It’s no secret that nothing build muscle like testosterone, and that’s the reason that steroids are so effective: they raise your testosterone levels. But steroids are illegal, dangerous, and maybe even lethal, so anyone interested in health should steer clear of them. But there are some who claim that you can raise T levels naturally, and one trick that’s often touted for this purpose is to eat more red meat.
But does red meat raise testosterone?
Let’s look at what we know.
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is the major male sex hormone, and it’s responsible for most of the “manly” characteristics we associated with, well, men — facial hair, aggression, physical strength, low body fat levels, and (yes!) muscle size.
Most of our testosterone is made in — surprise — our testicles, where a complex series of reactions involving other hormones works to convert cholesterol into the mighty T.
Nutritionists told us long ago that red meat is a rich source of cholesterol, so it’s not hard to see how thinking lifters might put two and two together to anoint meat as a testosterone booster.
What Does Science Say?
Even though you might be able to draw a logical straight line from red meat to testosterone, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sure thing. Luckily, there are at least a few scientific studies that can help us get closer to the truth.
For instance, cancer researchers found in 1979 that a vegetarian diet can reduce the nocturnal testosterone production of men. While that might be a good thing in terms of slowing down prostate tumor growth, it’s likely bad news for muscle growth and points indirectly to the superiority — for muscle growth — of diets containing animal products.
Likewise, a 2011 study from the Harvard Medical Center showed that a diet rich in soy protein tends to decrease free testosterone. Again, this provides indirect evidence that meat, or at least animal products, can maintain healthy testosterone levels.
Finally, a 1991 study found a direct relationship between high-density lipid (HDL) and testosterone. The problem is that HDL is the “good” cholesterol, while red meat is mostly a source of low-density lipids (LDL) and saturated fat, both of which tend to raise LDL in the blood. What’s worse is that the researchers in this case could not find a causal relationship — that is, although larger HDL readings were associated with higher testosterone, they could not say which caused which, if either.
The Bottom Line
Red meat can be a wonderfully nutritious food for healthy men who don’t have problems with high cholesterol and who eat an otherwise balanced diet. It’s a great source of protein and saturated fat (which you need to at least some degree), and it can even supply zinc and vitamin B-12, both of which have been linked to higher testosterone levels.
But eating lots of red meat simply in the hope of boosting your testosterone levels is probably a mistake. Eat it in moderation for its healthful benefits, but don’t go overboard and you’ll be happier in the long run.
And whatever you do, make sure to talk to your doctor first to make sure that red meat won’t cause you any health problems.