Recent studies have uncovered more and more ways to boost hormones naturally and unlock hidden muscle building potential. So if you’re one of those looking to bulk up, try making the following changes in the kitchen and in the gym to get more from your muscle.
The basic idea to gaining muscle is to increase overall calorie intake in addition to an appropriate resistance-training program, but from healthy sources so as to avoid a pure fat gain without muscle. But whilst a good weight training routine and a sound nutrition plan can form the foundations of increasing muscle size and improving athletic performance, experts believe naturally boosting your hormones could hold the key to truly breaking training plateaus and accelerating muscle gains.
Perhaps the most known of all the muscle building hormones is testosterone. Made in the male testes and female ovaries (and a small amount in the adrenal gland) it is the principle male sex hormone and is responsible for the development of male sexual characters like physical strength, muscle mass, body shape, body hair, deep voice and sexual function. Experts have long known its muscle building potential, in fact in a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine Shalender Bhasin, M.D et al (1996) emphatically stated ‘increased testosterone levels, especially when combined with strength training, have been shown to increase muscle size and strength.’ So how is it possible to raise levels naturally?
One of the most effective ways is to monitor your in take of dietary fat since a sufficient intake of essential fatty acids has long been associated with optimal testosterone levels and low-fat diets criticized for doing the exact opposite. In fact, in study conducted at the Department of Clinical Chemistry in Helsinki, E. Hamalainen et al (2002) concluded ‘results indicate that, in men, a decrease in dietary fat content… reduces the serum concentrations of testosterone and free testosterone.’ Ideally fat should make up 20% of your diet, coming from sources like flaxseed oil, peanut butter or avocados. But if searching every food label for fat content seems like too much hard work, typically 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil with your breakfast followed by a good intake of the naturally occurring fats throughout the day from other foods sources should cover your essential fatty acid needs.
Secondly, don’t feel bad for ordering a takeaway or having a chocolate desert once a week. Research shows short periods of overeating can help to increase muscle-building hormones in the body. Known as calorie cycling, if you eat 2500 calories five days out of the week, perhaps try eating between 3000 to 3500 calories on Saturday and Sunday. As well as inducing what’s known as an ‘anabolic response’ it will also raise your metabolism and prevent it from adjusting to the lower calorific levels you consumed during the week i.e. your body won’t go into starvation mode.
Aside from your diet, there are certain things you can do in the gym to directly increase testosterone levels. Firstly, and generally speaking, endurance training can decrease testosterone levels whilst resistance training can increase testosterone levels. At the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University, Muncie, it was found that ‘strength training can induce testosterone release, regardless of age.’ Typically, experts recommend including heavy compound movements like squat, bench and deadlift in your workouts, with 90 seconds or more rest between sets, lifting at 85% of your maximum weight and for a gym session lasting no more than 60 minutes. In contrast, male endurance athletes were found to have lower testosterone and higher cortisol levels (a ‘stress hormone’ responsible for breaking down muscle.) So essentially prolonged endurance exercises (more than 45 minutes) like running or cycling can break down muscle (lowering testosterone and elevating cortisol) whilst weight training has been shown to increase muscle mass (by elevating testosterone and growth hormone levels.)
Whilst this shouldn’t be an issue for most it is worth mentioning. Studies show that carrying excess body fat can elevate your oestrogen levels, and that may cause your testosterone levels to sink. According to Joseph Zmuda, an epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh ‘2 or 3 extra pounds won’t cause this hormonal shift; it really occurs once you’re 30 % over your ideal body weight.’
There are a lot of supplements on the market that say they can boost testosterone, but often studies conducted are on castrated rats, elderly men, post-menopausal women, or men suffering from low testosterone. One supplement that was shown to increase testosterone in healthy men was the amino acid D-Aspartic Acid. In a study published in the journal Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, it was found that ‘a daily 3-gram dose of D-Aspartic Acid increased circulating testosterone concentration by 42%.’
Another hormone with equally impressive muscle building properties as testosterone is insulin, a peptide hormone that promotes the use of glucose, protein synthesis and regulates the metabolism of sugar. Needed to transport amino acids and glucose to the muscles after a workout, insulin essentially super-saturates the cells with nutrients so your muscles can repair and grow bigger following a heavy gym session.
Post Workout Shake
Research shows to bring about the desired boost in insulin which will in turn shuttle nutrients to the muscle’s after a workout so the body can start to repair and grow, you need an effectively dosed post workout shake. Ideal insulin inducing foods are high glycaemic index carbohydrates, so to form the basis of your shake experts suggest consuming between 45-75 grams of 100+ glycaemic index carbohydrates like dextrose or maltodextrin. This should then be coupled with 30-40 grams of a quick releasing protein such as whey concentrate or isolate to ensure your muscles receive all the nutrients they need after a workout.
The last of the main muscle building hormones is called somatotropic hormone, more commonly known as growth hormone. Secreted by a tiny grape-sized organ called the anterior pituitary gland, this hormone plays a huge role in building muscle. In fact, without it, all the exercise in the world would barely change your physique according to Ed Burke, Ph.D., director of the Exercise Science Program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
“Not getting enough sleep regularly can lower the amount of growth hormone your body produces daily,” says Walter Thompson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sports Medicine, Science and Technology at Georgia State University in Atlanta. So it’s essential to have at least 8 hours per night for optimal growth hormone release.
Researchers have discovered taking the amino acid glycine immediately before you work out can mildly stimulate the release of growth hormone, but only when taken as a supplement. Trying to achieve the same effect by consuming glycine-rich foods such as poultry or milk prior to exercise only inhibits growth hormone by causing you to exercise on a full stomach, plus the glycine doesn’t get absorbed in the same way. In a study conducted by Kasai, K et al (1980) it was stated ‘data suggest that glycine might play an important role in the release of growth hormone.’
- Shalender Bhasin, M.D., Thomas W. Storer, Ph.D., Nancy Berman, Ph.D., Carlos Callegari, M.D., Brenda Clevenger, B.A., Jeffrey Phillips, M.D., Thomas J. Bunnell, B.A., Ray Tricker, Ph.D., Aida Shirazi, R.Ph., and Richard Casaburi, Ph.D., M.D (1996) ‘The Effects of Supraphysiologic Doses of Testosterone on Muscle Size and Strength in Normal Men’ The New England Journal of Medicine 335:1-7
- E. Hamalainen, H. Adlercreutz, P. Puska and P. Pietinen (1984) ‘Diet and serum sex hormones in healthy men’ Journal of steroid biochemistry Volume 20, Issue 1, Pages 459- 464
- Hackney AC, Fahrner CL, Gulledge TP (1998) ‘Basal reproductive hormonal profiles are altered in endurance trained men’ J Sports Med Phys Fitness pages 138- 141
- B.W. Craig, R. Brown and J. Everhart (1989) ‘Effects of progressive resistance training on growth hormone and testosterone levels in young and elderly subjects’ Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, Volume 49, page 159-169
- Kasai, K. Suzuki, H. Nakamura, T. Shiina, H. Shimoda, Sl (1980) ‘Glycine stimulated growth hormone release in man’ Acta Endocrinlogy
- McPherron AC, Lawler AM, Lee SJ: Regulation of skeletal muscle mass in mice by a new TGF-beta superfamily member. Nature 1997, 387(6628):83-90.164.
- McPherron AC, Lee SJ: Double muscling in cattle due to mutations in the myostatin gene. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1997, 94(23):12457-61.
- Grobet L, Martin LJ, Poncelet D, Pirottin D, Brouwers B, Riquet J, Schoeberlein A, Dunner S, Menissier F, Massabanda J, Fries R, Hanset R, Georges M: A deletion in the bovine myostatin gene causes the double muscled phenotype in cattle. Nat Genet 1997, 17(1):71-4.
- Kambadur R, Sharma M, Smith TP, Bass JJ: Mutations in myostatin (GDF8) in double-muscled Belgian Blue and Piedmontese cattle. Genome Res 1997, 7(9):910-6.
- Ivey FM, Roth SM, Ferrell RE, Tracy BL, Lemmer JT, Hurlbut DE, Martel GF, Siegel EL, Fozard JL, Jeffrey Metter E, Fleg JL, Hurley BF: Effects of age, gender, and myostatin genotype on the hypertrophic response to heavy resistance strength training. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2000, 55(11): M641-8.
- Carlson CJ, Booth FW, Gordon SE: Skeletal muscle myostatin mRNA expression is fiber-type specific and increases during hindlimb unloading. Am J Physiol 1999, 277(2 Pt 2):R601-6.
- Willoughby DS: Effects of an alleged myostatin-binding supplement and heavy resistance training on serum myostatin, muscle strength and mass, and body composition. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2004,
- 32. 14(4):461-72.
- Saremi A, Gharakhanloo R, Sharghi S, Gharaati MR, Larijani B, Omidfar K:Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on serum myostatin and GASP-1. Mol Cell Endocrinol 2009.
- Wheeler KB, Garleb KA: Gamma oryzanol-plant sterol supplementation: metabolic, endocrine, and physiologic effects. Int J Sport Nutr 1991,1(2):170-7.
- Fry AC, Bonner E, Lewis DL, Johnson RL, Stone MH, Kraemer WJ: The effects of gamma-oryzanol supplementation during resistance exercise training. Int J Sport Nutr 1997, 7(4):318-29.
- Mauras N, Lima J, Patel D, Rini A, di Salle E, Kwok A, Lippe B: Pharmacokinetics and dose finding of a potent aromatase inhibitor, aromasin (exemestane), in young males. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2003,
- Rohle D, Wilborn C, Taylor L, Mulligan C, Kreider R, Willoughby D: Effects of eight weeks of an alleged aromatase inhibiting nutritional supplement 6-OXO (androst-4-ene-3,6,17-trione) on serum hormone profiles and clinical safety markers in resistance-trained, eugonadal males. J Int Soc
- Willoughby DS, Wilborn C, Taylor L, Campbell W: Eight weeks of aromatase inhibition using the nutritional supplement Novedex XT: effects in young, eugonadal men. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2007, 17(1):92-108.
- Antonio J, Uelmen J, Rodriguez R, Earnest C: The effects of Tribulus terrestris on body composition and exercise performance in resistancetrained males. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2000, 10(2):208-15.
- Brown GA, Vukovich MD, Martini ER, Kohut ML, Franke WD, Jackson DA, King DS: Effects of androstenedione-herbal supplementation on serum sex hormone concentrations in 30- to 59-year-old men. Int J Vitam Nutr Res 2001, 71(5):293-301.
- Rogerson S, Riches CJ, Jennings C, Weatherby RP, Meir RA, Marshall-Gradisnik SM: The effect of five weeks of Tribulus terrestris supplementation on muscle strength and body composition during
- Moraes GH, Rogler JC, et al. Effects of D-amino acids on growth rate and kidney D-amino acid oxidase in chicks. Poult Sci, 1987 Jan;66(1):98-102.
- Friedman M. Formation, nutritional value, and safety of D-amino acids. Adv Exp Med Biol, 1991;289:447-
- Friedman M. Chemistry, nutrition, and microbiology of D-amino acids. J Agric Food Chem, 1999 Sep;47(9):3457-79.
- Albanese AA, Davis VI, et al. The utilization of d-amino acids by man; tryptophan and acetyltryptophan. J Biol Chem, 1948 Jan;172(1):39-44.