Many of us don’t realise the impact our hormones can have until we start to notice some differences in the way our bodies respond. It’s only then that we (may) stand up and take notice, especially if we’re struggling to build muscle.
A healthy hormone system enables us to stay in shape, carry out our daily tasks and everything in between. This includes our ability to gain muscle and hit our body goals.
It’s easy to focus all of your efforts on a combination of nutrition and training, after all, it seems like the most obvious factors to pay attention to. But this often means that hormones are overlooked when it comes to building muscle.
When in fact, several hormones play an important role in strength training, including testosterone, growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). This combination of hormones can stimulate muscle growth and strength building. But that’s not all.
Let’s take a closer look at whether your hormones are holding back your muscle gains.
What are the key hormones in bodybuilding?
Studies have shown that hormones and influence muscle growth and strength in different ways. While some specifically focus in on promoting muscle growth, others play a vital role in the way the body uses and stores glucose – supporting your training efforts.
As we touched upon above, testosterone (the make hormones produced predominantly in the testicles) is one of the key hormones for the development of muscle mass and strength, as well as common male characteristics, such as:
- Sex drive
- Fat distribution
- Hair growth
- Deepened voice
While women have a much smaller amount of testosterone in their bodies, to men, testosterone is pretty damn important. You may have already heard of testosterone referred to as an androgenic and anabolic steroid hormone, which refers both to male characteristics (androgenic) and the growth of body tissue (anabolic).
If you’re looking to build muscle and strength and feel like your efforts in the gym aren’t delivering, it could be due to your testosterone levels. As we get older, it is totally natural for our testosterone levels to gradually decrease. Yep, gradually. You shouldn’t experience a drop in your T levels overnight – if you do notice a significant change very quickly, it’s best to seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Also Read: How to burn fat and build muscle fast
The effects of anabolics have been sought after for some time now. For decades, bodybuilders have found help in potentially deadly anabolic steroids, which are designed to stimulate muscle growth. It comes as no surprise that any form of testosterone has been banned in competitive sports.
Growth hormone and IGF-1
IGF-1 is ultimately responsible for anabolic muscle growth – with its production stimulated by growth hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland. Much like testosterone, the production of growth hormone starts to naturally decline as we get older.
Both of these hormones play a key role in body fat, which means that if your body is producing less growth hormone and IGF-1, the more body fat you will accumulate.
It’s highly likely that you’ve heard about insulin before. This storage hormone is produced by the pancreas, as a response to the food you consume. When you eat, the food you consume is broken down into glucose, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Insulin stocks the stored form of glucose, known as glycogen, in muscles and your liver. It also enables amino acids to repair damaged tissues and build muscle mass. Since the production of insulin is largely influenced by exercise and diet (especially carbs and protein), these effects are considered anabolic.
Cortisol or “the stress hormone” as it is frequently referred to, is produced by the adrenal glands. When our body is physically, or emotionally under stress, its release is triggered. Both hydrocortisone and cortisone are the manufactured forms of cortisol. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, breaking down tissue.
As well as this, cortisol helps to control inflammation and make glucose available by breaking down muscle whenever your blood sugar is low.
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Glucagon works by pushing the liver to give up its glucose stores, which can be incredibly important, especially if you eat fast or follow a low-carb diet. If insulin is anabolic, then glucagon is catabolic.
But why are hormones so important?
As well as supporting your general health (and even your libido), hormones play a vital role in regulating your metabolism, the response that rules your energy, as well as processing the food you consume.
During a heavy session in the gym (and post-workout) your body is flooded by a range of different hormones – either anabolic (those that use energy) or catabolic (those that release it). However, the effects of these hormones only impact the muscles stimulated during your exercise.
For muscle growth, you need a higher amount of anabolic hormones than catabolic. These hormones include:
- Insulin-like growth factors (IGFs)
- Growth hormone (GH)
Can you enhance your hormones naturally?
Growth hormone, IGF-1, testosterone, and cortisol all respond to the intensity of weight training, which means that good nutrition and exercise can influence their production.
Insulin and glucagon are also influenced by exercise and diet, often in contradiction to the anabolic hormones. While working out is important to boost your hormone levels naturally, a healthy sleep schedule and rest between exercise is just as important.
Good nutrition both before and after exercise
The type of foods you consume before, during, and post-workout can make a big difference in your training. Eating carbs before and during exercise can help minimize increases in cortisol.
Let’s put it simply: When your blood glucose supplies maintain a healthy level, cortisol does not need to be released and your muscle tissues won’t get burned up.
If you’re worried about low testosterone affecting your muscle growth, exercise can actually work to increase your T levels. Once exercise stops, testosterone will invariably drop as cortisone levels rise. To alleviate this effect, you need to eat protein post-workout to balance the testosterone-to-cortisone ratio in your bloodstream.
To boost your levels, try the following:
- Before: Consume 20 grams of easily digested protein up to 45 minutes pre-workout
- During: Sip a sports drink during workouts, especially if you go beyond an hour of exercise
- After: Within 30 minutes post-workout, consume another 20 grams of protein with around 40 grams of carbs
It is important to consider not only what you are eating, but also when. For best results, recommend:
- Eating fewer carbs, as this can increase your growth hormone
- Eating carbs pre-workout or during your workout to minimize cortisol levels
- Fasting – when done safely, this can increase GH levels
- Eating protein post-workout to help keep your T levels topped up
- Keeping your carb-protein ratio at approximately 3:1 after a heavy workout
- Keeping all nutrition balanced
Workout strategies and healthy hormones – How to maximize muscle growth
High-intensity workout sessions raise testosterone, GH, and IGF-1 levels but also promotes spikes in cortisol. During endurance training, try to rest for 3 to 5 minutes in between sets. This stimulates T production and helps you to perform better once your body has had ample time to recover.
That means that those who are eager to build muscle should rest for 3 to 5 minutes between sets rather than the usual 1 to 2 mins usually recommended in regular fitness plans.
Sleep is also important! You should always try to get a good night’s rest and stick to a sleep schedule, as not only will you feel well-rested and ready to combat the gym, but your GH levels are stimulated during deep sleep.
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Looking for a way to enhance your performance in the gym and boost muscle growth? If you’re struggling to bulk up, it could be due to your testosterone levels. With just 4 capsules a day, Testogen works to naturally and safely boost your T levels, reversing the symptoms of low testosterone.
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