By Chris Wilson, CPT author Anabolic AfterGrowth
Anabolic Hormones like Testosterone, Growth Hormone, IGF-1, Insulin and Cortisol are the keys to unlocking your body’s muscle growth. All of these have crucial roles on how your muscles respond to your training. Without these key ingredients, our time in the gym would be 100% worthless!
So you’re probably wondering what the heck they do…keep reading.
Anabolic (or Anabolism) simply means GROWTH. Making a bunch of smaller things into bigger things while using up a ton of energy in the process. For some, it has a negative connotation only because it’s often found in the same sentence as steroids.
But the fact is, your body naturally releases all kinds of goodies that help you grow and develop from a young boy into a fully grown man-BEAST.
You don’t need outside help…the answer is already in you. You just need to UNLOCK the right doors inside your body to release these muscle building monsters.
I will tell you exactly HOW to do that in a few minutes but first let me breakdown all of these extraordinary hormones.
Testosterone is what makes men, men. Without testosterone coursing through our veins, we would never grow facial hair, have energy or be TEN TIMES stronger than women. It is the KING of all male hormones and it is the bus driving all of the other muscle building hormones (more on that later).
Growth Hormone has also gotten a bad rap in recent years because of its illegal use in professional sports. However, on the contrary, our body’s pituitary gland continues to release this essential hormone into our blood stream well after puberty.
This occurs primarily at two times throughout the day: Post workout for about 30 minutes or so (but only when you train intensely with multi-joint exercises) but even more importantly while we’re getting our Zzzzzz’s. This is precisely why getting enough quality sleep on top of kicking your own ass at the gym is critical to your muscle and strength building potential.
Insulin-like growth factor 1 or (IGF-1) is another key ingredient to your body’s natural ability to GROW those muscles. It acts as a mediator or facilitator if you will. The science here can get real tricky to understand so think of IGF-1 as a catalyst. Without it, our growth hormone wouldn’t be able to do its job effectively.
Insulin is yet another super powerful hormone that is totally misunderstood. You may be thinking diabetes but it actually is even more anabolic than GH. Unfortunately insulin doesn’t really care whether it’s storing fat or building muscle. It’s just doing its job and regulating a safe level of blood glucose.
Extra blood glucose will either get stored in your adipose tissue (fat) or it will go to your muscles and/or liver to be used as energy and help those muscle gains. Insulin is required in the synthesis of protein making it vital to your muscle building potential. It also helps to limit the breakdown of muscle making it an anti-catabolic hormone.
Thirdly, it acts as a transport system for your BCAAs. Amino acids make up protein and are the building blocks of muscle and they are delivered directly into muscle cells by our good friend insulin BUT…here is where insulin is NOT your friend:
Insulin is totally unpredictable and helps to store unwanted body fat. Just like it helps breakdown fat tissue (lipolysis), it also contributes to our fat gain. It is super tricky to keep in check and this is why it gets a lot of bad press.
Here’s an EASY way to understand this complex science:
If testosterone is the bus (which drives all of this) and the kids on board are growth hormone (GH), the driver is IGF-1 helping to transport all of this super important material to our muscles and tissues which would be considered the school. Insulin then would be the chaperones on the bus monitoring the kids and aiding any way they can to keep everything in check but sometimes the kids drive them nuts and all hell breaks loose.
Hey, it’s not a perfect analogy but it works just the same.
All of these hormones are necessary on the path to gaining size and strength. But what about roadblocks, detours and road construction that threatens our muscle building journey?
Enter Catabolic Hormones.
They are essential to our body’s development but super scary at the same time. These are your fight or flight hormones but since this could get really intricate, we will highlight just the main culprit, cortisol.
Let’s compare Anabolism to Catabolism.
Anabolic is the process of making smaller things into bigger things allowing us to gain muscle mass and catabolic is the breakdown of bigger things into smaller things using some of our own muscle tissue as the energy source.
The frightening part is that while our body is using its own muscle for energy, it is also halting the muscle growing process. It would make no sense for the two to happen at once making cortisol a two-fold threat to our mass gains.
Listen, no guy wants to think about his muscles breaking down but it’s going to happen, so just deal with it bro and know how to manage this unavoidable metabolic mechanism.
In order for our bodies to change, adapt and grow, they need to get ripped apart and that is a very stressful time for your body. Cortisol is at the center of this process. It is also known as the “stress hormone” and once your body is pushed to its limits with training, you’re going to have some degree of cortisol released.
Your body doesn’t understand the difference between engaging in intense weight lifting versus running from a lion to save your life.
All your body wants to do is SURVIVE. Either way, you’re stressing yourself out.
The key to not letting cortisol wreak havoc on your muscles and helping your fat multiply is to concentrate on what you CAN control.
3 KEYS to Limiting Cortisol Activity & Gaining ROCKLIKE Mass
#1 Nutrition: Eat especially well on training days and immediately following your workouts, take in quality carbohydrates and proteins. This has shown to dramatically reduce the surge of cortisol which reaches its peak activity following a strenuous resistance workout. Replenishing glucose to the blood stream is priority number one along with a healthy supply of amino acids. Try to always do this within one hour of intense training.
#2 Sleep: Getting adequate sleep every night and napping when you can is paramount to muscle growth. It sounds simple, right? Why is it that babies require so much sleep? It’s because their bodies are growing at such a rapid pace and SLEEP is the answer. You grow while at rest, not while training, period. Your body is stress-free while sleeping and your brain signals those essential muscle building hormones to be released and to do their jobs. So go to sleep at a good time and rest as often as you can. Save that hard earned muscle for when you need it in the gym.
#3 Training: Train really hard 3x per week doing the BIG 3 lifts. Focus on compound exercises that work the greatest number of muscles at once (ex. Deadlifts, Squats and Bench Press). This strategy assists in the fat burning process and has the most profound impact on your central nervous system which helps to deliver the power in your lifts. It also forces your bones and connective tissues to get stronger to support your increase in mass. Don’t waste your time with endless isolation lifting and overtraining the smaller muscles resulting in strength imbalances and eventual injury.
Listen, I’m not gonna tell you to go on some crazy diet or go to bed every night at 8 pm. It’s up to you to make good decisions with the food you’re putting into your body and knowing that donuts, soda and chips aren’t gonna get you where you want to be.
If you want to have the most impact on those man-making hormones, you HAVE TO dedicate yourself to the 3 keys I listed. Make them a priority in your life and the muscles will follow, I guarantee it.
If You Enjoyed This Article, You’ll Love The One Below…
Summary by Mike Westerdal
Unfortunately, shedding unwanted fat is a lot more complicated than just cutting back on calories and adding in a few extra cardio sessions each week. The problem is that our genetic programming gets in the way, making getting rid of fat a lot more complicated than we’d like. When we start to cut calories and burn more energy our bodies think that we’re facing a food shortage. In response, it releases a flood of hormonal responses that are designed to conserve energy and make sure we’ve got fat reserves to draw on for the upcoming ‘famine.’
These hormonal responses are what stand in the way of our fat loss goals. There are three in particular that inhibit fat loss–estrogen, insulin and cortisol. When we do the things we do to shed unwanted fat, it triggers the release of these hormones. And when released, each of these tells the body to increase residual fat storage, especially around the waist area. The good news though is that we can ‘fight hormones with hormones’ and manipulate our metabolic systems to overcome these fat loss roadblocks.
The secret to this strategy is identifying the nemesis for each ‘bad’ hormone–or in other words, the ‘good’ hormone that does the opposite of what the ‘bad’ hormone does. For example, testosterone is the ‘opposite’ of estrogen. Testosterone is the male sex hormone and estrogen is the female sex hormone. To combat the fat storage effects of estrogen, we want to increase the amount of testosterone our bodies release.
There are several ways you can naturally increase the amount of testosterone the body releases. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by lifting weights. In particular, increasing training density has proven to be an excellent technique to stimulate testosterone production. Training density refers to the amount of work you perform within a given timeframe. You can increase training density by lifting more weights, performing more repetitions or by reducing the rest periods between sets.
To fight the stubborn fat around the mid-section of the body, you can really increase training density through a modified circuit training technique. A key difference between this and other types of circuit training is that here, instead of focusing on doing a certain number of reps, you perform as many reps as you can within a certain time period for the first set. Then, you increase both the weight and the number of reps you perform for the second set.
Similarly, there are training techniques you can employ to combat insulin and its impact on body fat storage. Here, training techniques focus on increasing insulin sensitivity and boosting Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1), which counters the effects of insulin. Dynamic training–which is based on combination movements–is particularly effective at boosting the amount of IGF-1 in the bloodstream. Higher amounts of IGF-1 negates insulin resistance and increases the body’s fat-burning capacity.
We can also combat the fat gaining effects of cortisol by increasing the amount of Growth Hormone (GH) our bodies produce. GH is the single most effective compound your body produces to affect both fat loss and muscle gain. The more GH the body produces, the more fat you burn and the more lean muscle mass you add.
Like the other two fat-fighting hormones, certain training techniques stimulate the production of GH. Lactic acid training is one technique that is especially effective. Lactic acid is what causes the ‘burn’ you feel when you train your muscles really hard. As annoying as that feeling may be, it does trigger the release of cortisol- and fat-fighting GH. You can boost the release of lactic acid by lifting very slowly and then quickly (but carefully) returning to the starting position. Another way to increase GH production and diminish cortisol production is by sleeping. Yes, a good night’s rest triggers the production of GH while simultaneously diminishing the production of cortisol.
So there you have it–three fat-fighting training techniques from Roman’s Final Phase Fat Loss at your disposal. Include these in your training arsenal and you’ll be able to fight hormones with hormones and win the battle against stubborn fat, once and for all.
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