By George Redmon, Ph.D., ND
The hormones that this report will focus on are: cortisol, growth hormone, insulin and testosterone.
Although cortisol is classified as a catabolic (muscle-wasting) hormone, it doesn’t get the press it deserves. Ironically, the focus is placed on hormones like growth hormone, insulin growth factor (IGF) and testosterone, all considered to enhance the body’s growth potential. However, exercise-induced elevation of cortisol production causes muscle tissue breakdown to increase by 5 percent to 20 percent. Additionally, cortisol production is primed to rise with increased physical and mental stress. Conversely, this is one way to determine if you are overtraining by having your blood levels of testosterone to cortisol ratio measured. When it remains elevated, cortisol becomes very destructive, hence the basis of its reference to as the death hormone. For instance, scientists now know that elevated levels of cortisol accelerate aging, tissue and memory destruction because it attacks the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that controls the endocrine system as well as the adrenal glands, where cortisol production takes place.
The Cortisol Flushing Plan
Because of your intense workouts, cortisol can be a reoccurring problem if not recognized as a serious continuous catabolic event. Other potential problems that cortisol can cause are:
• Decreased utilization of glucose and insulin sensitivity.
• Reduced utilization of amino acids for protein formation.
• Redistribution of body fat and storage.
• Reduction of circulating free testosterone levels.
• Sodium retention and potassium excretion, causing bloating.
Furthermore, cortisol reduces growth hormone production by increasing release of somatostatin, the hormone that inhibits growth hormone release, as well as inhibiting IGF-1 (insulin growth factor) expression, which regulates growth hormone manufacture.
Managing Cortisol’s Release
Dr. Robert S. Elliot, director of the Institute of Stress Medicine in Denver, insists that you can disrupt the destructive nature of cortisol substantially by making a few adjustments. Some of those adjustments are:
• Consuming protein and carbs following workouts. This puts the brakes on cortisol’s release.
• Maintaining a steady flow and a concise amount of calories to match your present size and performance level. A 50 percent reduction in caloric intake can inadvertently signal the body to increase cortisol secretion by as much as 38 percent.
Growth Hormone (HGH)
HGH is manufactured in the pituitary gland and is referred to as the youth hormone. It builds muscle and strength, improves fitness, assists in regulating how the body uses food for energy, increases protein, lipid (fat) and carbohydrate metabolism, stimulates cell reproduction and regeneration and the production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), encourages lipolysis (release of fat from lipid cells), accelerates protein synthesis, initiates the growth of all internal organs except the brain, plays a role in maintaining homeostasis, (normal internal conditions), promotes healing, and a host of other biological functions.
HGH: The Biological Key to Growth
From this viewpoint and groundbreaking studies conducted by the late Yale Medical School endocrinologist Dr. Daniel Rudman, sports medicine researchers have also sought to understand the anabolic nature of HGH and how best to manipulate its action. What they have found is that its activity and release is more profound right after a workout and right before sleep.
Correspondingly, sleep deprivation suppresses GH release, according to Dr. Walter Thompson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sports Medicine, Science and Technology at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Equally, Dr. Eve Van Cauter, a professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago studying subjects with no history of sleep problems, used audio stimulation to disturb the sleep of participants to disrupt deep sleep phases by 90 minutes. This resulted in a 25 percent reduction in the production of HGH. Additionally, elevated blood sugar, poor dietary habits and lack of exercise contribute to a decline in HGH output. On the other hand, resistance-training routines are considered to be one of the most effective ways to boost HGH production.
The Insulin Blood Sugar Connection
Insulin is considered to be an anabolic hormone, but when it is overly secreted and/or remains in excessive amounts in the blood, it blocks the production of HGH. Likewise, consuming an enormous amount of simple carbohydrates (sugar) as compared to protein and fiber-based foods, your HGH output is probably low. However, sports nutrition researchers have discovered that consuming a protein-carbohydrate meal two hours prior to working out and another meal immediately afterward elicited a significant increase in growth hormone. This protocol has a positive impact on blood sugar stabilization.
The other factor here as reported by researchers at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) is a large decline in growth hormone (up to 24%) secretion when only carbohydrates were consumed before workouts. Additionally, these researchers also discovered that when food was consumed within a two-hour window, rather than before workouts, that those partially digested food stuffs, as well as elevation of insulin within the system decreased growth hormone production by 54 percent.
Insulin is secreted by the pancreas and governs the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fats. It’s considered to be one of the body’s most anabolic hormones that increases muscle development due to its ability to promote glucose utilization, inhibit breakdown of muscle tissue and encourage cell volumizing. Increasing the cell’s volumizing capacity centers on infusing a larger proportion of nutrients into muscle cells, which accelerates the creation of new muscle. This occurs due to insulin-signaling molecules imbedded within receptors on muscle cells. Once insulin enters the cell, these receptors transmit instructions to the muscle to open wide, literally sucking glucose, amino acids, creatine and other nutrients into the muscles like a vacuum cleaner. Hence, combining protein and carbs with leucine and/or other amino acids manipulates insulin’s release at post-workout, which facilitates muscle repair and recovery.
Additionally, this post-workout spike of insulin also boosts vascularity, causing blood vessels to relax and dilate. More vascularity equates to more blood vessels, more oxygen being delivered to muscles, and less anaerobic metabolism taking place, meaning reduced lactic acid production as well as acceleration of its disposal. This will help minimize bouts of muscle catabolism. Insulin also disrupts cortisol production by accelerating cortisol’s exit from the body.
Too Much Insulin Works in Reverse
When insulin is secreted unnecessarily or remains elevated, it sends signals to store more fat. Over time, elevated insulin levels can eat away at blood vessels and result in organ dysfunction, as seen in diabetic patients. This is why manipulating or balancing spikes in its release at the right time is important. This can be accomplished by eating six to eight smaller meals versus two or three larger ones. Consumption of low-glycemic foods (fruits, vegetables, whole and minimally processed grains and legumes) as well as high-fiber foods helps stabilize insulin’s secretion.
Testosterone is responsible for the development of male physical characteristics, muscle mass, strength, fat distribution and sexual drive. After testosterone is secreted into the bloodstream, 98 percent is bound to proteins called albumin and globulin. The resulting testosterone known as free testosterone is considered to be active and carries out its anabolic commands or capabilities. When levels of testosterone drop below normal, the brain signals the testes to make more.
Boosting Testosterone Naturally
Generally, testosterone levels tend to be about 30 percent higher in the mornings than compared to evenings, which physiologically suggests that regular sleep patterns (8 to 10 hours) enhance nighttime secretion of testosterone. This irregularity has long been verified, which parallels the notion that hormones rise and fall via a pre-programmed cyclic loop. In this case, during sleep, controlled bursts of luteinizing hormone, the hormone that stimulates the testes in men and the ovaries in women, jumpstarts testosterone production.
Conversely, like growth hormone when normal sleep patterns are interrupted, so are circulating levels of testosterone upon awakening. In fact, in a recent study appearing in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers at the Rambam Medical Center in Israel concluded the better men sleep, the higher their testosterone level rises. Contrarily, researchers at the National University of Singapore reported that one extra hour of sleep a night beyond normal sleep patterns can increase testosterone production by 12 percent. On the other hand, researchers have found that surgery foods and snacks before bedtime inhibits nighttime production of testosterone. Other testosterone killers are elevated blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides and uric acid levels.
Keep On Pumping
Researchers now know that pumping iron in short concise bursts of powerlifts naturally causes the body to stimulate testosterone release. How much of a hormonal response you get depends on the amount of muscle you use, as well as the training intensity and volume. The key here truly depends on the concept of resistance training, meaning your ability to handle a heavier weight capacity during short reps, to attain a substantial bump of testosterone.
To achieve large gains in lean muscle mass with significant body fat decreases, many hormonal events need to occur in the body. Exercise intensity with consistent bouts of resistance training, paralleled with some sound nutritional and supplemental choices designed to illicit the appropriate hormone response can and will jumpstart and shift your anabolic potential into overdrive. However, how adept you become at manipulating those hormones will to a large degree determine how well this process goes.
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