Last week in part one of How Important Are Exercise-Induced Hormones we looked at numerous studies that all pointed to exercise-induced hormones not having a role in muscle hypertrophy or strength. The evidence was pretty clear that growth hormone was not anabolic and did not have an effect on protein synthesis. Today I want to talk about what is more important than exercised-induced hormones as well as what these hormones may do for us.
I briefly mentioned last week what was much more important than exercise-induced hormones, and that is your overall hormone levels that matter the most. Not just what’s happening during our training. Our overall hormone profile is the difference between the genetically gifted people and the rest of the world. The people who can pile on slabs of muscle way faster than others doing the same things likely have very high levels of these hormones.
To show how important your hormonal profile is, there was a study done that showed in 10 weeks people who took 600 mg of testosterone but did NO weight training whatsoever gained on average 7 pounds of muscle. To put that into perspective there was a group who did weight training naturally and they gained on averaged 4 pounds of muscle during that time. So the group who got additional hormones without doing a thing gained almost twice as much muscle as the natural group who did train. Think hormones make a difference? If you were wondering there was a group that trained and got the testosterone boost, and they gained on average 13 pounds of muscle. (5)
I’m in no way advocating steroid use as I think the bad far outweighs the good, but it’s easy to see how one could get trapped into thinking its use was the way to go, and it certainly shows just how important our hormonal profile is when it comes to results. If you have high levels of testosterone you are going to be able to add muscle way faster than those who don’t. Okay, I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know I’m sure, but I’m trying to make a point. While you can’t change your genetics, you can certainly improve your hormone levels through things like exercise, diet, sleep, managing stress and overall living a healthy life. The results we get from eating and the growth that comes from hormones go hand in hand. It’s not just the food that makes you grow.
As you can see I’m not disputing hormones play a huge role in body composition. It’s no coincidence that men have on average 10 times more testosterone than women. Growth hormone and IGF-1 play a key role in the regulation of body size especially in children, although their role in adults is not quite as clear. Certainly individuals with a growth hormone deficiency have increased body fat and decreased fat-free mass, as well as decreased muscle strength. Since these factors can all be helped by synthetic growth hormone, but changes in myofibre cross-sectional area are not. Researchers say this would suggest growth hormone does not affect muscle mass in adults. (6) What growth hormone has been shown to do is play a large role in mobilizing body fat for fuel during training, as well as aid in recovery. While it may not be associated with muscle mass, there is evidence for anti-catabolic activity of growth hormone and IGF-1. (7, 8)
As we’ve seen overall growth hormone does not show any proven benefits for muscle mass in healthy individuals with normal growth hormone levels, but it does have a role in the maintenance of muscle mass and is a strong hormone for recovery as well as using fat for fuel. It certainly increases the rate of muscle regeneration and helps the healing process via tissue repair. I’m not saying exercise-induced hormones are completely unimportant, but I do feel they have been greatly overemphasized.
After reviewing all this research I’d say if growth hormone had any major role it would be in aiding fat loss as well as helping repair broken down muscle. Its 188 amino acids on different chains and sequences help greatly with tissue repair. It’s my opinion that when it comes to pre, intra and post-workout nutrition it’s more important during a fat loss stage than it is in a muscle-building stage in terms of hormonal responses and actual results. Then again, you want to avoid insulin responses most of the time during a cutting phase anyway (helping keep growth hormone levels high) so should that be any different around training if fat loss is your goal? I’d say the fairly obvious answer would be no.
When it comes to building, I don’t see a need to worry about lowering levels of your hormones, pre, intra or post-workout. It’s training over a long period of time that increases muscle mass, not hormones released via training. You may remember from Round Table 4 that I used to think avoiding carbs pre-workout to keep testosterone levels high for a workout was a good idea, regardless if you were building or cutting. This information certainly changes my opinion on that. In fact more research I recently found has actually shown that amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion pre-workout increases protein synthesis far greater than when taken post-workout. Even more good news for the pre-workout mix was its effects were shown to last for an hour post-workout. (9) This also makes me wonder about those post-workout carbs, which is a topic I plan to research with greater detail soon.
This is what I have concluded from the research I found. There are a lot of factors out there and each person could conclude things a number of different ways. The point I’m trying to make is spending too much time trying to figure out how to increase your hormonal responses via exercise will probably end up with you running in circles and potentially cause “paralysis by analysis.” The increases in cortisol you could get from stressing about it could offset any minimal gains you could get from having the “perfect” hormonal response during training. There are more important factors in those hormones, and I believe you are better off concentrating on raising your overall hormone levels rather than worrying about what they are at from a workout.
I say do what you have to do to get in a great workout. From there rest, eat well, stay calm and watch your muscles grow.