If you are a lifter, chances are you know that testosterone is a potent driver of how big, strong and fast you will be. This hormone is extremely powerful at establishing an anabolic response in the human body and plays a large role in preserving muscle and driving muscle protein synthesis.
While testosterone has other key functions in the body, this article is going focus solely on testosterone from a muscle building standpoint.
Someone once said that “If a little is good, than a lot must be great”.
This is what scientists felt was true about testosterone and what spurred a rapid increase in the development of anabolic steroids that increase physiological levels of testosterone by enormous amounts.
The idea was that if testosterone is so potent at producing muscle mass, than injecting or taking testosterone endogenously would increase its effects past normal occurring levels. They were right! Anabolic Steroids were and still are the best way to induce change in skeletal muscle mass.
But there’s a problem – anabolic steroids are not legal and the health effects of taking these drugs are shady with consequences unknown in many cases.
The supplement industry, in their infinite wisdom took the bull by the horns and said that if we can’t sell anabolic steroids for legal reasons, then we need to develop a supplement that can produce a similar effect. At least that was the goal..
Introducing the Testosterone Booster.
What is a Test Booster?
Testosterone boosters are herbal supplements with ingredients that are alleged to increase an individual’s endogenous testosterone levels. The main goal of these supplements is to promote enhanced recovery while promoting greater muscle and strength gains.
Mechanism of Action
Many manufacturers claim that these herbal supplements activate hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis, a process that involves the hypothalamus, pituitary glands and gonads which regulates body processes and in combination with resistance training has positive effects on hormone secretion. The idea is that by consuming these supplements and increasing free testosterone levels while engaging in resistance training, there will be an increase in muscle mass.
Are Test Boosters Effective?
Multiple research studies have looked at whether a variety of testosterone boosters are effective and similar conclusions have been rendered throughout all.
A systematic review by Roshazamir and Safavi (2017) looked at D aspartic acid which is a prevalent amino acid found in many testosterone boosters and discovered that there were in fact increases in free testosterone in male animal (rat) studies; however, not beyond a normal physiological level. In the 4 human studies that were analyzed, no change in testosterone were found from endogenous supplementation of D aspartic acid – Topo et al (2009), Willoughby et al (2013), Bloomer et al (2015) and Melville et al (2017). A key to note about the subjects in the human studies is that they were resistance trained men and likely had normal testosterone levels to begin with.
A study by Wankhede et al (2014) examined the effects of a herbal supplement called Fenugreek and demonstrated its ability to promote increases overall strength in resistance trained males.
Further, Poole et al (2010) also demonstrated how Fenugreek may have an effect in enhancing performance over a longer period of time seen by increases in strength over an 8+ week time period. Compared to the placebo, Fenugreek increased strength over all three time intervals where the placebo group had increases only over two time intervals.
The main point in understanding these studies is that although overall body strength was increased through Fenugreek supplementation, these increases could have came from resistance training through a training effect. It’s hard to draw a causal relationship ship between the gains and the test booster because of training adaptations. The mechanism for this change is still unknown and more research needs to be done before more claims regarding Fenugreeks anabolic potential can be made.
Test Boosters versus Anabolic Steroids
The key difference that is often misunderstood or overlooked regarding testosterone boosters is while there is evidence to suggest in some models that free form testosterone increases as that shown with Fenugreek, the increase found is still within a normal physiological range.
Yes, there is an increase in testosterone; however, testosterone level increases within a normal range have not shown significant effects on muscle mass increases beyond homeostatic levels.
Therefore, when comparing testosterone boosters to anabolic steroids, which in some cases can increase transient testosterone levels by 10 times, test boosters should be reconsidered regarding their superior anabolic properties.
Take Home Points:
- Some evidence is indicative of free form testosterone increases in males with certain test boosting supplements, however increases in testosterone within a normal physiological range are not linked to superior gains in muscle mass.
- If a testosterone booster was to increase levels of testosterone above and beyond the normal physiological range, they are likely not a herbal substance and should be questioned.
- Evidence might suggest that those who suffer from suppressed levels of testosterone (below normal) could hypothetically benefit from test boosting supplements as it would bring the individual back into a normal range. This has not yet been confirmed.
Melville, G. W., Siegler, J. C., & Marshall, P. M. (2017). The effects of d-aspartic acid supplementation in resistance-trained men over a three month training period: A randomised controlled trial. Plos ONE, 12(8), 1-20. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0182630
Poole, C., Bushey, B., Foster, C., Campbell, B., Willoughby, D., Kreider, R., … & Wilborn, C. (2010). The effects of a commercially available botanical supplement on strength, body composition, power output, and hormonal profiles in resistance-trained males. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), 34.
Roshanzamir, F., & Safavi, S. M. (2017). The putative effects of D-Aspartic acid on blood testosterone levels: A systematic review. International Journal Of Reproductive Biomedicine, 15(1), 1-10.
Ronsini, S., D’Aniello, A., Soricelli, A., Topo, E., & D’Aniello, G. (2009). The role and molecular mechanism of D-aspartic acid in the release and synthesis of LH and testosterone in humans and rats. Reproductive Biology And Endocrinology, Vol 7, Iss 1, P 120 (2009), (1), 120. doi:10.1186/1477-7827-7-120
Wankhede, S., Mohan, V., & Thakurdesai, P. (2016). Beneficial effects of fenugreek glycoside supplementation in male subjects during resistance training: A randomized controlled pilot study. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 5(2), 176-182.
Willoughby, D. S., Spillane, M., & Schwarz, N. (2014). Heavy resistance training and supplementation with the alleged testosterone booster NMDA has no effect on body composition, muscle performance, and serum hormones associated with the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis in resistance-trained males. Journal of sports science & medicine, 13(1), 192.