Infertility has long been thought of as a female issue.
However, men also experience infertility issues, most commonly related to low sperm count, motility, and form.
Fortunately, you can optimize the health of your sperm to increase fertility by making changes to your diet and with the use of certain supplements.
This article explains what to eat and avoid to improve sperm quality, provides a 3-day sample men’s fertility diet, and discusses which supplements may be helpful for fertility.
Causes of infertility in men
Infertility is an inability to conceive after one year of unprotected, frequent sex.
It affects about 15% of couples in the United States and at least 180 million worldwide (1).
Male infertility may be caused by various factors related to hormones, genetics, and reproductive system abnormalities that cause sperm transport issues or negatively affect sperm quality.
Sperm quality refers to sperms’ ability to accomplish fertilization and includes measures like sperm count, motility, and morphology or shape.
Conditions that can cause or contribute to male infertility include (1):
- celiac disease
- cystic fibrosis
- liver failure
- renal failure
- sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- testosterone supplementation
- thyroid disorders
The use of certain medications or recreational drugs like cannabis, chronic exposure to environmental toxins, and heavy alcohol use also contribute to male fertility problems.
The treatment for male infertility depends on the underlying cause, but making changes to your diet can help optimize sperm quality to increase fertility.
The impact of diet on male fertility
Sperm are living cells that need nutrients to support their growth, development, and motility.
Without enough of the right nutrients — or too many of the wrong nutrients — sperm quality and fertility decrease.
Indeed, several studies have shown that healthy dietary patterns like the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) or the Mediterranean diet have been associated with improved sperm quality and higher pregnancy rates (3, 4, 5, 6).
- vitamin C
- vitamin A
- omega-3 fatty acids
In one study, men who followed a more Western-pattern diet were 2.6 times more likely to have lower sperm concentration, count, and motility compared with men who more closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, seafood, nuts, seeds, and legumes (12).
Foods to boost male fertility
Fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, and lean proteins are rich in nutrients that support sperm health and increase fertility.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols that support sperm health.
Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals that can damage sperm DNA or decrease their motility and concentration.
Indeed, men who reported consuming low amounts of vegetables had low sperm counts whereas those who reported high amounts of vegetable intakes had better sperm concentrations, count, and motility (13, 14).
Fruits and vegetables, along with legumes like beans and peas, are also rich in fiber, which may help reduce estrogen levels, which when high, decreases male fertility.
Fatty fish is rich in two types of essential omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Replacing processed meats with fish has a particularly beneficial impact on sperm quality since processed meats are rich in saturated fats and other ingredients that have a detrimental effect on sperm quality (16).
Although fatty fish tend to be the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, many plant-based foods like walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and canola oil also contain omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolic acid, which the body converts into EPA and DHA.
These foods are also excellent sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant that has beneficial effects on sperm quality, especially motility.
Animal products like meats and dairy can be rich in saturated fats, which can decrease sperm quality (17).
Although the saturated fat that comes from milk and minimally processed meats is less of a concern than the saturated fat from processed meats, cakes, biscuits, and dairy desserts like ice cream, it’s still best to include mostly lean proteins in your diet to optimize sperm health.
Good sources of lean proteins include:
- low-fat Greek yogurt
- low-fat cottage cheese
- skinless white-meat poultry
- pork loins and chops
- sirloin or round steaks
- beans, peas, and lentils
Foods to limit
You should limit processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and alcohol as they have been shown to decrease sperm quality and fertility.
Processed meats are rich in endocrine disruptors that have estrogen-like effects.
They are also rich in saturated fats which tend to be pro-inflammatory and negatively affect sperm quality.
To this point, high intakes of saturated fats have been associated with decreased sperm concentrations and motility (15).
In one study, men who reported consuming high amounts of processed meats had fewer normal-shaped sperm compared with those who consumed low amounts (16).
Examples of processed meats to limit include:
- beef jerky
- corned beef
- deli meats
- hot dogs
Sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, flavored milk, sports drinks, and sweetened teas and coffees that contain added sugars have been associated with decreased sperm motility.
One study showed that men who consumed about two cups of a sugar-sweetened beverage had sperm motility that was 9.8% lower than men who consumed less than half a cup of a sugar-sweetened beverage (18).
In another study men who drank more than one can of regular soda per day had significantly lower sperm counts and concentrations than men who consumed no regular soda (19).
Sugar-sweetened beverages may decrease sperm motility — and potentially other measures of sperm quality — by increasing insulin resistance and oxidative stress.
As part of a healthy diet, you should also limit your intake of refined grains and other types of foods with added sugars, such as:
- white bread, rice, and pasta
- many breakfast cereal
- certain condiments like barbeque sauce and dressings
- desserts and pastries
- candy and other sweets
A review of 15 studies found that daily alcohol intake showed a detrimental effect on sperm volume and shape (22).
The same review found that occasional alcohol intake did not significantly affect sperm quality, but it may be best to abstain from alcohol completely to increase fertility as other studies have demonstrated lower sperm concentrations in moderate drinkers (23).
3-day sample men’s fertility diet
Here’s a 3-day sample men’s fertility diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients to optimize sperm health:
- Breakfast: spinach omelet and oatmeal topped with berries
- Lunch: chicken and snap pea stir-fry
- Snack: Greek yogurt, walnuts, and orange slices
- Dinner: salmon filet, quinoa, and sauteed brussels sprouts
- Breakfast: cottage cheese on whole-grain toast with tomato and cucumber slices
- Lunch: chicken burrito bowl
- Snack: apple slices with peanut butter
- Dinner: pork tenderloin, brown rice, and sauteed sliced carrots
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt parfait
- Lunch: grilled chicken wrap with a side salad
- Snack: hard-boiled eggs, bell pepper slices, and cherry tomatoes
- Dinner: vegetable and shrimp pasta (whole grain)
Supplements to enhance male fertility
Many supplements have been shown to enhance male fertility by improving various measures of sperm quality.
While supplements aren’t necessarily needed, they can be helpful since it can be difficult to get enough of the nutrients you need to optimize sperm health from your diet alone.
Antioxidants are molecules that decrease oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between reactive oxygen species (ROS) and antioxidants.
Some oxidative stress is normal but too much can decrease sperm count and motility and change their shape.
In fact, up to 80% of infertile men have increased ROS in their sperm (24).
As such, supplementing with antioxidants can help combat the generation of excessive oxidative stress to increase fertility.
- vitamin E
- vitamin C
- coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
- folic acid
However, certain antioxidants like zinc and folic acid haven’t been shown to protect sperm against DNA damage, which is associated with reduced fertility (26).
In either case, taking a supplement that contains a blend of antioxidants may be a relatively inexpensive way to optimize sperm health and increase fertility.
Fertility Blend from Daily Wellness is one reputable product that may be worth trying.
Fish oil is rich in essential fatty acids, which have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
One review found that daily supplementation with 1-3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids improved at least one marker of sperm quality in three out of four randomized controlled trials (27).
The men in the studies demonstrated improvements in sperm quality after three months but greater improvements were found after eight months of supplementation.
If you choose to try fish oil, make sure you choose a product from a reputable brand like Wiley’s Finest, which you find on Amazon.
Creatine is the most effective sports supplement available for increasing muscle strength and size and improving exercise recovery (28).
Beyond these benefits, creatine may also improve sperm quality by enhancing the fertilizing capacity of sperm (29).
Test tube and animal studies have shown that creatine enhances the ability of sperm to reach, penetrate and fertilize an egg (29).
Although no study has assessed the potential fertility-enhancing effects of creatine in humans, men who report supplementing with creatine in one study were found to have higher sperm concentrations and count than non-users of creatine (29).
So even if you don’t supplement with creatine for its performance-enhancing effects, it may be worth trying for its potential to increase fertility.
Look for creatine products that contain creatine as Creapure — a high-quality form of creatine — like this product from Thorne.
The bottom line
Male fertility issues may be caused by various factors that cause sperm transport issues or negatively affect sperm quality.
Fortunately, making changes to your diet can enhance sperm quality and therefore fertility.
To optimize sperm quality, you should increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, and lean proteins while decreasing your intake or avoiding processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and alcohol.
Taking certain supplements like antioxidant blends, fish oil, and creatine have also been shown to enhance sperm quality and boost fertility.