Testosterone boosters are a controversial subject in the fitness world, many people buy them in the belief that they will massively increase their testosterone levels in a safe and legal way. Others are of the opinion that testosterone boosters do not work, and that they are a complete waste of money.
As with most debates with such extreme opinions, the truth is somewhere in the middle. In this article we are going to look at what testosterone boosters are, why they might be needed, and whether they work or not.
What exactly are testosterone boosters?
Testosterone boosters are usually herbal supplements that contain ingredients that are thought to increase testosterone levels in men. There are many ingredients that fit into this description, and no two testosterone boosters are entirely alike. One of the biggest issues surrounding the testosterone booster industry is the lack of rigorous testing that is involved.
Because many ingredients are under-studied you can find very conflicting results. For example there are studies that show that Vitamin D supplementation does increase testosterone levels , and you have studies that show that it doesn’t .
This is the case with most subjects in fitness and nutrition science, but it seems to be particularly troublesome in the supplement industry.
A lot of the detractors will point to supplement companies cherry picking studies to suit their marketing, but these same detractors can often be accused of doing the same thing.
Recently, with the creation of websites such as examine.com  who present an unbiased look at the relevant science, we have been able to get a better idea about which ingredients may be effective, and which are not.
So to answer the question “what are testosterone boosters?” we would say that they are herbal remedies that contain ingredients that could potentially increase testosterone. But there are many testosterone boosters out there that may be ineffective. But we will go into that in more detail later in the article.
Why are testosterone boosters needed and who are they best suited for?
Let’s get this clear, whether testosterone boosters work or not, they are certainly needed by many men. Levels of testosterone drop significantly in men after the age of 30 and the majority of men do nothing about it. Increasing testosterone either medically, through exercise, diet, and sleep, or through testosterone boosters is something that any man over 30 should be considering.
This is because of the negative effects of low testosterone.
We’ll take a brief look at some of the negative effects that having low testosterone can have on you, before looking at the benefits of increasing your testosterone in the following section. What you will notice is that the positives/negatives of high/low testosterone levels are basically the same, just reversed!
The main negative effect of low testosterone is weight gain, particularly around the abdominal area. Muscle loss, stress, bad sleep, fatigue, cognitive decline, mood, and fertility/libido can all be affected when your testosterone levels drop. What’s worse is that the effects can help to further reduce testosterone, creating a vicious cycle.
So the bad sleep that low testosterone can cause, will result in more fatigue, and will also lower testosterone. The lack of energy and muscle loss will reduce the effectiveness of exercise which will lead to weight gain. The weight gain will affect sleep. As you can see, low testosterone can really snowball into some more serious health issues such as Obesity, CVD, Diabetes, and many more issues.
What are the benefits of high testosterone?
The main benefit of increasing testosterone is that it can lead to improved muscle gain, this is why illegal testosterone injections are so common in bodybuilding. Testosterone has been repeatedly shown to increase muscle protein synthesis – the process where damaged muscle fibres are repaired and replaced using protein .
Increasing testosterone can increase muscle mass, while also helping to reduce body fat – making it a great way to get yourself that six pack you always wanted! A 2012 study (admittedly on steroid use) found that athletes who used anabolic androgenic steroids gained more muscle mass while losing more body fat than athletes on a placebo .
You can also expect improved mood, improved cognition, reduced stress, improved sleep quality, and a healthier lifestyle. All from increasing testosterone. Finally, you can expect improved athletic performance – which is why many athletes have been caught trying to illegally boost their testosterone levels.
Testosterone Boosters vs Aromatase Inhibitors
There are actually two main types of testosterone enhancing supplements out there, the first one is the run of the mill testosterone booster. Usually containing ingredients that have some scientific evidence of increasing testosterone levels, and often accompanied by ingredients that can indirectly boost testosterone. For example, a testosterone booster might contain melatonin which can help improve sleep quality and possibly reduce stress – which may lead to increased testosterone.
The other type of testosterone enhancer is something called an Aromatase inhibitor. Aromatase is an enzyme that converts excess testosterone into estrogen. This role is important as it creates a hormonal balance, remember that the body is always striving for homeostasis. But for bodybuilders it can be a nightmare, as they are actively trying to increase testosterone and that pesky enzyme is converting it to estrogen.
Excess estrogen can lead to breast tissue development in men, as well as weight gain, depression, and all the down sides of low testosterone. But it’s not just bodybuilders who may require aromatase inhibitors. The overweight and obese will also benefit from taking a supplement that blocks aromatase, as they will most likely have high levels of estrogen as it is. Age, being overweight, and excess alcohol consumption can all lead to increases in aromatase.
Aromatase inhibitors may contain ingredients such as Resveratrol, Zinc, Catechin, Apigenin or other ingredients. They can be taken alongside testosterone boosters to prevent the excess testosterone that is being produced from being turned to estrogen.
Do testosterone boosters work?
The truth is that some testosterone boosters will work (like the best test boosters) and some will not. Most testosterone boosters contain ingredients that have been shown to increase testosterone in men who already have low testosterone. This means that a man with regular levels of testosterone would get no benefit from them.
This fact is often cited by detractors as the reason why testosterone boosters are ineffective, but remember that the majority of men over 30 will be low in testosterone. The bottom line is that if you are low in testosterone then some testosterone boosters will help you, but not as much as a healthy diet, stress reduction, exercise, and quality sleep will.
If you already have high testosterone levels and are looking to boost them further then a testosterone booster may be of use, but the differences will be minimal – think of them as that last 5% that may get you the results that you want.
Final Thoughts on Test Boosters
The supplement industry has been often accused of peddling bad pills and powders to the gullible (view the worst pre workout supplements), while there are certainly many examples of this in the past. It is unfair to brand all companies, and all products as the same. Testosterone boosting supplements and aromatase inhibitors can have their place, particularly ones that also help improve sleep and reduce stress.
But they won’t give you amazing results unless you also exercise, eat well and sleep for 8 hours a night. The same way that a car won’t get you to your destination without gas, a road map/satnav, and a competent driver. Look for reputable companies, that are transparent in their ingredients lists, and use sites such as examine.com to check whether your supplement is worth your money.
 Wehr, E., Pilz, S., Boehm, B., Marz, W., Obermayer-Pietsch, B. 2010. Association of Vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men. Clinical Endocrinology73(2):243-8
 Heijboer, A., Oosterwerff, M., Schroten, N., Eekhoff, E., Chel, V., de Boer, R., Blankenstein, M., Lips, P. 2015. Vitamin D supplementation and testosterone concentrations in male human subjects. Clinical Endocrinology83(1): 105-10
 Griggs, R., Kingston, W., Jozefowicz, R., Herr, B., Forbes, G., Halliday, D. 1989. Effect of Testosterone on muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis. Journal of Applied Physiology66(1): 498-503
 Nordstrom, A., Hogstrom, G., Eriksson, A., Bonnerud, P., Tegner, Y., Malm, C. 2012. Higher Muscle Mass but Lower Gynoid Fat Mass in Athletes Using Anabolic Androgenic Steroids. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research26(1): 246-250