Build Muscle by Manipulating Hormones
By Paul Rogers, About.com
Several hormones play a critical role in exercise in general and strength training in particular. Testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) provide strength and muscle growth stimulus; cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine and glucagon control access to fat and glucose fuels by manipulating the release of stored fuel when needed in addition to other important functions; and insulin provides the storage impetus for the fuels derived from the food we eat. Getting these hormones to work so that you can maximize muscle and strength is one of the secrets of natural weight training. In this article I’ll concentrate on how you can get the most from the muscle building hormones we all share.
Testosterone is for the most part a male hormone produced by the testicles, although a smaller amount is produced by the adrenal glands. This hormone is responsible for the development of male physical characteristics, muscle mass, strength, fat distribution and sexual drive. Smaller amounts of testosterone are also produced by women in the ovaries and the adrenal glands. Testosterone production is stimulated by hormones such as leuteinizing hormone further up the chain starting at the hypothalamus in the brain.
To be more definitive, testosterone is an androgenic, anabolic, steroid hormone. ‘Androgenic’ means pertaining to male characteristics and ‘anabolic’ means building up or synthesizing body tissue. ‘Catabolic’ means breaking down tissue. Another important hormone, cortisol, is a catabolic hormone. A ‘steroid’ in broadest terms is a class of similarly structured chemicals produced by the body.
Testosterone is the number one hormone for bodybuilding and weight training, especially for the development of strength and muscle although this is not always the primary goal of weight training.
Growth Hormone and IGF-1
Human growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland and stimulates the liver to produce IGF-1 which is ultimately responsible for the growth promoting and anabolic effects of growth hormone. Like testosterone, this production declines as we age and is probably responsible for at least some of the decline in muscle mass seen in older people. These hormones seem to have an inverse relation to body fat : the less you produce the more body fat you accumulate. . . so there’s the first call to action.
Enhancing growth hormone and IGF-1 delivery may be possible with nutritional and exercise manipulations. GH and IGF-1, testosterone and cortisol are all increased with intensity of weight training and high-intensity sprint cycling or running.
Insulin is the storage hormone. The pancreas produces insulin in response to food. When you consume food, enzymes break it down into constituent glucose, fatty acids and amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Insulin responds to carbohydrate and protein by storing glucose in muscle and liver, fat in fat cells and by the utilizing amino acids from food protein in body building and repair. It’s incorrect to think of insulin as only responding to carbohydrate foods because some protein foods such as fish and beef elicit a very strong insulin response in their own right. In diabetes, insulin is either insufficiently produced or is available yet fails to store glucose efficiently. This is called insulin resistance.
Combining pre- and post-exercise foods or sports drinks containing protein and carbohydrate elicits a very strong insulin response in the refueling period after an exercise session. The value of this is that along with the glucose storage and amino acids synthesis in new protein, you get a powerful anabolic, muscle building response. Insulin is an important anabolic hormone. Manipulating insulin is one of the main tools described here for bodybuilding. See further down for nutritional approaches.
Cortisol is a very important hormone that’s for sure. It is produced by the adrenal glands and is often called the ‘stress hormone’ because it responds to stress, either physical or emotional. Cortisol helps control inflammation, makes glucose available by breaking down muscle to amino acids, suppresses the immune system and is likely to enhance fat storage at the expense of protein and muscle. Cortisol rises when blood glucose gets low : in the early morning and during exercise, especially prolonged endurance exercise. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. In manufactured form it’s called hydrocortisone or cortisone.
Epinephrine (Trade Name Adrenaline)
We all know it as adrenaline but epinephrine is considered the ‘fight and flight’ hormone because it acts quickly on cue to constrict arteries and raise blood pressure and dilate the airways to enable your heart to beat faster and you to breathe more efficiently – all of which are important if you suddenly need to run away from an attacking lion! As well, epinephrine elicits the muscles and liver to give up stored glucose (glycogen) so that you have instant energy to fuel that survival run. In this sense epinephrine is a catabolic hormone like cortisol.
Glucagon could be considered a mirror hormone of insulin. When you fast or eat a low-carb diet glucagon will be more active than insulin because of low blood glucose. Glucagon tells the liver to give up its glucose stores to the bloodstream and also to break down those amino acids from muscle that cortisol sent to the liver to make more glucose. If insulin is an anabolic hormone then glucagon is a catabolic hormone.
What You Can do to Enhance Muscle-Building Hormones Naturally
* Pre- and Post-exercise nutrition.
* Macronutrient composition. Eating a diet that’s not too low in fat and not too high in protein may enhance testosterone production according to a recent study (Sallinen 2004). A diet that is in the range of 20-25% fat and 20-25% protein should be in the range for this. Fat should be mostly unsaturated fat – nuts, avocados, olive oil, and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils rather than saturated fat in meat and cheese. Lean protein is still best. The ultra low-fat Pritikin or Ornish diets or the high-protein low-carb type diets may not be the best choice.
* Creatine and zinc are potentially important components of an anabolic diet. Creatine builds bulk and re-supplies the phosphocreatine energy system which is important for those fast heavy lifts and zinc is necessary for testosterone production.
* Workout Strategy. Heavy lifting and high-intensity workouts raise testosterone, growth hormone and IGF-1 but cortisol goes along with them during intense exercise. This applies to sprints and other high-intensity programs as well as weights. Planning your nutrition is likely to be helpful but for training programs I can’t do better than to quote the review by Kramer and Ratamess in Sports Med. 2005 when it comes to suggesting a strategy in the gym.
"Protocols high in volume, moderate to high in intensity, using short rest intervals and stressing a large muscle mass, tend to produce the greatest acute hormonal elevations (e.g. testosterone, GH and the catabolic hormone cortisol) compared with low-volume, high-intensity protocols using long rest intervals. Other anabolic hormones such as insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) are critical to skeletal muscle growth."
* Other tips avoid lots of alcohol, have a good sleep pattern, separate aerobic training from your weight training.
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