- What Are Hormones
- What Is HGH?
- How Is HGH Production Regulated
- What Is HGH Mechanism Of Action?
- Do Levels Decline As We Age
- How Does HGH Relate To The Body’s Other Anabolic Hormones?
- How To Increase HGH Naturally
- Resistance Training
- Night Time
- Supplements That Increase HGH
- What is Synthetic HGH
- Synthetic HGH & Bodybuilding
- Conclusion on what is HGH
Back in the day when I started bodybuilding, the only information I had access to were the Weider mags, with all of his “Weider principles” front and center. As I became more familiar with bodybuilding, I realized there was a lot of conflicting information. Not only did you have a conflict between Weider and guys like Vince Gironda or Robert Kennedy, but you also had a lot of conflict among the bodybuilders themselves. The whole Arnold vs. Mentzer thing was big in the mags around this time. So there was a lot of confusion when it came to even the simplest of concepts.
The talk could barely get past sets and reps, it never turned to things like hormonal manipulation. Suffice it to say, there wasn’t any information that I would call educational. In this article, I want to provide some of the information I wish I had when I started. We will be discussing HGH, or Human Growth Hormone, what it is, and how it can help you reach your goals.
What Are Hormones
Before we go any further, let’s briefly define hormones. I believe that knowledge is power and that’s especially true when it comes to bodybuilding. Therefore, this is an important part of understanding the key anabolic hormones the body produces. A hormone can be defined as a “molecule that is secreted into the extracellular fluid, circulates in the bloodstream and carries or communicates regulatory messages throughout the body”. (1) They are considered chemical messengers and are part of the Endocrine System, which is a group of glands that secrete hormones. As messengers, they carry specific messages to target receptors. By signaling these target receptors, hormones generate a specific action. There are three main chemical classes of hormones: steroid hormones, protein (or polypeptide) hormones, and amine hormones. (1).
What Is HGH?
Now that we know what hormones are, let’s look at HGH or Human Growth Hormone. Also commonly called GH, or Growth Hormone, it’s a protein hormone that consists of 191 amino acids that are produced and secreted by somatotropic cells within the anterior pituitary gland.
How Is HGH Production Regulated
The production of HGH is regulated through several complex feedback mechanisms in response to sleep, nutrition, stress, exercise, and growth hormone itself. Simply put, as HGH is released in response to these various factors, it secrets in a pulsating type of manner that varies hourly.
In general, HGH is secreted every 3-5 hours with up to 70% of the day’s concentration being released during the night, primarily from 11pm to about 2am. (2, 3, 4)
What Is HGH Mechanism Of Action?
- The primary function of HGH is to stimulate overall growth, such as the developmental growth of bones.
- This also includes muscle growth.
- Additionally, HGH promotes fat loss and skin regeneration.
- It’s also involved in the metabolism of the macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats).
HGH stimulates growth directly by attaching to target cells to generate a response. HGH stimulates growth indirectly through the liver. It binds to receptors on the surface of liver cells which stimulates them to release insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1; also known as somatomedin). IGF-1 is a protein hormone that’s similar in structure to insulin.
IGF-1 increases the rate of amino acid uptake by muscle fibers, cartilage cells, and other target cells. These effects take place quickly after HGH is released, and are more pronounced after a meal when the bloodstream has higher levels of glucose and amino acids. HGH promotes growth via IGF-1 and by using available nutrients, HGH stimulates protein synthesis, and cell growth. (5)
Do Levels Decline As We Age
In general, HGH levels will increase during childhood, reach their highest levels during puberty, and begin to decrease as we begin to get older.
How Does HGH Relate To The Body’s Other Anabolic Hormones?
HGH, testosterone, and insulin are considered the body’s primary anabolic hormones.
HGH appears to increase levels of testosterone in the body, and it seems to have similar effects when we work out. Both of these hormones have a direct effect on protein synthesis
The effects of insulin are more diet-related and can act as a double-edged sword. The ingestion of too many carbs during the day, especially simple carbs, leads to multiple insulin spikes. This in turn leads to excess carbs being stored as fat. On the other hand, well-timed ingestion of simple carbs can lead to nutrients being shuttled into the muscle cells. This in turn supports recovery and muscle growth.
Like insulin, HGH release can be diet influenced. Primarily, a high-carb diet can reduce HGH production. A diet that’s higher in protein with moderate carbs and fat is the best choice for maximum HGH stimulation.
How To Increase HGH Naturally
From a training perspective, if you want to optimize HGH release, you should build your routine around compound exercises. This is because they stress the largest areas of the body, and work multiple muscles at the same time. Additionally, the use of short rest periods between sets will ramp up the intensity. The ideal rest period between sets seems to vary somewhat based on available research: 60-120 seconds between sets, with a greater amount of GH release at the 60-second mark. Shorter rest periods will mean adjusting the weight so you can hit your goal number of sets and reps.
Levels of GH begin to rise after 20 minutes of training, so it makes sense to plan on spending around an hour or so training. It’s important to remember not to train for too long. Get in, do your sets, and get out. With short rest periods, you should be able to get done quickly, there’s no reason to spend hours in the gym. What about set and rep totals? Using a typical 3 or 4 day split routine, it appears that 20-25 total sets, 3-5 sets per exercise with reps in the 8-12 range are best for maximum hormonal stimulation. (6, 7, 8)
When performing cardio, try to include a morning session on an empty stomach as HGH will be naturally high at this time. Protein intake is an important component to maintaining an anabolic state and won’t negatively impact HGH levels, so it’s OK to consume a small protein shake before cardio.
As we have seen above, we know that as much as 70% of the daily pulses, or secretions, of HGH happen at night, specifically, from 11pm to 2am. Additionally, research has suggested that poor sleep negatively affects HGH release. (9, 10) It appears that HGH secretions are related to the body’s sleep/wake cycles. Therefore, as suggested in the section on supplements, melatonin should be considered to help the body achieve an optimal state of sleep. Melatonin supports the body’s sleep/wake cycle and promotes quality sleep. Studies have suggested that it also promotes HGH release, making it a useful addition to your supplement program. (11)
Additionally, some other things can be done to promote a good night’s sleep. Maintaining a consistent schedule of quality sleep is important. This means going to bed at the same time every night and avoiding interruptions as much as possible. Also, keeping your room dark can help you fall asleep and stay asleep more easily. Finally, don’t be afraid to take a nap during the day as your schedule allows.
Supplements That Increase HGH
Natural GH boosters are probably among the most scrutinized supplements on the market. I can remember working for a major supplement chain back in the 90s, and the whole concept of GH and its potential effects ended up becoming a target of the FDA. Ultimately, in terms of the claims being made, GH boosters were among the first supplements to be regulated. This means that ads and product labels could only say certain things. This was the beginning of the regulatory stranglehold the government began to put on the claims that could be made by supplement manufacturers and retail stores. That being said, several natural supplements may positively affect GH release.
- Melatonin – As suggested above, this is listed here for its positive effects on sleep quality. Melatonin has a dual effect on HGH: by improving the quality of sleep, melatonin indirectly supports HGH release, and as studies have shown, it can also directly impact HGH release. That makes melatonin one of the more effective supplement solutions for Gh stimulation.
- GABA – Similarly to melatonin, GABA may indirectly stimulate HGH by helping the body relax and sleep better.
- Arginine/Ornithine – Back in the day, this was the combo that ultimately got the supplement industry in trouble. Primarily, it was the claims being made by these products that caught the eye of the FDA. Fast forward to 2020, and while arginine has earned a reputation of stimulating nitric oxide production, it’s still thought that arginine by itself can stimulate HGH release. Ornithine has also been shown in some studies to stimulate HGH release, but it appears to take maximum dosages to elicit a response. (12)
- Mucuna Pruriens – Sometimes also known as velvet bean, this supplement is thought to play a role in stimulating HGH production. The neurotransmitter dopamine has been shown to increase the production of HGH in the body. L-dopa is a precursor for the neurotransmitter dopamine and as it happens, mucuna pruriens is a good source of L-dopa.
What is Synthetic HGH
As a form of hormone therapy, synthetic GH is available as a prescription medication. Extracted growth hormone from the pituitary gland was used for this purpose since the late 1950s until the late 1980s. At that time, it was replaced by recombinant GH. Since the late 80s, it’s been produced by recombinant DNA technology. This simply means that it’s produced synthetically in a lab and that it’s identical to real HGH. Although synthetic growth hormone was created to treat children who suffer from GH deficiency, it’s now also used as an anti-aging therapy.
Synthetic HGH & Bodybuilding
Although it’s a banned substance according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), GH is abused by some bodybuilders and athletes. It’s thought that some bodybuilders first started using growth hormone as early as the 1970s. This is because it was around this time that some competitors started showing more size and more defined physiques. It’s now thought that most pros have the substance in their supplement/drug regimen.
One of the potential side effects of synthetic HGH is the often maligned “GH gut”. This is a case where a pro bodybuilder looks pregnant, even in contest condition. It’s a weird look because you have a guy that might look great, he’s big and defined, yet he has a huge belly. What makes this even more odd-looking is that these competitors will have clear six-pack abs, yet it sits on top of a huge protruding belly. Of course, this look is often dismissed as diet-related – “they’re eating too many carbohydrates” or some similar nonsense. Let’s be real, you’d have to eat a lot of carbs to look like that! The consensus is that it’s caused by excessive drug use
Conclusion on what is HGH
As you can see, HGH is one of the body’s primary natural anabolic hormones, and as such, can be manipulated to help promote muscle growth and fat loss. The use of specific training techniques can play a big role in stimulating maximum HGH release. Also, putting effort into your sleep habits and the use of certain supplements can optimize your efforts to get the most out of natural hormonal manipulation.
As a drug, HGH can offer several benefits, both as an anti-aging protocol and as a bodybuilding protocol. For any serious bodybuilder, if we can make gains by using a certain compound, we will use it. The same can be said for using different training, diet, and recovery techniques. Future articles will give you the details you need to get the most out of this powerfully anabolic substance. Until then, stay hardcore!
- Biology by Campbell and Reece, p.975, 977, & 932
- Normal Physiology of Growth Hormone and Insulin-Like Growth Factors in Childhood , Cecillia Camacho-Hubner, MD, Dept of Endocrinology, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London EC1A 7BE, UK
- Fundamentals of Anatomy and Physiology, p 604
- Hormonal Responses and Adaptations to Resistance Exercise and Training, Prof. William J. Kraemer, Nicholas A. Ratamess
- Growth hormone responses during intermittent weight lifting exercise in men, W. P. Vanhelder, M. W. Radomski, R. C. Goode
- Effects Of Very Short Rest Periods On Hormonal Responses To Resistance Exercise In Men by Mohammad Ghaderi