Posts Tagged ‘ANABOLISM’

This is an excerpt from an article that I had published 20 years ago in MuscleMag International and am posting because of requests that I have had. It is heavy in spots. Good Summary at the end.

Consider the relationship of testosterone and cortisol to diet and exercise. (1) The material contained in the study caused me to reflect on big gain periods in my life. Many calories that I consumed contained fat. About 30%-40% or so. I contrasted this period with other periods during which I consumed a low fat diet. Granted there are many other variables, but higher fat consumption almost always led to bigger gains and enhanced recuperation even at the same caloric intake.

This leads to the discussion of some of the body’s primary anabolic hormones and an examination of how these compounds can be manipulated by diet and exercise.  

                                                          GROWTH HORMONE

 Growth hormone(GH) is a peptide hormone that is produced in the anterior segment of the pituitary gland. GH has a role in the growth and development of bone, connective, visceral, adipose, and muscle tissue. GH may act either indirectly or directly. Directly speaking, GH may bind directly to a GH receptor on a muscle cell where it then exerts its anabolic effect. On the other hand, some studies show that GH exerts its effects indirectly by stimulating the release of somatomedins from the liver. Somatomedins bind to the plasma membrane of the muscle cell, where it carries out growth promoting effects. Regardless of how GH works its magic, it promotes the hypertrophic response by stimulating amino acid transport into the muscle cell and translating these amino acids into protein. GH output is obviously something we want to maximize, so what is the best way to do it?

In most studies it appears that GH release is related to intensity of exercise, volume of work performed, and shorter rest periods. In one particular study, a comparison between 2 different exercise protocols on evoked GH responses during and after weight training exercise was carefully observed.(10) One protocol consisted of 5 sets of 5 repetitions with a variety of basic exercises using a weight that was 80-95% of each movement’s 1 repetition maximum. A second protocol consisted of 3 sets of 10 repetitions with the same exercises using a weight that was 70-85% of each movement’s 1 repetition maximum. Rest periods for the first protocol were 3 minutes. Rest periods for the second protocol were 1 minute. Growth hormone levels during and after exercise were significantly higher using the second exercise protocol. Lactate levels increased during the second exercise protocol and not in the first, leading the researchers to believe that lactate may be the stimulus for GH increases. Other studies bear out the same contention.(11)

Diet also has important ramifications concerning GH release. During the first 1-2 hours of sleep, a significant pulse of GH is released into the bloodstream. The presence of glucose in the bloodstream, and therefore usually insulin,  has been shown to inhibit GH secretion. Therefore, theoretically it seems to make sense to avoid a high carbohydrate meal close to bedtime. A better option would be a high protein shake or snack coupled with some low glycemic index carbohydrates so as to minimize a large increase in insulin.


Testosterone is a steroid hormone that has an anabolic effect on skeletal muscle tissue. Anyone who has seen an athlete that supplements with anabolic steroids can see what modified testosterone can do.

Anyhow, under normal physiologic conditions a region of the brain called the hypothalamus secretes GnRH which stimulates the anterior segment of the pituitary gland to release LH(luteinizing hormone) into the bloodstream. LH then stimulates the Leydig cells of the testes to create and release testosterone into the circulation. At rest, 97% to 99% of this hormone is bound to SHBG(sex hormone binding globulin) or albumin. The rest is active and free to exert its effects.(2) Anabolic effects are due to the fact that testosterone increases protein synthesis and decreases protein catabolism within the muscle fiber. To delve a little further yet, testosterone binds with receptors in the cytosol of the cell which causes an increase in the transcription of the genes located on nuclear DNA that code for the synthesis of muscle proteins. The messenger RNA that results from this returns to the cell cytosol where actual protein synthesis occurs.(3) This is great but how do you get your testes to make more of this stuff? Several studies demonstrate that weight training induces elevated testosterone levels during and after exercise. It seems as if the most important factors in eliciting an elevated testosterone response are the amount of muscle mass used in a movement as well as the total work performed.(4,5) This tells us that for the most efficient testosterone release we want to be sure to include the squat, deadlift, and bench press in our routines. Doing higher rep sets of 10 and even 12 so as to increase total work performed may be advantageous in maximizing testosterone output. Sets of 5 repetitions still have their place in any routine, but they are not as efficient in eliciting testosterone secretion.

How about those old time 20 rep squat routines that were touted as being able to pack on lots of muscle mass and add to your vitality.. Both criteria for maximizing testosterone secretion are overwhelmingly met. Maybe those old timers were onto something. Myself and many of my clients achieved personal best lifts while on a 20 rep squat cycle. This implies that one must look not just at the effects of a specific exercise on a target movement or bodypart, but systemic effects of various schemes as well.

Diet can also have profound implications in determining an athlete’s testosterone level, particularly the resting level of testosterone.  Dietary fat has been shown to have a significant effect upon testosterone.(7,8) As a matter of fact, studies show that going from a diet that contains 10% of its calories from fat to a diet that contains 30% of its calories from fat increases testosterone by a statistically significant amount. Saturated fats and monounsaturated fats seem to accomplish this increase better than polyunsaturated fats.(9) Getting back to my statement earlier in the article about the high fat diet and increased results from training, I suppose there is a chance that my increased fat intake may have had something to do with this. I also recall a period when I was consuming a low fat(10-15%) diet and ended up looking and feeling like crap despite an adequate overall caloric intake. Coincidence? Possibly, but I think not. Obviously raising testosterone levels is not the sole factor responsible for creating hypertrophy, but it sure can’t hurt. Be sure to use caution if you decide to increase fats in your diet. Increasing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is a safer way to go, rather than increasing saturated fats. Saturated fats are used to synthesize cholesterol, which is great since it is a precursor for testosterone, but bad in the long term for the coronaries. Olive and flaxseed oils are a good means to obtain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, respectively. I achieve good results by keeping fats at about 25%-30% of my total caloric intake, with saturated fat comprising about 10% of this amount.


            Somatomedins are polypeptides that are synthesized in the liver and released when stimulated by GH. They are also released by skeletal muscle fibers. Included in this family of polypeptides are IGF-1 and IGF-2. These two polypeptides are not identical, but very similar.

IGF-1 bears a strong similarity in function as well as structure to the body’s primary anabolic hormone, insulin. As a matter of fact, insulin can also bind to IGF-1 receptors on the muscle cell plasma membrane.(12) In addition, IGF-1 has been shown to stimulate satellite cells. Stimulated satellite cells proliferate and give rise to immature muscle cells called myoblasts. These myoblasts can either fuse with an existing muscle fiber(hypertrophy) or fuse with each other(hyperplasia). This sounds pretty good, so how do we get our bodies to make more of this compound?

As mentioned earlier, GH release stimulates the release of somatomedins, including IGF-1, from the liver. This is not an instantaneous response as it takes anywhere from 3 to 15 hours for this to occur. In addition to the weight training method of stimulating GH release and therefore IGF-1, an alternative method of obtaining a release of IGF-1 instantaneously is through stretching.(13) A good time to do this is in between sets since you are already warmed up. Target the bodypart that you are currently training and be sure to hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds. For a good explanation and description of various stretches for specific bodyparts, I recommend the book Stretching by Bob Anderson.

In addition to eating for optimum GH release and therefore IGF-1 release, there is an additional supplement that is reported to stimulate IGF-1 production. In one study, whey protein was shown to stimulate the release of IGF-1.(14) A good time to consume whey protein would be right after a workout. Since IGF-1 release is typically delayed after a workout as mentioned previously, this may help to augment the small local release that may be brought about by stretching. Ion exchange whey protein is the most effective type of whey protein available. 


Insulin is the primary anabolic hormone in the human body. It is secreted by the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans within the pancreas. Its release is brought on by a number of factors including elevated plasma glucose and amino acids, decreased sympathetic input from the nervous system, and a variety of other hormones. Insulin serves to increase the rate of amino acid uptake into muscle tissue and slows the rate of protein catabolism. In addition, glycogen and fat storage are facilitated.

 Generally, plasma levels of insulin are decreased during exercise. It has been found that working out increases the sensitivity and responsiveness of skeletal muscle tissue to insulin. These effects seem to be limited to the specific muscles that have been exercised.

It is logical to consume a high protein, high carbohydrate, moderate fat meal after a workout to take advantage of the aforementioned increase in insulin efficacy. One study shows that when proteins are added to a carbohydrate meal, a greater insulin response occurs compared to when carbohydrates are eaten alone.(15) If one consumes this meal within an hour after working out, the rate of glycogen synthesis and replacement is increased.(16) The best way to get macronutrients into the circulation quickly is to use a shake after working out. Try taking 16 oz. of skim milk and adding a scoop of whey protein, a meal replacement powder, and a tablespoon of Flaxseed oil to it. Eat a few pieces of a high glycemic index fruit like oranges with this shake. This is an excellent, quick way to recharge after a workout.

Editors note(The following regimen is best used very off season. It is non specific and very body building in nature. Good for a change of pace and weight gain.)

In summing, an effective workout plan to maximize your anabolic hormones might go as follows. On Mondays begin your workout with squats. After warming up, do 1 set of 20 repetitions with the twentieth rep being very difficult to handle. Take multiple breaths between reps 10 through 20 if need be.  Follow this up with 3 sest of 8 in the leg curl. 3 sets of 12 reps in the heel raise could come next for the calves. For the back, do 3 sets of 10 in the bent row. Follow this with 3 sets of 8 in the chin with palms facing you. Rest about 90 seconds between sets to further stimulate lactate production2

Monday’s routine fulfills most of the suspected requirements of stimulating anabolic hormone release. Repetition tempo should be slow and deliberate, taking 3 to 4 seconds to perform the negative portion of the repetition and 2 seconds for the positive portion. This tempo will help maximize waste product output, including lactate, which is implicated in stimulating GH release as well as possibly other anabolic hormones. When the last rep of the last set of a given exercise can be performed, add a small amount of resistance for the next workout.

On Wednesday, start out with the bench press and do 5 sets of 10 repetitions. Follow up with 2 sets of 10 in the dumbbell incline press. Standing military presses are next for 3 working sets of 10 repetitions. Finish with close grip benches for 3 sets of 10 reps. Alternate the sequence of close grip benches and overhead presses from week to week. Core can be done last using crunches for 3 sets of 15 reps. Use the same progression scheme as above.

On Fridays, start out with the deadlift for 3 sets of 10 repetitions. Next up is the barbell curl for 3 sets of 8 repetitions. Side laterals can be done next for 2 sets of 8 repetitions. Move on to some grip work by pinching two 25 pound plates with smooth sides out for as long as you can. Use the same progression scheme as mentioned earlier.

If you feel as if the volume of these workouts is too low, feel free to add a few sets here and there but keep in mind that overtraining has been shown to decrease testosterone production. It is better to undertrain than it is to overtrain. Make sure you are putting out lots of effort on the listed sets before adding any volume. Effective cycling schemes can enhance and prolong the progression of the exercise cycle.

Obviously this workout cannot be used year round for best results. Best place for it is the first 4-8 weeks or so of a training regimen before changing protocols for specific gains. This type of workout should not be used without exception.. In addition, cycling techniques should be used to prolong the efficacy of the cycle.

In addition, cardiovascular work done 3 times per week fro 20-30 minutes in high intensity, sprint interval style rounds out the total program. To maximize the anabolic hormone profile, low intensity cardiovascular work should be kept to a minimum. Never jump in at high levels of cardiovascular intensity. Make gradual changes in intensity


W.J. Kraemer, et al., “Endogenous Anabolic Hormonal and Growth Factor Response to Heavy Resistance Exercise in Males and Females,” Int J Sports Med, Vol 12, No 2. pp228-235, 1991.(1),(5),(10)

K. Haakinen, et al., “Acute hormonal responses to two different fatiguing heavy resistance protocols in male athletes,” J. Appl. Physiol. 74(2):882-887, 1993.(11)

GA Hedge, Clinical endocrine physiology, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, 1987.(2),(3)

J. Volek, et. al., “Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise,” J. Appl. Physiol. 82(1):49-54, 1997.(4),(8),(9)

E. Hamalainen, “Diet and serum sex hormones in healthy men,” J. Steroid Biochem. 20: 459-464, 1984.(7)

F. Beguinot et. al., “Distinct biologically active receptors for insulin, etc.,” Journal of Biological Chemistry 260: 15892-15898, 1985.(12)

C.E. Perrone, et al., “Collagen and Stretch Modulate Autocrine Secretion of IGF-1 and Insulin-Like etc.,” J. Biol. Chem. 270.5(1995): 2099-2106.(13)