Estimated Reading Time - 15 Minutes
I like to experiment. In fact I’m always running experiments, some lasting just moments and others continuing for months. Now these experiments aren’t as rigorous as a university led study, as I don’t have the time or resources available at my disposal, but I control for enough confounding variables to be able to draw meaningful, actionable conclusions. An example of a short experiment might be monitoring how I feel energy wise after a meal, and a longer example might be tracking lean body mass and body fat changes during 8 weeks of progressive caloric restriction, macronutrient manipulation, and resistance exercise (aka a “cut”). In fact that describes my most recent cut! If you’re interested in learning how I added upper body lean body mass while dropping 4.2% body fat from 15% to 10.8%, read more here.
The last large experiment I ran started (12/3/18) about a month after my most recent 8 week cut concluded on 11/05/18. Before I explain the experiment, let me outline the starting conditions.
During my 8-week cut I dropped to 180.7 lbs (182 kg) and 10.8% bodyfat measured via DXA. Following the cut, having lost 13 lbs by reducing calories from to ~3500 to 2650, I spent a month slowly resetting my metabolism, every week adding 100-200 calories and continuing my weight training. Two weeks after I ended my cut (11/23) I went on a two week trip abroad, and 1 month post cut (12/3) I was weighing in at 181.5 lbs (82.3 kg), only having gained 0.8 lbs. Starting on 12/03/2018 I started the experiment this article is about. The experiment ended on 01/07/2019 (35 days). The experiment was conducted to hopefully answer the following question:
How will my body fat, lean body mass, free testosterone levels, and strength in major compound lifts change in response to an increasing caloric intake, high volume resistance exercise utilizing progressive overload, a dramatic bump in dietary cholesterol, and daily use of the supposed natural testosterone boosting herb cistanche.
In short, the results were incredible. I added 5 lbs (2.25 kg) of lean body mass, boosted my free testosterone levels by 52%, increased my strength across the board, and only increased my body fat levels by 0.7%, all in 5 weeks. I was 27 years old, male, and 72.5” (184 cm) tall. N=1.
To see the data for yourself, as well as the step by step guideline to run this Cistanche & Cholesterol Protocol (CC Protocol) for yourself, continue reading below:
The CC Protocol
The two main variables of this experiment were the addition 2 grams of cistanche and at least 6 egg yolks (~1000 mg cholesterol) per day. The idea was that the cistanche (via limited research available) would signal to the body to produce more androgenic hormones, and the dramatic increase in cholesterol consumption would support the creation of testosterone.
After I experienced the phenomenal success of the CC Protocol, I researched more into Cistanche and learned that it has health, wellness, and muscle building benefits beyond just increasing testosterone levels. You can learn more about the scientific evidence supporting the benefits of the CC Protocol by reading my research review here (coming soon).
The cistanche I used I purchased from Lost Empire Herbs. Lost Empire Herbs is a provider of very high quality, third party tested Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs, berries, and other natural substances. Ignoring their gimmicky marketing, their cistanche is sourced from the plateaus of Tibet, dual extracted (both water and alcohol), and has the following active compounds: phenylethanoid glycosides greater than 60%, echinacosides greater than 20%, and aceteosides greater than 6%. You won’t find a better cistanche supplement on the market, and with a rare herb like this, I wouldn’t trust any supplement manufacturers that don’t provide third party tests.
As a quick list, here are all the known variables I manipulated over the course of five weeks:
I increased my daily caloric intake from 3500 calories to 4000 calories, increasing by roughly 100 each week.
I kept my macros fairly consistent at 35% carbohydrates, 45% fat, and 20% protein. These macronutrient percentages at times fluctuated by a couple percentage points week to week.
I increased my weekly tonnage by about 25%. Tonnage increases were from a combination of heavier weight and higher reps. Tonnage is the total weight lifted, in this case from all exercises combined.
I consumed a post workout shake containing 600 calories, 19 g carbs, 42 g fat, and 36 g protein. The shake consisted of 8 oz coconut milk, 6 raw egg yolks, 30 grams hydrolyzed whey, and 3 grams of creatine monohydrate. Before this 5 week experiment I was not drinking a shake post-workout.
I consumed 1 g (1/2 tsp) cistanche (a desert plant) morning and night. Method of delivery was mixed with 1/2 shot glass of apple cider vinegar taken on a relatively empty stomach. Before this I had never used cistanche. I would recommend buying the Cistanche only from Lost Empire Herbs, as they have a good supply chain and third party test all of their products.
Variables I did not manipulate but instead kept consistent:
I consumed a pre-workout drink containing 6 g citrulline malate, 3 g creatine monohydrate, 90 mg borox (for boron), and 5 g inositol.
Slept 7-8 hours a night. Typically from 11 pm to 7 am.
I kept my NEAT consistent.
Food quality remained consistent. Calories were adjusted upwards, but the majority of the food consumed were unprocessed in nature.
My CC Protocol Results
Beyond basic easy to gather data points such as performance and strength improvements in the gym, body-weight measurements, and before and after photos, I also collected body fat and lean body mass data via DXA and checked my free testosterone levels at the start and conclusion of this five week test. The mentioned data is outlined below, starting with the most important.
To test my body fat, lean body mass, and bone mineral content, DXA scans are the gold standard in ease of use and accuracy. The company I use to perform these tests is BodySpec, a mobile DXA scanning company that operates in California, Washington, and Texas. For the before and after DXA scans, I went in under the same conditions. Those conditions were:
DXA scan at ~7:30 am.
Used the bathroom to poop and pee before the test.
Went into the test fasted, having consumed no food
Consumed ~24 oz of water upon waking up.
Remember, the before DXA scan was actually taken a month before the start of the CC Protocol, with my weight being 180.7 lbs. A month later at the start of the protocol my weight was 181.5 lbs measured via a scale. Considering the error in weight measurements day to day, the 0.8 lb difference is negligible.
With that said, the DXA data shows that I gained 5 lbs of lean body mass (LBM) in 35 days, adding 0.7% bodyfat to my frame, and bone mineral content (BMC) remained unchanged. The biggest increases were seen in my legs, which I subjected to high volume training, but my upper body also saw significant increases in LBM. I only added body fat to the trunk and android regions of my body.
If you want to get a DXA scan and live in Seattle, the SF Bay Area, Southern California, or Austin, I highly recommend you use BodySpec. For a relatively low price, you can gather extremely accurate body composition data in less than 15 minutes, and their employees are all training in being able to read and interpret your results.
Free Testosterone Results
To test my free testosterone levels, I used Everlywell, an at home testing service which has dozens of different tests available, from hormone tests to micronutrient and STD tests. Their free testosterone test is saliva based, and only tests free testosterone levels. Ideally I would have gotten a full hormone blood panel that also tested other important variables such as total testosterone, cortisol, estradiol, and more, but time and monetary factors limited me to just using Everlywell’s at home testing service.
The test were taken under the same conditions, which are as follows:
Taken after a full 8 hour of sleep and a low stress day the day beforehand.
Taken first thing in the morning as they recommend, before the consumption of any fluids.
Taken after fasting for ~10 hours.
Everlywell uses saliva to measure the amount of free testosterone in your body, and while not as accurate as a full blood panel, a price point of ~$30 each test makes it a great option for consistently testing your free testosterone levels. Free testosterone is more important than total testosterone when it comes to its function throughout the body, as it is free testosterone than can attach to androgen receptors and exert an androgenic effect on that tissue.
In 35 days I increased my free testosterone levels from 94 pg/ml to 143 pg/ml, an increase of 52%. I have had 3-4 blood testosterone tests done prior to these two tests, and never have my free testosterone levels fluctuated by more than 10-15%. I attribute this increase in testosterone to mainly the CC Protocol, with the 1000 mg of cholesterol and 2 grams of cistanche daily working synergistically to raise my testosterone levels.
If you’re interested in testing your free testosterone levels, or other important health markers like vitamin D, Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio, and food sensitivities, Everlywell testing kits are such a fantastic resource to utilize. Their at home testing kits are inexpensive, easy to use, an accurate.
During this experiment I regained strength I had previously acquired in the past on major compound lifts, but at a lower, leaner body-weight. From the start of the CC protocol to the end the following strength changes occurred:
Day 2 - 315# 2x10
Day 7 - 405# 3x3
Day 11 - 335# 3x10
Day 15 - 425# 5x3
Day 18 - 355# 4x10
Day 23 - 435# 3x3
Day 25 - 375# 3x10
Day 31 - 455# 4x3, 1x2
1RM: 420 lbs to 482 lbs (15% increase)
Day 4 - 345# 1x1, 225# 3x10
Day 8 - 315# 4x3
Day 10 - 275# 3x10
Day 14 - 335# 5x3
Day 17 - 295# 3x10
Day 21 - 355# 4x3, 365# 1x3
Day 24 - 315# 3x10
Day 30 - 375# 4x3, 385# 1x3
1RM: 345 lbs to 408 lbs (16% increase)
Day 7 - 155# 1x7, 1x6
Day 10 - 135# (paused) 5x8
Day 14 - 175# 2x5
Day 17 - 155# (paused) 5x8
Day 21 - 175# 5x5
Day 24 - 160# (paused) 4x8
Day 30 - 185# 3x5
Day 33 - 135# 3x15
1RM: 186 lbs to 208 lbs (12% increase)
Note - 1RM beginning and end values were calculated using a 1RM calculator. The italicized values were the two I used for each lift.
It’s important to again reiterate that technically I had hit these strength numbers prior in my lifting career. The big difference is how effortless the linear progression over those 35 days carried me back to within 5% of my prior all-time best levels of strength, all while much leaner, weighting less, and at a rate much much faster than I’ve ever experienced muscle/CNS memory before. To attribute these strength gains purely to muscle/CNS memory would be a disservice, and I believe the CC Protocol contributed to at least 50% of the strength increases I experienced in this short time frame.
I relied on my DXA scans to give me better data on how my body composition changed during the CC Protocol, but I did happen to take some pictures around the start and stop of this experiment.
These pictures are not taken under similar conditions such as time of day, equivalent caloric intake, lighting, etc, but overall I think the addition of 6.5 lbs of body-weight is obvious. You see the thickness I built in my chest, shoulders, arms, and even forearms. Abs are leaner in the before pic, but just slightly. I did gain some fat during this month long experiment (2.3 lbs). Beard hair grew in thicker too. I’m hypothesizing that this is from my higher circulating testosterone levels, and some of the free testosterone aromatized into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is one of the primary agents responsible for driving facial hair growth, and also male pattern baldness. This provides great visual anecdotal evidence to support the Everlywell test results. After a couple more cycles of the CC Protocol my beard might be fully grown in, naturally.
After completing the CC Protocol and having reviewed the data, I am confident in stating that the combination of cholesterol and cistanche, along with the other variables I outlined, is an effective protocol for building muscle and increasing strength, all while keeping body fat gains to a minimum. I experienced no side effects, minor or major, during this experiment, and it appears to be safe*.
If you decide to run the CC Protocol yourself, please consult a medical professional first. If you decide to run the CC Protocol, be sure to gather as many data points as possible, ideally a DXA scan and a hormone panel at the beginning and end. The more positive data collected, the more popular the CC Protocol becomes, and more people will experience the positive health benefits. There is a very large group of people out there that do not believe ANY natural testosterone boosters exist, and this article is a strong piece of evidence proving that to be untrue. With limited science and little industry standards/regulation on natural testosterone boosters, many men and women turn to steroids to achieve desirable body composition and strength changes. Natural, much milder in their effect testosterone boosters have the promise of being a safer, healthier alternative, but this can only be proven true with more information.
Currently this experiment is N=1, and the higher that number the stronger the data. In fact at the time of writing this article, I’m running the CC Protocol again, except this time I’m not taking DXA and testosterone data that lines up exactly with the start and stop of the CC Protocol. Having run it before, I’m confident in it’s effect on my body, and I’m already seeing progress on my second run through.
I will be running future experiments on other possible testosterone boosters and health enhancers such as tongkat ali, turkesterone, red light therapy, and more, so subscribe to Wild Free Organic and follow @stefanburnswellness to stay up to date on my latest testosterone boosting experiments.
*Note - Cistanche has been used safely at larger dosages (5-10 grams daily) for longer periods of time in Chinese Medicine for 1000’s of years, and dietary cholesterol has been shown to have little to no impact on blood cholesterol levels in most individuals. Consult with your medical professional before starting the CC Protocol.
Stefan Burns is the creator and main author of Wild Free Organic. A swimmer in high school, soon afterwards he discovered a passion for the health, wellness, and fitness fields. Stefan is a jack of all trades, expertly knowing how to use all the different wellness “tools” available to radically and permanently transform one’s health, from fasting and sauna usage to calisthenics and powerlifting.