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Tissue growth, protein synthesis, fat loss, a retardation of the aging process, heightened immune system functioning, improved muscle strength, aggression, lowered stress hormone circulation and faster recovery all equate to shirt-shredding gains in pure muscle size; and all are proportionally related to and contingent upon the amount of GH and testosterone we produce.
From the moment you first wrapped your hands around the cold hard steel of an Olympic barbell, you have had it drilled into your head: to get big you need to lift heavy, eat plenty of protein and carbohydrate-rich foods and achieve enough rest with which to grow. True though these precepts may be, there are two factors that will, above all else, dictate how big and strong you can become: Growth Hormone (GH) and testosterone release. In fact, an underproduction of either may curtail your bodybuilding progress to a greater extent than might any other factor. Once we have begun to stimulate muscle growth through hypertrophy-focused training, protein-centric eating and optimal rest and recovery we still must fully translate these positive actions into concrete muscle-building gains. This is where GH and testosterone make their appearance.
Why is it that even though you and your buddy eat the same foods, train the same way and get the same amount of rest he is blessed with a great deal more muscle mass?
Though many factors may be responsible for how and why you look the way you do (choosing the wrong parents for one), it is predominantly the amount of GH (growth hormone) that is released into your system that will ultimately dictate how physically large your bones and muscles (and organs) eventually become. Not enough of it and you might consider becoming a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory extra (here your dwarfism will serve you well); too much and you may find yourself applying to become a WWE wrestler following in the formidable footsteps of Andre the Giant who had gigantism, an excessive GH secretion in young children which results in abnormal height, and acromegaly, the excessive GH secretion in adults, resulting in the outgrowth of extremities, abnormalities in jaw structure and, often, cardiac disease.
Released from the somatotroph cells within the lateral wings of the brain’s anterior pituitary gland, GH, a protein-based, 191-amino acid polypeptide, controls many bodily processes – from fat loss to bone growth to muscle building.
GH is a multifunctional hormone critical for human survival
Released at different stages throughout our lives, GH principally promotes bone growth among children and teens. It also plays an important role in overall health and wellness.
What it has become primarily associated with, however, is, as mentioned, muscle/bone growth and metabolic action, the latter, in many cases, influencing the former. Through its interaction with IGF-1 (Insulin-Like Growth Factor, yet another anabolic – or building – hormone, which is secreted for the most part from the liver when stimulated through GH release), GH stimulates muscle growth by promoting the proliferation and differentiation of myoblasts (embryonic progenitor cells which stimulate muscle cell production) and, metabolically, by increasing protein synthesis, amino acid uptake and the reduced oxidation of proteins (less wastage means more muscle). IGF-1 also stimulates bone growth by encouraging the proliferation of chondrocytes (cartilage cells).
Two further metabolic effects of GH – fat and carbohydrate metabolism – respectively promote fat loss and stable blood sugar levels. By provoking triglyceride degradation and oxidation in fat cells, GH helps eliminate unwanted fat mass; by suppressing insulin’s ability to promote glucose uptake in peripheral tissues and by enhancing its synthesis in the liver, GH helps to maintain blood sugar within normal ranges, thus helping to offset diabetes risk and fat accumulation. Because of its combined beneficial effects, GH has become a foundational feature of many anti-aging programs (and pro bodybuilding mass-building regimes); it is currently used by many non-medically dependant individuals to restore health and vitality.
Deep sleep is the most important method: GH is more rapidly produced and released during sleep than at any other time, provided we achieve between 7-9 hours’ quality slumber per night, and preferably retire before 10.00pm; based on the body’s circadian rhythms, GH release is greater during the earlier hours of the night. Short naps taken during the day can additionally enhance GH production and release.
Caloric restriction can also boost GH levels: when excessive carbohydrates are eaten, the body releases high amounts of insulin, which, along with encouraging weight gain, can restrict GH secretion. Life extension studies have also revealed statistically significant data to show that fasting can enhance GH secretion.
Vigorous exercise can further encourage GH release, but to be most effective it must be performed at high intensity over a shorter duration (30-40 minutes) and employ multi-joint compound movements such as squats and bench presses (where more muscle fibers are engaged). However, studies have also shown that aerobic exercise can also stimulate GH secretion.
Exercise is a potent physiological stimulus for GH secretion, and both aerobic and resistance exercise result in significant, acute increases in GH secretion
Researchers further discovered that “in young women, chronic aerobic training at an intensity greater than the lactate threshold resulted in a 2-fold increase in 24-hour GH release.” It appears that to elicit the greatest effect on GH release, aerobic exercise must be of a higher intensity and repeated several times over a 24-hour period – at over 80 percent of maximal heart rate for 25 minutes, twice a day, would therefore work best.
Before even considering synthetic GH use to elevate performance and size/strength gains, use the above-mentioned methods to maximize your own natural production. A good diet, plenty of rest, combined with regular, hard bouts of training and a full spectrum supplement program will all assist natural GH production.
Unlike GH, testosterone is one hormone that is predominantly secreted by males to, in general terms, facilitate hallmarks of masculinity such as facial hair, a deeper voice, physical strength, larger muscles, and aggression. As the principal male sex hormone, testosterone is produced in the testicles at a rate of 2.5-11 mg per day, while females manufacture over the same period a relatively scant 0.25 mg via the ovaries; for both sexes testosterone is also produced through the adrenal glands, with half of a women’s supply originating from this source.
With both its androgenic and anabolic effects, testosterone (derived from cholesterol and secreted from the pituitary gland via the release of Follicle Stimulating Hormone) controls a wide range of physiological functions; while the former will ensure the proper development of sex organs, just enough body hair to protect you from overheating while acting as insulation against colder temperatures, and a lowered pitch to allow us to speak with authority (all biologically important determinants for survival), the latter, the anabolic effects, are what really interest the red-blooded bodybuilder.
Who among those reading this article would not like to stimulate protein synthesis to become more muscular, obliterate fat cells to become leaner, enhance aggression to elevate determination and motivation, improve physical and mental performance, and encourage the rapid firing of motor nerves to promote greater strength gains? In other words: all of testosterone’s anabolic effects. If you answered yes, then it might be time to join an indoor badminton team. Most of us, however, would love more testosterone coursing through our veins.
While it is nice to know what testosterone is and how it exerts is muscle building effects, what those who aspire to bodybuilding success wish to learn, more than anything, is how they can personally produce their own natural production. Here’s how.
Whenever we encounter negative stress, our bodies release the destructive, decidedly non-anabolic hormone cortisol, which, in turn, drives testosterone levels down. Thus to boost testosterone production it is imperative that you control your stress levels
Yet another reason to increase you between-the-sheets cardio is increased testosterone production in response to sexual stimulation. It is even thought that testosterone levels will rapidly drop if sexual activity is abstained from for more than a week. Time to get busy.
In limiting the body’s ability to down-regulate estrogen (primary female sex hormones which, among other functions, promote fat storage) alcohol consumption can promote decreased testosterone levels (once man boobs begin to appear you know it’s time to quit the demon drink). A modern-day golden rule for mass building: when in training, stop all alcohol use.
Though it is advised to balance out cardio with weight training to promote GH release, for pure testosterone increases it is best to emphasize weights over endurance.
It is also thought that mass-building compound-movements are best for maximizing testosterone production as they overload the body systemically to target a greater number of muscle fibers.
Produced in more rapid fashion when the muscles are subjected to a higher volume of work over a shorter period, testosterone is better released in response to “quick burst” weight training sessions interspersed with longer rest periods. To this end, it is best to lift as much weight as can be handled for six to eight reps before resting between two to three minutes.
Along with a well-balanced diet encompassing the requisite 20, 35, 45 percent of fat, protein and carbohydrates respectively, there are certain nutrients that will enhance natural testosterone production. Zinc – found especially in oysters, red meat, chicken and turkey – is a major component for healthy sexual functioning and test production, while onions and garlic contain a chemical called allicin that also promotes a surge in this anabolic hormone. Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, collard greens, kale and brussel sprouts also boost testosterone; in fact, compared with beef, cabbage has roughly six times the zinc content per calories consumed. Still, red meat consumption is an excellent way to increase both saturated fat content and zinc to drive up testosterone levels; research shows that 30 to 40 percent of daily calories from fat will lead to testosterone increases, and men who demonstrate the highest testosterone readings often have higher saturated fat levels.
The fine balancing act which results in more testosterone could not be better illustrated by the necessity to eat more saturated fat while keeping body fat at low levels. It has been shown that once body fat levels exceed more than 30 percent of one’s total body mass, a hormonal shift occurs, which signals an increase in estrogen and a corresponding decline in testosterone. Not coincidently, alcohol consumption, increased stress levels, a poor diet and minimal training can all result in increased body fat, and lowered testosterone.
Optimizing testosterone production is quite possibly the most positive step we can take towards securing greater muscle mass and strength gains. The methods discussed above, combined with specifically targeted supplementation, have been a godsend for natural athletes wishing to flood their systems with this most coveted of anabolic hormones (the best testosterone booster on the market today is ALLMAX Nutrition’s TestoFX Loaded, which has been shown to increase bioavailable testosterone by 284%). Based on my research and experience, testosterone boosters, used in conjunction with a good diet and effective training program, do work well. Bottom line: testosterone is one essential muscle building component you simply cannot be without.