Every few years a new supplement trend or fad mesmerizes professional athletes and non-professionals alike, who are on the quest to get the proverbial “edge.” While not necessarily cutting edge or groundbreaking, testosterone boosters have gotten their fair share of attention. This famous case aside, walk into any health food or supplement store and you can find entire sections devoted to them, sometimes under lock & key. The purported benefits include increased strength and lean muscle mass, but there are side effects as well. Before you go there, take a look at both sides of the checklist to make sure the equation of pluses and minuses adds up.
Testosterone boosters are a steroid hormone made from cholesterol in a process that takes roughly 20-30 minutes from start to finish. Testosterone has an anabolic effect when it comes to your muscles. This means that it stimulates protein synthesis which is needed to lay the foundation for larger stronger muscles; it’s also known to have an anti-catabolic effect. This just means that it inhibits the breakdown of protein and blocks the effect of the stress hormone cortisol. Combined, these effects set the stage for muscle growth.
Two intermediates or precursor hormones that are popular amongst novice and pro-athletes alike are Androstenedione (andro) and Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Andro is synthesized from DHEA and is converted to testosterone in the body by a specific enzyme. Andro hit the market in 1996 in dosages of 100-300 mg. When taken at dosages of 300 mg it has been known to cause a spike in testosterone levels. When the dosage is five times that amount — or 1500 mg — it creates a noticeable increase in lean muscle mass and strength. In reviews of research, scientists reported neither precursor had an effect on significantly elevating testosterone in the body.
Follow up studies on andro’s effects on men done at the University of Florida report that there was an effect at the 300 mg range. There was also an increase in a counter hormone estradiol, which is found predominantly in women, after the ingestion of andro. Overall, the results of studies on whether andro and DHEA can increase testosterone level, decrease body fat and increase muscle mass have been equivocal. While some studies has shown positive results in testosterone and lean mass increase, many others have not demonstrated positive results.
Studies and reviews have gone on about the positive effects of the boosters, but what about the side effects? The news isn’t great for your heart. The same University of Florida study reported a reduction in HDL (good cholesterol) of 12% and 20% after using andro and DHEA respectively. These effects are similar to those seen following the use of an ingestible steroid. There is also an increase in estradiol following its use. This can result in an increase in acne and a decrease in natural testosterone production.
Despite the unclear effectiveness of the store bought testosterone boosters, there has not been much of a decline in their production, sales or continued interest from the public. There are over 150 supplements online alone, that claim to offer a natural way to increase lean muscle and decrease fat by increasing testosterone levels. Some of the more popular ones include T-Blast (NLA Performance), D-Pol (Purus Labs) and Animal Stak (Universal Labs).
The True Boost
The only place you will find an increase in testosterone needed to make your gym time worthwhile is, well…in the gym. Here are some easy tips to help you structure your workout to cause a serious spike in your hormones:
INCREASE YOUR INTENSITY
There is a strong relationship between intensity or how hard you work, the number of reps you do and the production of testosterone. Keep your weights challenging so your muscles are being pushed to do more.
PUMP UP THE VOLUME
Volume refers to the total amount of work performed (sets x reps x weight/intensity). A high metabolic demand is needed to start the testosterone following which means you have to be working your ass off to kick start it.
CHOOSE YOUR EXERCISES WISELY
What and how you choose to work your muscles really does matter. Working larger muscles allows for greater volume and gets you to your threshold. That means, squats over leg extensions, dead lifts over leg curls.
ORDER YOUR EXERCISES WITH PURPOSE
Order matters. It was shown that biceps trained after leg press showed significant growth when compared to biceps alone.