Normal Testosterone Levels In Men: The Definitive Guide
What is a normal testosterone level in men?
What is the optimal range to shoot for?
Is declining testosterone inevitable with age?
These are all questions which I'll address in this definitive guide.
You will learn about the different types of testosterone, how to get your levels measured, and how to analyze your results.
Let's do this.
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Understanding The 3 Types of Testosterone
When testosterone enters the blood stream, about 45% of it attaches to SHBG (sex hormone-binding globulin), 53% binds to albumin, while only ~2% of it is allowed to exist in a free, unbound state:
1. SHBG-Bound Testosterone
SHBG is a carrier protein that binds to and transports sex hormones (estrogens and androgens). Your body only needs a little bit of these sex hormones at any given moment, and the purpose of SHBG is to safeguard them so that they are not metabolized by the body too quickly.
SHBG has a high binding affinity for testosterone.
SHBG-bound testosterone is considered biologically inactive, i.e. it is unable to exert an influence.
SHBG and Free Testosterone
With all other factors being equal, SHBG and free testosterone hold an inverse relationship:
Higher SHBG translates to lower levels of free T, while lower SHBG means higher free T.
This relationship is crucial because a man with normal total testosterone levels but high SHBG can still end up experiencing the symptoms of low testosterone.
Normal SHBG Levels in Men
The normal range for SHBG in men lies between 10 to 57 nmol/L (1).
High SHBG levels, as you know, mean that more testosterone becomes bound to it and is therefore unable to exert its influence.
Low SHBG, on the other hand, is not a good thing either. In men, low SHBG levels are associated with increased rates of obesity and diabetes (2).
As with most things in life, balance is key.
For more on SHBH, check out Elite Men's Guide.
2. Albumin-Bound Testosterone
Albumin is the most abundant protein in the human body. It plays a number of key roles including (but not limited to):
- The transportation of medication
- Maintaining blood acidity
- Carrying free fatty acids to the liver
Like SHBG, albumin also acts as a carrier protein for testosterone. Unlike SHBG, however, it has a much lower binding affinity.
Essentially all albumin-bound testosterone can break free and begin to exert its influence.
Albumin-bound testosterone is considered biologically active.
3. Free Testosterone
Free testosterone is the amount of testosterone that is readily available for your body to use.
In a sense:
Your free testosterone levels is the most important number for you to look at. But since free T makes up such a minor percentage of total T, it can be hard to measure.
What is a Normal Testosterone Level?
Whether you look online, refer to a lab’s reference range, or ask a medical professional, the normal range for total testosterone tends to fall between 250-1200 nanograms per decilitre (ng/dL).
But the problem with this so-called “normal range” is that many men can begin to experience symptoms of low testosterone even while their levels are within it.
Take me for example:
At the tender age of 24, my total testosterone level was 564 ng/dL - well within this so-called normal range. Yet I still had low energy, no drive, and felt embarrassed with my shirt off in public (even after two and a half years of lifting weights).
Also, as we went over above, testosterone is not just one number.
The Problem With Your Lab's Reference Range
When you get your testosterone levels checked at a lab, they provide you with a reference range.
For example, the lab I got tested at showed a reference range of 348-1197 ng/dL.
The reference range includes ALL of the patients that have had their blood work done at the particular lab.
Whether it is a 20-year-old athlete or an 80-year-old diabetic, it doesn’t matter - they are all given equal weight within this reference range.
I’m sure you see the problem here:
The reference range does not break patients down by any factor other than gender.
This is why the reference ranges provided by labs and experimenters are not an accurate baseline to compare your own results with.
A more accurate measure is to break down…
Testosterone Levels By Age
It is a well-researched fact that testosterone levels tend to fall with age (3).
Although this drop is more likely a result of a man’s behavioral and health changes rather than of aging itself (4), accounting for age provides a more accurate measure towards what range you should aim for.
Most labs don’t break down the reference range based on age, but luckily we have access to a few studies that have done just that:
Mean Plasma Sex Hormone Levels in Healthy Men By Age (5)
Total Testosterone (ng/dL)
Free Testosterone (ng/dL)
The above data has been extracted from Androgens And The Aging Male, a textbook authored by two prime researchers in the area of male hormones and endocrinology (B.J. Oddens and A. Vermeulen).
In February of 2016 I was 24 years old and my total testosterone level was 564 ng/dL. According to the data above, my levels were closer to the average for men more than twice my age (55-65 year olds).
In another study found in the same textbook, a different team of researchers broke down average testosterone levels in 5-year age increments and ran a percentile analysis whereby they compared the top 5% and bottom 5% of testosterone levels within each age bracket.
Plasma Total Testosterone Distribution In Men By 5-Year Age Groups (6)
Total Testosterone (ng/dL)
According to this data, my T levels (564 ng/dL) were 156 ng’s within the 5th percentile for my age bracket.
In other words:
Close to 90% of guys my age had higher T levels than me.
After taking the steps to naturally increase my testosterone, my levels increased to 902 ng/dL, i.e. higher than close to 95% guys my age.
That being said…
What is the Optimal Testosterone
If your current testosterone levels match up with the average levels for your age bracket in the charts above, it is safe to say that your levels are, well, average.
But who wants to be average.
Taking the steps to naturally increase your testosterone levels can have vast implications on every aspect of your life from how your body looks to how your mind works to how well you are able to assert your values in the world.
At TripleYourT, I'm centred on providing you with the strategies, techniques, and frameworks to help you naturally achieve T-levels way above the normal range for males.
That being said:
The total testosterone level that EVERY man should strive for, regardless of age, is +600 ng/dL.
Free testosterone levels should be +12 ng/dL.
Why Age Matters Less Than You Think
Older age is correlated with lower T levels and lower T is associated with fatigue, low libido, and an overall decrease in quality of life.
Scientists out of Australia tell us that declining testosterone levels are more likely a result, and not the cause, of deteriorating general health (7).
"Some researchers believe that an age-related testosterone deficiency contributes to the deteriorating health of older men and causes nonspecific symptoms, such as tiredness and loss of libido," says David Handelsman, MD, PhD, professor and director of the ANZAC Research Institute at the University of Sydney.
Handelsman and his team, however, found that serum (blood) testosterone levels did not decline with increasing age in older men.
Two study centres in Australia recruited 325 men (40-97 years old, average age=60) who had self-reported excellent health and no symptoms to complain of. To test blood testosterone levels, researchers took nine separate blood samples over a period of three months. When they looked at the entire sample of 325 men, even with the large age range, T levels did not differ (8).
Now, obviously this sample of 325 men only represents a small segment of the population. Still, it is interesting to note that age was not a significant determinant of testosterone.
Doctors these days are overly quick to prescribe testosterone replacement therapy. They prescribe it without addressing the underlying health factors that are causing low T in the first place.
Handelsman says that "older men with low testosterone levels do not need testosterone replacement therapy unless they have diseases of their pituitary or testes".
Maintaining total T levels above 600 ng/dL is simply a matter of making changes in how you eat, move, and sleep. It is what every man should strive towards, regardless of age.
Levels under 500 ng/dL should be considered danger zone.
Developing the right lifestyle and diet habits will allow you to maintain optimal testosterone levels well into old age.
How to Measure Your Testosterone
Now that you understand what testosterone range to shoot for, we move on to how to go about measuring your T levels.
Methods for Measuring Testosterone At A Lab
There are numerous schools of thought regarding which form of the hormone should be measured and which method of analysis provides the most accurate results.
The problem arises due to a lack of standardization in hormone testing.
Since there is no clear consensus in this area, it is important to understand the basis for the various methods available. I will provide a quick overview of each so that you know what test is best for you:
Total Testosterone. Most labs analyze total testosterone levels using automated immunoassay methods. These methods do not require much work on the part of the technician and can be performed relatively quickly and cheaply. The drawback is about a +/- 20% loss in accuracy (12). This is why liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MSMS) remains the gold standard for measuring T levels amongst researchers and professionals. LC-MSMS is more expensive and requires more work on the part of the technician, but the result is more accurate.
Free Testosterone. Given that free T makes up such a tiny percentage of the total testosterone in your blood, getting an accurate measurement of it is technically demanding. Most labs use automated immunoassay methods to measure free T, but studies have shown that the results can sometimes be misleading (13). Equilibrium dialysis and ultrafiltration are the most accurate methods for determining free T, but they require more time and work on the part of a well-trained technician. Most labs don't even offer these methods due to the complicated nature of testing.
Androgen Index Calculation. The concentration of testosterone in its various forms essentially comes down to total testosterone and the relative concentrations of SHBG and albumin. Many clinicians use an androgen index calculation to estimate free testosterone levels. Typically, the index is calculated as the ratio of total T divided by SHBG, multiplied by 100 (14, 15). The problem with this method is a lack of accuracy. Plus, you end up paying for three different tests, which can raise the price significantly.
How To Measure Your Testosterone Levels At Home
If you want to save the hassle of having to go to a lab and want to save a few bucks, it is possible to measure your testosterone levels using a home test kit.
You can buy this kit on Amazon, spit in the cup, send it in the mail, and receive your total testosterone measurement a week later. If you want a measure of your free testosterone, check this kit out.
If you choose to order a home test kit, just know that salivary testosterone methods are not as accurate as blood tests.
The only times researchers use a subject's saliva to measure testosterone is when ease of sample collection is a priority or when testosterone levels are being compared across a large body of subjects.
How To Order Your Own Testosterone Blood Test Without A Doctor
I highly recommend that you order your own blood test instead of running it through a doctor.
In this way, not only is the price about 80% cheaper, but you are also able to track your progress and take charge of your own health. It will be the exact same test, the same lab, and usually even the same person who draws your blood.
If you have health insurance, the best option is to go to your primary health care physician and have them run a comprehensive blood and hormone panel. This will probably cost an extra $10-20.
If you don't have health insurance and if you’re in the US, (and not in the states of NY, NJ, MA, MD, or RI) then go through the following process:
Step 1 - Go to PrivateMDLabs.com
Private MD Labs lets you order a blood test without the need for a doctor's permission.
On their website you will have to search for the blood test you are looking for. The three best options for our purposes are:
Option #1: Hormone Panel for Females
At $66.99, this is the best option for guys on a budget.
The Hormone Panel for Females will give you your total testosterone measurement but not your free testosterone measurement.
The Hormone Panel for Females contains the following tests:
- Estradiol, serum
- Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
- Testosterone, Serum (Total Only)
- Complete Blood Count (CBC) with Differential
- Comprehensive Metabolic Profile (CMP)
The method used for measuring testosterone is ECLIA. This is an automated immunoassay method, i.e. it is the fastest and most affordable method to measure total T in your blood.
Don’t worry about the details, we will go over exactly how to analyze your blood work in the next chapter.
Option #2: Hormone Panel with F&T Testosterone LC/MS
This option provides the same tests as the Hormone Panel for Females with the addition of free testosterone.
Also, the method used for testing total testosterone is LC/MS (liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry). This method requires more work on the part of the technician and is more expensive, but it outputs a more accurate result.
The addition of a free testosterone test and use of the LC/MS method for testing brings the price of this hormonal panel up to $103.99.
Option #3: Hormone Panel for Males
Compared to option #2, the Hormone Panel for Males comes with the addition of lipid and thyroid profiles, as well as a reading for IGF-I.
The cost is $176.49.
Free testosterone is measured using Equilibrium Ultrafiltration (EU) rather than RIA direct (like in option #2).
EU is the most accurate method for measuring free T.
Tests in the Hormone Panel for Males:
- Lipid Profile
- Complete Blood Count (CBC) with Differential
- Estradiol, Sensitive
- Insulin-Like Growth Factor I (IGF-I)
- Comprehensive Metabolic Profile (CMP)
- Testosterone, Free (Equilibrium Ultrafiltration) With Total Testosterone
- Prostate-Specific Antigen
- Thyroid Profile w/TSH
Each test varies in the results it delivers and the methods it uses to take the measurements.
Step 2 – Type Your Test of Choice Into the Search Bar
For example, type “Hormone Panel for Females” into the search bar and click “Go”.
Next, click “View Cart” and then click “Checkout”.
Step 3 – Find a Lab Near You
Enter your zip code to find the lab that is closest to you.
To get 12% off your order enter the coupon code HEALTHY12.
Enter your billing information and you’re all set.
Step 4 – Get your blood drawn
It is best to go to the lab upon waking on an empty stomach.
T levels are highest in the morning and tend to drop through the day.
Step 5 – Wait for your results
You can get your results back the next day, but the standard is usually within 2-3 days.
You’ll get an email with a PDF of your results.
How to Analyze Your Testosterone Results
As an example, I’ll compare two results from a Female Hormone Panel.
One from a guy on TRT and one is a report of my own lab results.
This person is on testosterone replacement therapy.
How do we know this?
Total testosterone is very high and outside of the physiological range, while LH and FSH (the precursors of testosterone) are extremely low. This makes it clear that there is an exogenous source of testosterone coming in to the body.
Also, estradiol (or estrogen) is on the very high end. Naturally high testosterone usually means lower estrogen, but in this case there is too much T coming into the body and all the excess is being converted into estrogen.
My Lab Results
T-levels lie within the upper limit of the reference range. LH and FSH are also high, which means that testosterone is being produced naturally.
Estrogen is on the lower end.
That was a lot of information we just went over, but the key takeaways can be narrowed down to a couple of main points:
Given that testosterone has such a big impact on our lives as men, it is important to gain an understanding of it to the extent of knowing what levels to shoot for and how to go about doing so.
I hope you found this post useful, and if you have anything to add let me know in the comments below.