Thursday, March 10, 2011

Maximizing anabolic hormones during training by Jerry Brainum

Few would argue that testosterone helps to build muscle. Proof of this exists throughout the existing medical literature. One study, for example, showed that when a drug that blocks the effects of testosterone were provided to young men involved in a weight-training program, the men immediately stopped making any gains in muscular size and strength. A more obvious effect of testosterone is evident in athletic performance, and in the appearance of competitive bodybuilders who use large doses of various anabolic steroid drugs, all of which are based on testosterone. One question that arises: can you build a significant amount of muscle without using anabolic steroids and other drugs? The answer to that question is admittedly ambiguous. While you can significantly increase the size and strength of muscles without resorting to drugs, the likelihood of achieving the look shown by most professional bodybuilders is beyond of the capability of the large majority of people who eschew anabolic drug usage.

But there is no getting around the fact that testosterone is still required to develop muscle. The main reason for this is that testosterone promotes muscle protein synthesis, which is the root mechanism in promoting gains in muscular size and strength. Men past 40 often notice that it’s far more difficult to both build and maintain muscle size. A primary reason for this is that testosterone levels begin a gradual nosedive starting around age 40. But there are other factors behind this loss of muscle size and strength with age. If the cause was only testosterone, simply using a bunch of anabolic steroids should be able to make a 60-year-old as muscular and as strong as a 25-year-old, but that just doesn’t happen. Other factors beyond the realm of testosterone come into play, such as the loss of type-2 fast twitch muscle fibers with age. This is significant because these are the muscle fibers most amenable to gains in size and strength. Taking oodles of anabolic steroids will have no effect whatsoever on restoring these fibers, although if taken in time, testosterone therapy will probably delay considerably the age-related loss of these fibers, especially if combined with regular weight-training.

A more controversial anabolic hormone is growth hormone. Similarly to testosterone, GH levels gradually decline, at an average rate of 14% per decade, starting around age 40. Until recently, the drop in GH with age was considered a primary reason for the changes in body composition common with aging, such as a loss of lean mass and a gain in bodyfat. But it turns out that while GH levels are important, they aren’t as critical to maintaining muscle mass as is testosterone. On the other hand, studies with older people who lack both GH and testosterone show that providing both hormones produces far more pronounced effects on muscle strength and bodyfat loss than when providing either hormone separately. The true player in promoting muscle gains is insulinlike growth factor-1 (IGF-1) produced in muscle as a result of exercise. IGF-1 is also produced in the liver as a result of stimulation by GH. But the systemic IGF-1 that results has little or no effect in promoting muscle gains, although it does impart other benefits, such as preservation of heart and brain cells with age. An important consideration here is that promoting testosterone release in the body also promotes the release of intramuscular IGF-1, and it’s this combination that provides the real anabolic effects of exercise. To be complete,however, you also must include insulin, since much of the loss of muscle with age is caused by a loss of muscle insulin insensitivity, which increases the catabolic effects, or breakdown of muscle with age.

All three anabolic hormones can be controlled with exercise. Simply working various muscles will increase insulin sensitivity. Training with minimal rest periods between sets (one minute or less) maximizes the output of GH, and secondarily muscle IGF-1. For boosting testosterone levels, you need to rest longer between sets. For this purpose, resting 90 seconds to two minutes between sets will boost testosterone levels, while not resting enough between sets negates any testosterone boost. The big debate among researchers is whether this exercise-induced hormonal boost actually does anything to help build muscle and strength. This is controversial because all anabolic hormones return to resting levels within 30 minutes after a workout. But even that problem can be overcome by ingesting essential amino acids before and after training. Another aspect to consider is that if you control cortisol levels during and after training, you will likely derive more benefit from the increased flow of anabolic hormones. Cortisol levels during training can be significantly lowered by sipping a drink containing 6% carbs. But this technique is only effective if your workout exceeds one hour.

Should you consider using any of the reputed “testosterone-boosting” supplements on the market?  I’ve never seen any scientific proof that any of these supplements do anything more than enrich the bank accounts of those selling them. If you do consider buying them, ask the company selling them for proof that these supplements significantly boost testosterone levels, and more importantly, increase muscle size and strength. Don’t accept anecdotal evidence, such as “we have many satisfied customers who say they have built tons of muscle using our supplement.” Such “evidence” is worthless, since users are highly susceptible to the placebo effect. In short, they make gains not because of the supplement, but because of their expectation to make such gains. And never, ever, listen to testimonials provided about supplements on various Internet forums  or on Facebook. These are often left by shills from the company selling the products, and are totally worthless.

You’re probably wondering who the old woman in the photo is. She’s an Indonesian woman who claims to be 157 years old. She’s never used GH or testosterone. And that stuff she’s eating isn’t whey protein.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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The Applied Ergogenics blog is a collection of articles written and published by Jerry Brainum over the past 20 years. These articles have appeared in Muscle and Fitness, Ironman, and other magazines. Many of the posts on the blog are original articles, having appeared here for the first time. For Jerry’s most recent articles, which are far more in depth than anything that appears on this blog site, please subscribe to his Applied Metabolics Newsletter, at This newsletter, which is more correctly referred to as a monthly e-book, since its average length is 35 to 40 pages, contains the latest findings about nutrition, exercise science, fat-loss, anti-aging, ergogenic aids, food supplements, and other topics. For 33 cents a day you get the benefit of Jerry’s 53 years of writing and intense study of all matters pertaining to fitness,health, bodybuilding, and disease prevention.


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