The Growth Hormone Response

By Frederick C. Hatfield, Ph.D.

In bodybuilding today, “drugs” is a dirty word. Massive media coverage has made performance-enhancing drugs like steroids and growth hormone infamous. In fact, the media’s widespread coverage (not to mention their zeal for sensationalism) of these substances was largely responsible for making the use of these drugs against the law.

Nowadays, elite athletes in every sport are pushing the frontiers of science in their bid to find safe and effective ways of getting bigger, faster and stronger — without having to resort to the use of drugs. And that’s perhaps more true in bodybuilding than in any other sport. Bodybuilders have always been at the fore when it comes to the application of cutting edge science.

One way that’s showing promise is in stimulating a NATURAL growth hormone response. Growth hormone is important. It’s one of the most important factors in getting big and getting strong.

Growth hormone is manufactured in your anterior pituitary gland, at the base of your brain. This amazing morsel of your anatomy is less than one centimeter in diameter, and weighs less than one-half gram. It takes its orders from hormones produced in your hypothalamus, also at the base of your brain. Much of what a bodybuilder does in order to achieve that characteristic look of being massive and cut to ribbons is controlled by hormones.

Your hypothalamus receives signals from almost all possible sources in your nervous system. Pain, excitement, depression, smells, even the concentration of nutrients, electrolytes, water, and blood-borne hormones are sensed by the hypothalamus.

A lot of heavy weight training stress? The hypothalamus tells the anterior pituitary to secrete some growth hormone.

Haven’t eaten in awhile? The hypothalamus tells the pituitary to secrete hormones that will either cannibalize a bit of your muscle tissue for life-sustaining energy or to save that tissue, and instead mobilize some fat for energy.

Tissue bloat? Leave it to the good ol’ hypothalamus to tell the posterior pituitary to get rid of some of the excess fluid.

It goes on and on. All are interrelated, and all are — to some degree — controllable by your actions. Since we’re focusing on growth hormone and its ability to affect metabolic functions important to bodybuilders (especially protein synthesis), let’s look at some of the benefits of stimulating a growth hormone response, and ways you may be able to stimulate it. Growth hormone…

  1. Increases protein production
  2. Decreases your use of carbohydrates for energy
  3. Increases your use of stored fat for energy
  4. Promotes muscle growth

And you may be able to make it happen more effectively by:

  1. Training 2 or 3 times daily in shorter, more intense bursts, will provide several growth hormone responses
  2. Avoiding food for about 45-60 minutes following intense training (until your blood sugar is low from replenishing spent muscle glycogen stores) will ensure a more prominent growth hormone response
  3. Make sure the temperature in your gym is very warm. If it isn’t, wear warm clothing. And don’t rehydrate until AFTER training! You’ll get a better growth hormone response that way
  4. Taking a sauna each day can provide a growth hormone response. Again, be sure to replace the water and electrolytes you’ve lost from sweating well AFTER showering
  5. Sleep at night (during the first hour or so) is accompanied by a growth hormone response. So are naps during the day, provided they’re good quality naps. They needn’t be greater than 30 minutes in duration
  6. Certain amino acids are often used by athletes in the hopes of getting a growth hormone response. But, it’s only speculative whether the growth hormone response is significant enough to promote added muscle growth
  7. There is some striking evidence that the balance of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in your diet can be fine-tuned to ensure greater growth hormone output. It appears that your body finds ways of adjusting its hormone output based on nutrient intake to maximize the training effect
  8. One of the reasons that bodybuilders eat 5-7 times daily is that they can get bigger and more cut that way. Some scientists concur that eating more frequent meals is a great way to stimulate growth hormone responses

Scientists aren’t in total agreement as to how many growth hormone peaks per day is most effective. Swedish scientists, working with rats, have shown that 4-6 peaks are optimal, and less growth occurred with 10 peaks per day.

In contrast, a U.S. research study, which also used rats, showed that nine peaks produced the greatest growth.

When scientists have looked at growth hormone output every 10-15 minutes (instead of their normal practice of only once per hour), they’ve noticed peaks superimposed upon peaks. They aren’t sure what this means, or whether stimulating greater secretion now will result in less later (in a “balancing” effect). Research is clearly needed.

In the meantime, we can safely speculate that promoting growth hormone release naturally may indeed be of significant benefit to you in your bodybuilding efforts. I hasten to add that considering the interactiveness of your body’s functions — especially the multiple functions of the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus to which it is subordinate — shot gunning your training methods or nutrient intake is NOT the way to go!

The one thing that I regard as very clear from all this is that timing appears to be very important, and that multiple training, eating and sleeping bouts daily is probably better than the old way.

Look at the accompanying table. Every minute of the day should be carefully scheduled in order to maximize the effects of your training. Everything you do in the way of training, therapy, sleeping and eating is done so that you can take advantage of your own body’s biochemistry.

Of course, the point of bodybuilding is to get bigger muscles and less fat. Through carefully constructing your training, diet and supplementation regimen, you can effectively regulate the entire hormonal process that’ll make this happen.

Have a — ahem! — HORMONIOUS day!

Stimulus Releaser Inhibitor
Training Intensity
Overtraining Overstrain Training Sessions Longer Than An Hour
Stress Pain
Non-Shivering Cold
Diet* Balanced Unbalanced
Sleeping Deep Sleep Disturbed Sleep

* Your muscles’ insulin sensitivity appears to be affected.

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