Boosting T levels (testosterone levels) is somewhat of an obsession for many men, especially those looking to build muscle mass or enhance their athletic performance.
You’ve probably heard claims about how certain diets, like the ketogenic diet, can skyrocket your hormonal health and vitality. There’s even some talk that going keto means more testosterone.
In reality, much of the lore surrounding diet and testosterone is based on anecdotal evidence and not well-supported by scientific research. There’s a complex interplay between nutrition, exercise, sleep, and other factors that influence hormonal balance. Boosting T levels isn’t as simple as just adopting a specific diet.
However, a recent study has brought new light to the keto-testosterone debate, suggesting there might be more than just hype to these claims (23). That said, you’re probably wondering whether to jump on the keto bandwagon in hopes of boosting your T levels. Here’s what you need to know.
Is Keto Good for Testosterone Levels?
Researchers at The European Congress of Endocrinology presented a study that looked at the effects of low-carb, high-fat diets (such as the ketogenic diet) on testosterone levels in obese, non-diabetic men (23).
The findings showed that after following a very low-calorie ketogenic diet for four weeks, participants had a significant increase in testosterone levels (23).
But before you start stocking up on bacon and avocados, it’s important to understand the specific conditions of this study.
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The Study Size and Duration
The study had a small sample size of only 17 men, which makes it difficult to draw any conclusive evidence.
To be considered statistically significant, a study typically needs to have at least 30 percent of the population as a sample size, and the more the better (12). This small number of participants also means that the study was limited in terms of diversity and may not be representative of the larger population.
As for duration, the study lasted for four weeks. This may seem like a decent amount of time, but long-term effects and sustainability are key when it comes to diet and hormonal health.
What happens after four weeks on a very low calorie low-carb, high-fat diet? Do testosterone levels continue to increase or do they plateau?
The Role of Body Composition
Another important factor to consider is the impact of body composition on testosterone levels. It’s well-established that being overweight or obese can negatively affect hormone balance, including T levels (10).
In this study, the participants had a BMI of 36.4; meaning they were obese. At the start of the study, their average testosterone levels were below the normal range.
Can the outcome of this study be applied to males with a healthy BMI and normal testosterone levels? It’s unclear.
Studies have shown that weight loss, regardless of the diet followed, can increase testosterone levels in overweight or obese individuals (11).
So it’s possible that the increase in T levels as seen in this study was not solely due to following the ketogenic diet, but rather from the participants losing weight.
The Study Limits
The only finding was in relation to total testosterone levels. Calculated free testosterone did not change, which is the type of testosterone that is biologically active and has a greater influence on health and performance (3). It’s possible that while total testosterone levels increased, free testosterone remained the same or even decreased.
The study didn’t look at the ripple effect of going keto on side effects of low T; such as low libido, erectile dysfunction, or mood changes. So whether the keto diet causes erectile dysfunction and other nuances of the keto and testosterone cycle are still up for debate.
Additionally, there was no control group in this study. A control group would have allowed for comparison between the effects of a low-carb, high-fat diet and a different type of diet or lifestyle.
So, Is Keto a Testosterone Booster?
A low-calorie keto diet may have shown some promising preliminary results with increasing total testosterone levels in a small group of obese men. However, the limitations and lack of long-term data make it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions about the effects of keto on T levels.
Rather than focusing solely on a specific diet as a way to boost testosterone, it’s important to consider overall lifestyle factors like nutrition, exercise, stress management, and sleep.
Maintaining a healthy body composition and managing lifestyle factors can have a greater impact on testosterone levels than just following a certain diet.
In our blog, Fasting Diet for Men, we explore which type of diet is best for men looking to optimize their hormonal health and performance.
If you think your testosterone levels may be clinically low, it’s important to see your healthcare provider to get tested and discuss causes and treatments.
How Can You Support Healthy Testosterone Levels?
Diet and lifestyle changes are key for healthy testosterone levels. Here are some tips to consider:
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese can lead to lower testosterone levels (9).
Excess weight, specifically around the abdomen, is linked with lower testosterone due to the role that fat cells play in converting testosterone to estrogen (21). The more fat cells in the body, the more testosterone gets converted into estrogen, leading to a decrease in total testosterone levels.
In addition, obesity contributes to chronic inflammation and insulin resistance, which can further deplete testosterone (5).
Chronic inflammation plays a role in insulin resistance and impaired glucose utilization negatively affects the hypothalamic-pituitary gonadal axis and in turn results in lowered concentrations of testosterone (16).
Conversely, weight loss can help increase testosterone levels. Studies suggest that moderate to significant weight loss can lead to increased testosterone, irrespective of the diet type (low-carb, low-fat, etc.) At the same time, testosterone replacement therapy has been seen to help with weight loss in men with low testosterone due to obesity (14, 15).
Engaging in regular physical activity can have a positive impact on testosterone levels. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be particularly effective in increasing testosterone levels (17).
Exercise also helps with weight management and reducing inflammation, both of which can positively impact testosterone production. Additionally, exercise has been shown to decrease stress hormones like cortisol, which can have a negative effect on testosterone levels (11).
Prioritize Quality Sleep
It’s no secret that getting enough quality sleep is important for overall health and well-being (19). But it’s also crucial for testosterone production.
Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels can suppress testosterone production (13). Finding ways to manage and reduce stress, such as through meditation, yoga, or engaging in a hobby, can help support healthy testosterone levels.
Testosterone Boosting Nutrients
Some nutrients have been shown to support healthy testosterone levels. Ensuring adequate intake of these nutrients through a balanced diet or supplementation may help optimize testosterone production:
This vitamin plays a crucial role in the functioning of testes and prostate (24). Some food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products. Exposure to sunlight is also a great way to boost vitamin D levels.
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Can Keto Mess With Your Hormones?
Going into a state of ketosis, where the body relies on fat instead of carbohydrates for fuel, can cause some shifts in hormone production and metabolism.
However, research in this area is limited and further studies are needed to fully understand the relationship between keto and hormones:
On a keto diet, insulin levels tend to decrease due to the limited intake of carbohydrates. This can be beneficial for those with insulin resistance or diabetes, as it helps improve blood sugar control (18). However, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you have diabetes or take medications that lower your blood sugar levels and want to try a keto diet.
The hormone ghrelin, also known as the “hunger hormone,” is responsible for stimulating appetite. Studies have suggested that following a low-carb diet, like keto, can suppress the usual increase in ghrelin levels that happen with weight loss and may reduce feelings of hunger (7).
On the other hand, leptin is a hormone that helps regulate body weight by signaling to the brain when we’re full. Some research suggests that following a high-fat diet, such as keto, may increase leptin levels and help with weight loss (4). However, more studies are needed to confirm this.
There’s mixed research on the effects of keto on testosterone levels. Some studies suggest that a low-fat diet decreases testosterone production when compared to a high-fat diet, while others show no significant changes (8). More research is needed in this area.
Similarly, the impact of keto on estrogen levels is inconclusive. Some evidence suggests that reducing carbohydrate intake may lead to a decrease in estrogen, while other studies show no significant changes (6).
Does Not Eating Carbs Lower Testosterone?
No, not eating carbs does not necessarily lower testosterone levels. While some studies suggest a potential relationship between low-carb diets and decreased testosterone, the research is not definitive.
Many factors, including overall caloric intake and dietary balance, can influence testosterone levels.
What Diet Produces the Most Testosterone?
A diet rich in lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help with testicular and prostate functions.
Foods rich in zinc, vitamin D, and magnesium, such as oysters, lean meat, eggs, and nuts, are particularly beneficial as they play a crucial role in testosterone production.
However, if you have clinically low testosterone levels due to a medical condition, it is unlikely that diet alone is going to make a difference.
Are Carbs Needed for Testosterone?
Carbohydrates themselves are not directly involved in the production of testosterone. However, a balanced diet that includes an appropriate amount of carbohydrates and calories is important for overall health and hormonal balance.
Extremely low-carb diets can lead to hormonal imbalances in some individuals, but this varies greatly from person to person.
Will I Lose Belly Fat on TRT?
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) can potentially help reduce belly fat as it may boost metabolism and promote muscle growth, both of which can contribute to fat loss (15).
However, TRT alone may not lead to significant weight loss without accompanying lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice.
The Bottom Line
While the keto diet may show some potential in increasing testosterone levels which are low due to obesity, there is still limited research on its long-term effects and applicability to different populations.
Instead, a greater impact on testosterone levels can happen by focusing on maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular exercise, getting quality sleep, and managing stress. Additionally, ensuring adequate intake of key nutrients may also support healthy T production. Always talk to your healthcare provider for individualized advice.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A Clinical Perspective of Sleep and Andrological Health: Assessment, Treatment Considerations, and Future Research (academic.oup.com)
- Correlation between serum zinc and testosterone: A systematic review (2023, sciencedirect.com)
- Free Testosterone: Clinical Utility and Important Analytical Aspects of Measurement (2014, sciencedirect.com)
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- Inflammation in obesity, diabetes, and related disorders (2022, sciencedirect.com)
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- Ketogenic diets and appetite regulation (2022, journals.lww.com)
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- Obesity and androgens: facts and perspectives (2003, sciencedirect.com)
- Relationship Between Circulating Cortisol and Testosterone: Influence of Physical Exercise (2005,.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Significance, Errors, Power, and Sample Size: The Blocking and Tackling of Statistics (2018, journals.lww.com)
- Stress Induced Cortisol Release Depresses The Secretion of Testosterone in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (2023, journals.sagepub.com)
- Testosterone and obesity (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Testosterone and weight loss: the evidence (2014, journals.lww.com)
- The association between serum testosterone and insulin resistance: a longitudinal study (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training Periods on Morning Serum Testosterone and Cortisol Levels and Physical Fitness in Men Aged 35–40 Years (2021, mdpi.com)
- The Effects of Ketogenic Diet on Insulin Sensitivity and Weight Loss, Which Came First: The Chicken or the Egg? (2023, mdpi.com)
- The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Interplay between Magnesium and Testosterone in Modulating Physical Function in Men (2014, hindawi.com)
- The relationship between sleep disorders and testosterone in men (2014, journals.lww.com)
- The Role of Very Low Calorie Ketogenic Diet in Sympathetic Activation through Cortisol Secretion in Male Obese Population (2021, mdpi.com)
- Very low-calorie ketogenic diet rapidly augments testosterone levels in non-diabetic obese subjects (2023, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Vitamin D and Male Fertility: An Updated Review (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)