your testosterone glands the raw materials they needs to function like a boss. Many people will also report feeling like they’ve had the best night’s sleep ever, which does wonders for fat-burning and muscle-building ambitions. D-aspartic acid can be taken at any time but it’s worth cycling any testosterone boosters for 3-4 weeks then taking 2 weeks off so your body doesn’t get used it and can maximise the benefits when you do take it.

The costs

If you start to sprout hair in new and inventive places, are consumed with Wolverine-level anger or have a massively increased libido while breaking out in pimples there’s a good chance you’ve been sold boosters with illegal synthetic testosterone in it. That’s a nice way of saying you’ve been unknowingly juicing. The legal ones don’t have many negative side-effects worth worrying about, though you should be lapping up all the small positives gained from the increase in strength and muscle. Your best bet is test your numbers on the big lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench presses) before you take the supplement then keep a running tally over the following weeks while you take your supplement to assess if it’s the real deal.

The verdict

Yes, testosterone boosters will work, providing you have the key ingredients delivered at the right levels. However, if you’re serious about increasing your levels you’re better off going down the medical path. Go and have your blood work checked to assess where your testosterone levels are at in relation to other men your age. You can do this at your local GP or visit a compounding chemist who can create you a formula tailored to your deficiency. Warning: you’re unlikely to get a script to increase your levels past what’s normal and healthy. Instead, you’ll be topped up to the highest possible levels for your age, physical activity and weight. Yes, this is a slightly more expensive route but it is one that removes any parlour tricks from your testosterone-boosting supplement routine and is the only way to guarantee you’re more man than you were yesterday.