In our quest to build a lean, muscular body, we often look to a variety of sports supplements to help add a positive angle to our weight training programs.
Let’s face it, we all want to reach our goals as fast as possible and if we can get there with the help of supportive sports supplements, we’re gonna take it.
Whether it be protein powders, vitamins, or creatine, all things being equal, we all want to find that combination of supplements that will help unleash some of our muscle building potential.
The muscle building supplement industry is a multi million dollar industry that directly targets the active weight trainer as the buyers of these products. The list of muscle building supplements is a long one and it grows each and every week with no signs of slowing down.
Near the top of that list are natural testosterone enhancer’s and boosters. The growth of these supplements have grown by leaps and bounds over the past 15 years.
Today, there are literally hundreds of different brands and products with a variety of ingredients and mixtures. These products are not only popular with the active weight trainer but also with the huge baby boomer market.What are natural testosterone enhancer’s / boosters?
Please keep in mind that when I mention natural testosterone boosters, I’m talking about over the counter formulas and not the illegal kind (Anabolic steroids).
Testosterone enhancer’s are meant to do just that, help stimulate / boost the release of free testosterone in the body. To the active weight trainer looking to build lean muscle mass, this is an ideal situation. We all know that testosterone is a male sex hormone whose primary role is the development of male reproductive organs. It also is responsible for the development of certain male characteristics such as increased bone mass, muscle mass, libido, deepening of the voice, and body hair growth among others.
With an increase in testosterone, or more importantly, free testosterone levels, there is a higher chance of retaining those male enhancing characteristics of testosterone. This can also mean a higher chance of increased muscle growth.
I’m not going to get into the actual science here, but suffice to say, testosterone builds lean muscle mass. Bodybuilding.com has a great article on testosterone and you can read about it here.
It only makes sense that the more free testosterone we have in our body, the more lean muscle mass we can build, right? This is a good question because as active weight trainers, we want to know if natural testosterone enhancer’s can help build more muscle mass and strength.
This is the key. It’s one thing to ask if these products actually stimulate an increase of free testosterone, but it’s another to ask if they work when it comes to building muscle and strength (Altering body composition). Basically there are some key questions to ask if you are interested in using natural testosterone enhancer’s / boosters.
• Does the natural testosterone booster work in terms of improving natural testosterone levels in the body?
• Has the natural testosterone booster been proven to work in terms of building muscle and strength levels? And;
• Most importantly, has the testosterone booster been proven by 3rd party, non bias clinical studies in improving strength and muscle levels?
Of course, not all natural testosterone boosters include the same ingredients. Although some use a single source ingredient, most have a combination of active ingredients. I’ve actually tried 5 different brands of natural testosterone boosters giving each, about 6 to 8 weeks of steady use. I’d like to go over some of the results and examine some of the active ingredients used in these formulas to find out if they actually worked.Do Natural Testosterone Booster’s Work When It Comes To Building Muscle?
When it comes to natural testosterone boosters, we need to ask one very important question. Does the product work when it comes to affecting overall body composition. More specifically, does the product positively affect lean body tissues?
Most of the products I’ve examined all make certain claims about it’s testosterone raising properties. That’s fine and there are products that will affect natural testosterone levels - To a certain extent. However, it’s a whole different ball game when a claim is made about affecting lean tissue mass and strength levels due to a raise in testosterone levels.
If you’ve ever taken a look at some of the more popular testosterone boosters, you will notice some pretty outlandish claims such as “Increase free testosterone levels by 300%!!” Or “Maximize muscle growth by as much as 200%!!”. All in all, most of these claims are unsubstantiated with little or no conclusive evidence to back up the claims.
First of all, do these products raise base levels of serum testosterone levels?
Based on the research I’ve done, most of these ingredients do very little to raise testosterone levels. If they do, the amount of increase is minimal at best. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular ingredients in the more popular brands:
Originally developed by Victor Conte of BALCO Laboratories, it is a mixture of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6. ZMA is a main ingredient is more than a few formulas I’ve used and examined. Thought to increase testosterone and strength levels, ZMA has NOT been shown to do either.
I’ve looked at the following studies, done by third party analysis, and there seems to be no conclusive evidence that this product actually works..
Study # 1 - Effects of Zinc Magnesium Aspartate (ZMA) Supplementation on Training Adaptations and Markers of Anabolism and Catabolism
Study completed by: Colin D Wilborn, Chad M Kerksick, Bill I Campbell, Lem W Taylor, Brandon M Marcello, Christopher J Rasmussen, Mike C Greenwood, Anthony Almada, and Richard B Kreider
The study examined the anabolic affects of supplementing with ZMA. In a double blind test, 42 resistance trained athletes were either given a placebo or ZMA 30 to 60 minutes prior to retiring for bed for an 8 week period.
Test subjects performed strength tests at 0, 4, and 8 weeks into the trial. Body composition was also measured in the test. At the completion of the study, there were no significant changes in either body composition or strength levels.
According to the study “Results indicate that ZMA supplementation during training does not appear to enhance training adaptations in resistance trained populations.”
A summary of the study can be viewed here.
Study # 2 - Serum testosterone and urinary excretion of steroid hormone metabolites after administration of a high-dose zinc supplement
Study completed by: K Koehler, M K Parr, H Geyer, J Mester and W Schänzer
The study examined whether or not, ZMA supplementation increased serum levels of testosterone. 14 male test subjects were chosen. Each subject, aged 22 to 33 years of age have been following a regular exercise regime.
The results revealed increased levels of serum zinc levels but no increase in serum total or serum free testosterone levels.
A summary of the study can be viewed here.
Based on the evidence, ZMA doesn’t seem to have any noticeable impact on 1) Elevating testosterone levels; Or 2) Improving overall body composition (Lean muscle tissue).
Tribulus terristris is a very popular ingredient among natural testosterone boosters and one you will find in most formulas. This a widely used supplement and has been very popular for quite some time. In fact, I can remember tribulus terrestris being very popular back in my early body building days of the late ‘80's.
This is a somewhat controversial supplement because it has often been accused of being a “steroid” and more often than not, very misunderstood. Widely used in herbal medicine, tribulus terrestris has been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurveda medicine as a diuretic and aphrodisiac.
For the past 20 years, supplement companies have used tribulus terrestris as a testosterone booster claiming it to have muscle building properties. The question is whether or not tribulus terrestris actually 1) Elevates testosterone levels; And 2) Improve overall body composition and strength levels.
Let’s take a look at the studies.
Study # 1 - Sexual effects of puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) extract (protodioscin): an evaluation using a rat model
Study completed by: Gauthaman K, Ganesan AP, Prasad RN
The study examined 40, sexually mature male rats, divided into 4 groups. The first group of rats acted as a control group while the remaining rats received the following dosages of tribulus terrestris extract:
• Group 2 - 2.5 mg per kg of body weight;
• Group 3 - 5 mg per kg of body weight;
• Group 4 - 10 mg per kg of body weight
The test subjects were provided daily, oral doses of tribulus terrestris.
The results revealed an increase in body weight for each of the test groups in comparison to the control group. Group 2 experienced a 9% increase, while groups 3 and 4 experiences a 23% and 18% increase, respectively. Sexual activity also increased in groups 2, 3 and 4 in comparison to the control group.
A summary of the study can be viewed here.
Study # 2 - The effect of five weeks of Tribulus terrestris supplementation on muscle strength and body composition during preseason training in elite rugby league players.
Study completed by: Rogerson S, Riches CJ, Jennings C, Weatherby RP, Meir RA, Marshall-Gradisnik SM
The study examined the body composition effects of 5 weeks of tribulus terrestris supplementation on 22 elite male rugby players. Each were randomly assigned, in a double blind study, either 450 mgs of tribulus terrestris or a placebo, given once per day in an oral manner.
After 5 weeks, each subject provided a strength test and urine test to examine the supplementation effects. There were no effects on strength levels or alterations in body mass composition after supplementation.
The study concluded “ It was concluded that T. terrestris did not produce the large gains in strength or lean muscle mass that many manufacturers claim can be experienced within 5-28 days. Furthermore, T. terrestris did not alter the urinary T/E ratio and would not place an athlete at risk of testing positive based on the World Anti-Doping Agency's urinary T/E ratio limit of 4:1.”
The results of the study can be seen here.
Study # 3 - The aphrodisiac herb Tribulus terrestris does not influence the androgen production in young men
Study completed by: Neychev VK, Mitev VI
The study examined the effects of tribulus terrestris supplementation on 21 young healthy males between the ages of 20 and 36 years of age. The test subjects were divided into 3 groups. The first group being the control group were given a placebo. The second group were given 20 mgs per kg of body weight and the third were given 10 mgs per kg of bodyweight. The two groups were given 3 separated daily doses for 4 weeks.
At the end of the study, there was no significant differences in testosterone levels between the control groups and tribulus terrestris supplemented groups. All results were in the normal range.
The study concluded that “The findings in the current study anticipate that Tribulus terrestris steroid saponins possess neither direct nor indirect androgen-increasing properties.”
You can view the results of the study here.
Based on the evidence, it seems that tribulus terrestris only works in the lab, and on rats. Human trials haven’t revealed a whole lot of positive evidence that this stuff actually works. I don’t hold a whole of confidence in this particular supplement and will wait until more evidence unfolds before recommending this product.
Often used in testosterone boosting formulas, this supplement is often referred to as “testofen”. Traditionally used as a herb and spice, it is used to help women improve milk production in lactating women and to reduce arthritis inflammation.
Until recently, fenugreek has been picked up by some of the more popular supplement companies and included in their testosterone boosting formulas. Does it work? Let’s take a look at the studies.
Study # 1 - Physiological Aspects of Male Libido Enhanced by Standardized Trigonella foenum-graecum Extract and Mineral Formulation
Study completed by: Steels E, Rao A, Vitetta L
In a double blind, placebo controlled experiment, 60 healthy males between the ages of 25 and 52 were either given 600 mgs of fenugreek or a placebo on a daily basis. The study lasted 6 weeks.
Fenugreek had an overall positive effect on increased libido. Now, I know this doesn’t have a lot to do with changing overall body composition but the conclusion of the study is what interested me.
According to the study, “It was concluded that Testofen demonstrated a significant positive effect on physiological aspects of libido and may assist to maintain normal healthy testosterone levels.”
This statement peaked my interest in Fenugreek and I decided to look for more evidence. So I went looking for more evidence and came across the following study:
Study # 2 - The Effects of a proprietary fenugreek extract on Strength & Body Composition
Study completed by: Eric Constancio, Colin Wilborn, Lem Taylor, Cliffa Foster, Brandon Bushey, Chris Poole, Earnest Pena, Tyler Jones, Richard Kreider
The study involved 30 resistance trained male athletes and were all matched according to fat free mass. Each were randomly assigned to consume either 500 mgs of fenugreek extract or a placebo once per day for 8 weeks. Subjects participated in a 4 day a week, resistance training program split into upper and lower body workouts for 8 weeks. Body composition and strength levels were also measured in the study.
The study revealed an increase in total and free testosterone by 6.57% and 12.26% compared to the control group. The study also revealed an overall change in body composition but no change in strength levels. According to the study, there were changes in both lean body mass and an overall decrease in body fat percentage in comparison to the control group.
An interesting study to say the least and something that needs to be investigated further. I also looked at another experiment that studied the effects of fenugreek supplementation on fat consumption in overweight subjects.
39 healthy, overweight subjects completed a 6 week double blind, placebo controlled experiment. The subjects were either given a placebo or fenugreek extract and measured before and after according to weight, fasting and post absorptive glucose / insulin levels, appetite / satiety scores, and oxidative parameters.
According to the study, “The repeated administration of a fenugreek seed extract slightly but significantly decreased dietary fat consumption in healthy overweight subjects in this short-term study”.
There are some correlations between the studies and may suggest some benefit to supplementing with Fenugreek. Although it’s way too early to draw any type of conclusion and more studies need to be done With that being said, there may be some benefit to supplementing with fenugreek.
Native to Nigeria, Africa, fadogia agrestis has been used in herbal medicine to tread erectile dysfunction and to act as an aphrodisiac. Although there have been no scientific evidence to substantiate any healing properties associated with this plant.
This plant is used as a natural testosterone booster in certain formulas and has been claimed to greatly enhance testosterone levels. Based on my research, I’ve come across one study that examined the aphrodisiac effects of fadogia aggrestis on male albino rats.
Let’s take a look at the study.
Study # 1 - Aphrodisiac potentials of the aqueous extract of Fadogia agrestis (Schweinf. Ex Hiern) stem in male albino rats
The test subjects, male albino rats, were given the following doses of aqueous fadogia agrestis extract:
• 18 mg/kg;
• 50 mg/kg; And
• 100 mg/kg body weight
Each rat was given a dose in 24 hour intervals and their sexual behaviour parameters measured as well as evaluating serum testosterone levels at days 1, 3 and 5.
It was found that all the doses resulted in higher sexual behaviours as well as increased serum testosterone levels. According to the study “The aqueous extract of Fadogia agrestis stem increased the blood testosterone concentrations and this may be the mechanism responsible for its aphrodisiac effects and various masculine behaviors. It may be used to modify impaired sexual functions in animals, especially those arising from hypotestosteronemia”.
As for accredited human studies, none have been completed to date. In order to draw any type of conclusion, more independent clinical studies need to be completed on this plant. It’s one thing to investigate the properties of this plant on rats, but it's another to draw any type of conclusive evidence for human use. With that being said, there may be some potential for human trials to actually examine whether or not this supplement works.
Will Brink over at BrinkZone.com has issued a challenge to all supplement manufacturers to prove their testosterone boosters qualities and claims. It’s actually pretty interesting and something I’ve yet to see. You can read about it here.
Often called the “Stinging Nettle Root”, Urtica Dioica is a flowering plant native to North America, Africa, Europe and Asia. Used in traditional medicines for the treatment of arthritis and benign prostatic hyperplasia, it has become popular with certain supplement companies for it’s natural testosterone enhancing characteristics (In theory).
Urtica dioica doesn’t directly influence natural testosterone levels but rather, in theory, affects the amount of interaction between the sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and free testosterone. SHBG regulates the amount of “free” testosterone that will attach to a receptor cell, where protein synthesis will occur. This means muscle growth.
In theory, urtica dioica inhibits the actions of the SHBG which promotes a larger portion of free testosterone to bind to a receptor cell. It only makes sense that more binding testosterone will equal additional protein synthesis and muscle growth, right? Again, it’s all theory and no substantial, clinical evidence has been found to support the idea of more muscle growth.
However, there have been clinical studies that show the inhibiting effects of urtica dioica between SHBG and receptor cells on human prostatic membranes. Let’s take a look at the study:
Study # 1 - The effect of extracts of the roots of the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) on the interaction of SHBG with its receptor on human prostatic membranes.
Study completed by: Hryb DJ, Khan MS, Romas NA, Rosner W
The study examined the effects that urtica dioica extract had on modulating the binding between SHBG and the receptor cell on prostatic membranes. 4 types of extract were used: an aqueous extract; an alcoholic extract; U. dioica agglutinin, and stigmasta-4-en-3-one. Of the four extracts used, aqueous was the only active one. It inhibited the binding of SHBG to it’s receptor cell.
According to the study: “Of these, only the aqueous extract was active. It inhibited the binding of 125I-SHBG to its receptor. The inhibition was dose related, starting at about 0.6 mg/ml and completely inhibited binding at 10 mg/ml.”
You can view the results of the study here.
Now, based on the theory and studies done on urtica dioica, is it safe to assume that it will help alter body composition in any way? No, it isn’t. There have been no clinical, human studies that suggest urtica dioica alters body composition in any way. Until this happens, you may want to wait to purchase any products containing this supplement.
Boron is a chemical element that has been used in the past as a natural testosterone booster. In fact, I can vividly remember boron being hyped up as the next “Steroid Alternative” in the late ‘80's. It was actually pretty popular for a couple of years. It faded away into the supplement graveyard....
Boron was the first natural testosterone booster I ever tried. In fact, I believe it was the first of it’s kind and was promoted to that effect. The gym owner where I trained actually swore by the stuff and recommended we try it. You have to remember, there was no creatine, nitric oxide, or any other of the modern supplements you see today. At that time we basically had protein powders and vitamins - That was it. If you took something, you noticed if it worked or not.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I actually noticed results. I don’t know what it was but I noticed some thing was happening and so did my buddies. After our first month, we all gained strength. Now, I could have chalked it up to just about anything but at that time, if something worked, you knew. I had no idea what was in this stuff and I didn’t care.
All I knew was that it was providing me with the results I desperately craved. However, the company that was making the supplement wasn’t prepared for the demand and they couldn’t provide an appropriate supply. Anyways, we had to wait a month or two before we could get our hands on a small bottle and after awhile, it was just too long a wait. Plus, this stuff was expensive and for a kid with a limited budget, it wasn’t feasible.
After that, the supplement kind of just faded away...
Anyways, let’s take a look at some of the studies.
Study # 1 - Comparative effects of daily and weekly boron supplementation on plasma steroid hormones and proinflammatory cytokines
Study completed by: Naghii MR, Mofid M, Asgari AR, Hedayati M, Daneshpour MS
In the study, 8 healthy males were tested before and after boron supplementation. Test subjects attended the laboratory on 3 separate occasions. On the first day, subjects had blood collected and tested. On the second day, subjects received and ingested 10 mgs of boron with blood being collected and tested. All subjects were requested to ingest 10 mgs of boron on a daily basis and on the 7th day, subjects were tested via blood test.
Boron levels had increased significantly and six hours after supplementation, there was a significant decrease on sex hormone binding globulin. After one week of boron supplementation, mean plasma testosterone levels increased while the mean plasma estradiol decreased significantly.
According to the study ““The mean plasma FT [free testosterone] concentration increased significantly from 11.83±4.60 to 15.18 ±3.07 pg/ml [approx. 28%], and the mean plasma E2 [estradiol] concentration decreased significantly from 42.33 ±16.47 to 25.80±11.25 pg/ml [approx. 39%] after one week supplementation, while DHT [dihydrotestosterone], Cortisol and Vit. D showed a non significant, but higher level at weekly post supplementation period.”
“based on recent clinical data, this must be the first human study report to show an increase level of free testosterone after boron consumption”
A very interesting study to say the least. You can view the findings of the study here.
Study # 2 - Effect of dietary boron on mineral, estrogen, and testosterone metabolism in postmenopausal women
Study completed by: FH Nielsen, CD Hunt, LM Mullen and JR Hunt
The study examined the effects of boron supplementation on 12 women between the ages of 48 and 82. Each test subject were given 3 mgs of boron per day. It was found that boron supplementation markedly increased serum levels of testosterone.
According to the study: “Boron supplementation markedly elevated the serum concentrations of 17 beta-estradiol and testosterone; the elevation seemed more marked when dietary magnesium was low”
You can view a summary of the study findings here.
Both of these studies have been completed on actual human test subjects in a controlled setting. Each were independent studies that provided non bias results. There is actually a pretty cool website, written by Rob Thoburn about boron supplementation. According to his interactions with Reza Naghii, PhD, one of the researchers in the first study, boron does indeed raise serum testosterone levels.
Dr. Reza Nahii:
“I believe boron is involved in hydroxylation process which produces active form of hormones and it acts better in people with a deficiency state, e.g. aged subjects or postmeopausal women. But still I would recommend it to bodybuilders instead of steroids. It needs confirmation and deserves a research work among the bodybuilders. Limited results indicates its effect on increasing Vit d which requires hydroxylation for production and activation. In my study in a week , we found: an increase of Free T. from 11.8 to 15.18 pg/ml and Estradiol decrease from 42 to 25 pg/ml. It seems a shift from estradiol production into [the direction of] free testosterone, or higher androgenicity after one week.”
My thanks to Rob at:
For allowing me to post this information.
I think there needs to be more studies done on boron supplementation to find out the effects this element has on altering body composition, if it has any at all.
Of all the brands and products I’ve examined and tried, not one of them has included boron. It’s kind of funny because this is the only supplement that has any real evidence backing up it’s testosterone boosting capabilities. I don’t know, maybe boron is too boring (pardon the pun).
However, there is currently no hard evidence that boron increases strength levels or alters body composition in any way.
There are other herbs and plant extracts used in other formulas but to try and cover them all would be next to impossible. I’ve basically covered those formulas that I’ve used in the past.
Based on my personal experiments and the research I’ve completed on natural testosterone boosters, I’ve yet to try something that works as claimed. The only one that comes anywhere near to any noticeable results is boron. I’ve tried it in the past and have noted a certain level of results.
Please keep in mind that this was not a controlled experiment and the results may or may not have been from boron. All I can say was that something worked while I was taking this supplement. Unfortunately, this supplement has long been off the market so I can't revisit and test this formulation. Of course, there is straight up boron available at health food stores and I may just try a couple of bottles out to see if there are any noticeable effects.
The research has provided evidence that this supplement does indeed improve serum testosterone levels in both, healthy males and elderly women. However, there has been no concrete evidence that boron improves strength levels or alters body composition (Lean muscle tissue).
The most important things you have to remember about natural testosterone boosters is that the product in question may increase serum testosterone levels, but at what point does it affect body composition and strength levels.
It's one thing to ask if testosterone boosters help increase natural testosterone levels, but it's another to ask if the additional testosterone actually binds to androgen receptors for additional protein synthesis (Building muscle). Clearly, the evidence presented in most of the studies show a slight increase in serum testosterone levels but not enough to elicit any type of body composition response (Building lean muscle tissue). I’ve yet to see any conclusive evidence to this fact.
Also, the dosage required in most testosterone boosting formulas is simply not enough to effectively raise testosterone levels. In most cases, it’s simply not feasible nor cost effective to try and attain the most effective dose.
If I were a betting man, I’d place my bets on Fenugreek or boron as a potential testosterone booster. However, there needs to be more detailed research on these supplements in order to draw any type of conclusion.
So, the next time you come across a natural testosterone enhancer / booster, and see the claim “This product has been shown to increase testosterone levels by as much as 300%” you may want to look closely at the study, if there are any, and take a long hard look. For all you know, the study could have been done on rats.
There is also the safety issue. Nobody really knows what the long term side effects are from taking natural testosterone boosters.
Just keep this in mind, there has been no study completed to date that shows a natural testosterone booster significantly altering body composition (Lean muscle tissue). If you are dead set on trying a natural testosterone booster, please do a bit of research and decide which supplement, based on independent studies, are best for your situation.
Also, for those supplement companies who would like to put their money where their claims are, Will Brink of BrinkZone.com has issued the following challenge:
“To any seller/manufacturer of a “T Booster” type product/formula. If you wish to have the product tested to see if it truly does increase T levels, I will be all too happy to have it tested for you. Be it, a true double-blind placebo crossover trial, which could also test whether or not the product in question will alter body composition (in response to resistance training of course), or as a simple open label study.••••”
Mr. Brink doesn’t fool around when it comes to this stuff and he knows what he’s talking about. So if there are any supplement companies who want to take Will up on his offer, just go to his website and talk with him directly.
Natural testosterone boosters are pretty expensive. On average, I paid about 65 bucks for a 30 day supply for a natural testosterone booster. To top if off, I got absolutely zilch....Nada...Nothing. Here's a tip for those of you who want a testosterone booster that may help produce some results. It will also cost half as much and you will get double the active ingredients. Here are the products:
- Boron - $7
- Fenugreek $7
- Stinging Nettle Root Extract $7
- Vitamin D3 $6
If you can, try finding the brand called "Now", they have very cheap prices and great quality. For a one supply, you'll pay about $30. This is half the cost of top testosterone boosters and you will get twice the amount of active ingredient. Back to top of page
Here are some great resources to get you started:
Good luck and all the best,
As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.
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