Ever wonder why some people are naturally bigger and more muscular than others? A recent study has found that increased levels of the anabolic hormones testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) can actually lead to more muscle growth.

The conversation has been going on in the bodybuilding world for quite some time now, and it seems like the evidence is starting to emerge. Based on some of the research I have seen, I would say that the answer to this question is a definite yes. If you remember back to my post, “Testosterone Hormone: The Keys to Muscle Gain?”, I discussed the Anabolic Hormone Response Test (AHT) which is a fairly new test that measures the levels of testosterone and other anabolic hormones.

After reading about the various types of exercise and how they work in conjunction with each other, we look at the role of hormones in muscle growth and muscle loss. We discuss the role of testosterone, growth hormone, IGF-1, and cortisol in building muscle and losing weight, as well as the role of insulin in regulating the balance between these hormones. We also talk about the factors that determine the extent of muscle loss and when muscle growth occurs, and we conclude with a look at a few key studies in the field.

Does an increase in anabolic hormones throughout the body result in greater muscular development or strength?

Mr. Stallone, welcome to Sydney. Is there anything you want to say?”

“Nope.”

“How about these 48 bottles of growth hormone?” says the narrator.

Awkward!

Yes, when visiting Australia to promote his new Rocky film, Customs authorities confiscated 48 vials of the prohibited human growth hormone from Mr. Stallone in 2007. He was subsequently found guilty of bringing a prohibited growth hormone into Australia and fined more than £5,000 for his actions.

It makes for interesting news, but do you know what growth hormone is or what it does?

Hormone of growth is a member of the anabolic (building-up) hormone family. Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) is a protein that is similar to insulin (IGF-1) and testosterone are also included in this category. These hormones are all necessary for muscular development, and they all rise when you lift weights.

Hormones that promote anabolism

Growth hormone

Growth hormone, as its name implies, is a hormone that stimulates growth, particularly in youngsters.

If you don’t get enough GH as you grow up, you’ll be shorter (this is what happens in dwarfism). If you have too much as a kid (gigantism), you will grow to be very tall – over 7 feet (2.13 meters) tall! If you use too much alcohol as an adult, you will develop acromegaly.

Growth hormone is produced and secreted by your pituitary gland, and it has a variety of effects on a variety of cells (bone, immune cells, skeletal muscle skeletal, fat cells and liver cells).

Growth hormone has a strong influence on metabolic processes involved in the use and storage of resources, such as glucose metabolism and glycogen formation, amino acid metabolism and protein synthesis, and fatty acid metabolism and fat breakdown. It allows us to make better use of the available gasoline.

It also improves the synthesis of structural components like collagen (which aids cartilage formation) and bone development.

Another essential function of growth hormone for those of us who exercise is that it stimulates insulin-like growth factors (IGFs). In the next part, I’ll go through IGFs in more detail.

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Hey, this sounds fantastic!” when you read the list of all the things growth hormone can accomplish. What’s the best way to obtain more?

Well, there are two methods to encourage your body to produce more: sleep and exercise (more on exercise later).

If you didn’t already have enough reasons to need more sleep, consider this: approximately an hour after you fall asleep at night, you receive a large burst of growth hormone, followed by smaller spurts every four hours.

As a result, the more sleep you receive, the more growth hormone you produce. Goodnight, and goodnight, and goodnight, and goodnight, and goodnight,

Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1)

There are many other insulin-like growth factors (IGFs), but IGF-1 is the most well-known and well-understood (the number 1 is just because it was first discovered).

When growth hormone knocks on the door of the liver, IGF-1 comes out to play, but it takes 8-29 hours for IGF-1 to be ready.

When you exercise, the quantity of IGF-1 in your blood increases immediately quickly, indicating that it is coming from somewhere else as well. Fat and muscle are two of those locations. IGF-1 sets in motion a series of processes that cause your muscles to produce more protein.

Testosterone

Finally, a hormone from your adolescence (and you thought sex ed was a waste of time). To refresh your recollection, testosterone is the primary hormone that gives males their masculine characteristics. Women do have testosterone, although it is far less than males.

Testosterone may assist trigger tissue development by stimulating growth hormone production and increasing the presence of neurotransmitters at the fiber site. Testosterone, as a steroid hormone, may bind with nuclear receptors on DNA, causing protein synthesis.

Anabolic hormones and exercise

Resistance training (weight lifting) with a substantial amount of muscle mass, moderate-high intensity weights, high volume, and brief pauses between sets results in significant increases in growth hormone, IGF-1, and testosterone – at least for half an hour following the workout.

So, does this imply that exercise transforms us into anabolic hormonal soup on wheels? Continue reading.

Question for investigation

This week’s review is a little contentious since it contradicts popular belief and several well-regarded research by some big cheeses.

The goal of this week’s research is to see whether resistance exercise-induced increases in growth hormone, IGF-1, and testosterone improve muscular strength and hypertrophy. If you want to be shocked at the end, disregard the title as usual.

DW West, NA Burd, JE Tang, DR Moore, AW Staples, AM Holwerda, SK Baker, SM Phillips Increases in purportedly anabolic hormones do not improve training-induced muscle hypertrophy or elbow flexor strength when combined with resistance exercise. 2010 Jan;108(1):60-7. J Appl Physiol. 2010 Jan;108(1):60-7.

Methods

Participants

The participants in this research were:

  • a total of 12 healthy guys
  • Having a 21-year-old average age
  • With a BMI of 23.1 on average (normal)
  • On average, they weighed 74.1 kg (163.4 lb) and stood 1.78 m (5′ 10”) tall.

Workouts

The researchers devised a highly particular exercise regimen to achieve their goal, which may seem a little strange to you.

The exercises were divided into two days: day one was for arms alone, while day two was for arms and legs. Yes, there are two distinct days, one for each arm.

Why? The researchers sought to see whether raising blood levels of growth hormone, IGF-1, and testosterone increased the size of the arm that was being exercised that day even more than simply training.

The arm that was worked out immediately before the legs were exercised would be exposed to more growth hormone, IGF-1, and testosterone than the arm that was worked out without legs.

When hormone levels are taken into consideration, the two exercise days may be described as follows:

Day 1. Arm training: low blood growth hormone, IGF-1 & testosterone levels (low hormone day or LH)

Day 2. Arm + leg training curl: high blood growth hormone, IGF-1 & testosterone levels (high hormone day or HH)

The individuals in the research trained for 15 weeks, with minor variations in how frequently they exercised.

Weeks 1-6: the participants exercised three times each week: MondayHH, TuesdayLH, FridayHH, MondayLH, ThursdayHH, FridayLH.

I’d want to draw attention to the fact that in the first six weeks, two of the three low hormone days occurred immediately after the high hormone day, with no day in between. This may be an issue since growth hormone can take up to a day to increase IGF-1.

Weeks 7-15: Participants worked out four times per week (each arm twice): MondayHH, TuesdayLH, ThursdayHH, and FridayLH.

The same issue exists here: low hormone sessions occur the day after a high hormone session.

Isolated arm curls with 3 to 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions with a weight that was 95 percent of what they could lift ten times (95 percent of 10 RM – rep max) were the arm workouts.

Leg training consisted of five sets of ten repetitions of leg press, three sets of twelve reps of leg extensions, and three sets of twelve reps of leg curl supersets (no rest between exercises) at 90 percent of 10RM.

Rest 2 minutes between arm sets and 1 minute between leg sets between sets.

Pre & post workout nutrition

The participants in this trial were given 18 grams of whey protein to consume immediately before exercise and another 18 grams of whey 90 minutes following the final round of arm exercises.

Results

After the exercises, variations in growth hormone, IGF-1, and testosterone were charted in Figure 1 (below). Black circles and squares represent high hormone exercises, whereas white circles and squares represent low hormone workouts.

Figure 1 hormones and strength

Figure 1: Blood levels of growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and testosterone before and after exercise.

All hormones show a peak in the high hormone group (the black circles & squares), but the low hormone group (the white circles & squares) don’t have a peak — all the hormones stay about the same.

Oh, and the circles and squares are before and after the 15 weeks of training, and you can see that there was no change as a result of the program.

This indicates that the researchers achieved what they desired, namely one exercise with high hormones and one with low hormones, and that the issues I mentioned before about growth hormone “spilling over” to the following day were not present.

Does more growth hormone, IGF-1 & testosterone mean more strength & hypertrophy?

There was no difference in arm strength or hypertrophy between the arm that was exercised with the legs (and therefore was exposed to high hormone levels) and the arm that was trained alone (exposed to low hormone levels).

After 15 weeks, both strength and hypertrophy improved, but there was no difference between arms.

Conclusion

Squatting immediately before performing arm curls will boost the amount of growth hormone, IGF-1, and testosterone in your body, but it won’t help you build larger or stronger firearms than if you performed the squats and arm curls on separate days.

Here are a few things to consider about why additional anabolic hormones didn’t seem to result in increased muscle growth or strength.

  1. It’s the short term (30 minutes) whole body increases in growth hormone, IGF-1 and testosterone that made no difference in muscle mass & strength gains.
  2. When you just work out your arms, the researchers believe (and I agree) that anabolic hormones are still there, but they remain in the arm. Anabolic hormones are compared locally vs across the body. Hypertrophy and strength may be triggered by local anabolic hormones alone.
  3. The researchers aren’t deluded; they understand that long-term increases in these hormones promote muscle growth and hypertrophy. Anabolic hormones cause muscular growth and strength to increase over time.

This is the second study on anabolic hormones that these researchers have published. The first experiment had a similar setup, but the researchers wanted to see whether there was a change in the amount of muscle protein produced (manufactured) by the muscle. They discovered no change when there were more anabolic hormones in the blood (whole body) for a short period, exactly as they did in this research.

In conclusion

Nobody can deny that anabolic hormones are essential for growing muscular growth and strength. (Last but not least, Sly.)

However, it does not seem that transient whole-body increases in anabolic hormones (up to 30 minutes after exercise) result in increased muscle development or strength.

References

To see the information sources mentioned in this article, go here.

Sjogaard G, Hansen S, Kvorning T, Kjaer M. The significance of physiologically increased hormone levels in the impact of short-term strength training on human skeletal muscle. 347–354 in Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2001.

Acute hormonal reactions to two distinct fatiguing heavy-resistance regimens in male athletes, Hakkinen K, Pakarinen A. 1993, J Appl Physiol 74: 882–887

Marchitelli L, Gordon SE, Harman E, Dziados JE, Mello R, Frykman P, McCurry D, Fleck SJ. Kraemer WJ, Marchitelli L, Gordon SE, Harman E, Dziados JE, Mello R, Frykman P, McCurry D, Fleck SJ. Hormonal and growth factor responses to high-intensity resistance training. 1990, J Appl Physiol 69: 1442–1450

Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training. Sports Med. 2005;35(4):339-61. Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Review.

WJ Kraemer, JL Vingren, BA Spiering. Responses of the endocrine system to resistance training. Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, 3rd edition, edited by TR Baechle and RW Earle, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2008, pp. 41–64.

Richard Pflanzer and Rodney Rhoades. The Pituitary Hormones, Chapter 13 of Human Physiology, 3rd Edition. 1996, page 309 New York: Saunders College Publishing.

West DW, Kujbida GW, Moore D, Atherton PJ, Burd NA, Padzik JP, Delisio M, Tang JE, Parise G, Rennie MJ, Baker SK, Phillips SM, West DW, Kujbida GW, Moore D, Atherton PJ, Burd NA, Padzik JP, Delisio M, Tang JE, Parise G, Rennie MJ, Baker SK, Phillips Increases in putative anabolic hormones produced by resistance exercise do not improve muscle protein synthesis or intracellular signaling in young men. 2009, J Physiol 587: 5239–5247

Science and practice of strength training, 2nd edition, p 57-59, 183-184. Zatsiorsky VM, Kraemer WJ.

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From the outside, it might seem like it’s just a matter of releasing the right hormones to get more muscle. What’s the problem? Well, the body has a complicated system of hormones that control a lot of our body’s functions, including our muscle growth. The problem is, the system needs to be in balance for the body’s functions to work properly.. Read more about anabolic hormones function and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

What hormone increases muscle?

Testosterone.

Does GH increase muscle mass?

GH is a hormone that is secreted by the pituitary gland and it stimulates the growth of muscle mass.

Does IGF-1 increase muscle mass?

IGF-1 is a hormone that is naturally produced in the body, and it has been shown to increase muscle mass.

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