Saturday, June 16, 2012

Strength and hypertrophy...are the hormones important?

I think I tweeted one of the press reports of this yesterday,  but as the whole paper is available as an Open Access pdf I thought I'd point to it formally on the blog.

The paper is

Associations of exercise-induced hormone profiles and gains in strength and hypertrophy in a large cohort after weight training

The purpose of this study was to investigate associations between acute exercise-induced hormone responses and adaptations to high intensity resistance training in a large cohort (n = 56) of young men. Acute post-exercise serum growth hormone (GH), free testosterone (fT), insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and cortisol responses were determined following an acute intense leg resistance exercise routine at the midpoint of a 12-week resistance exercise training study. Acute hormonal responses were correlated with gains in lean body mass (LBM), muscle fibre cross-sectional area (CSA) and leg press strength. There were no significant correlations between the exercise-induced elevations (area under the curve—AUC) of GH, fT and IGF-1 and gains in LBM or leg press strength. Significant correlations were found for cortisol, usually assumed to be a hormone indicative of catabolic drive, AUC with change in LBM (r = 0.29, P < 0.05) and type II fibre CSA (r = 0.35, P < 0.01) as well as GH AUC and gain in fibre area (type I: r = 0.36, P = 0.006; type II: r = 0.28, P = 0.04, but not lean mass). No correlations with strength were observed. We report that the acute exercise-induced systemic hormonal responses of cortisol and GH are weakly correlated with resistance training-induced changes in fibre CSA and LBM (cortisol only), but not with changes in strength.

Whatever causes increased strength and muscle growth, it seems that it is not down to changes in the hormones relating from resistance training.

In the first study, researchers examined the responses of both male and female participants to intense leg exercise. Despite a 45-fold difference in testosterone increase, men and women were able to make new muscle protein at exactly the same rate.

"Since new muscle proteins eventually add up to muscle growth, this is an important finding," says West.

"While testosterone is definitely anabolic and promotes muscle growth in men and women at high doses, such as those used during steroid abuse, our findings show that naturally occurring levels of testosterone do not influence the rate of muscle protein synthesis."

In the second study, researchers analyzed the post-exercise hormonal responses of 56 young men, aged 18 to 30, who trained five days a week for 12 weeks in total.

The men experienced gains in muscle mass that ranged from virtually nothing to more than 12 pounds, yet their levels of testosterone and growth hormone after exercise showed no relationship to muscle growth or strength gain.

Surprisingly, the researchers noted that cortisol—considered to have the opposite effect of anabolic hormones because it reduces protein synthesis and breaks down tissue—was related to the gain in muscle mass.

"The idea that you can or should base entire exercise training programs on trying to manipulate testosterone or growth hormone levels is false," says Stuart Phillips, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology. "There is simply no evidence to support this concept."  from Eureka

Now there is some fascinating stuff there.  
  • Natural levels of testosterone - don't have an impact.  Steroids will blow you up OK, but you can't blame you age (lowered testosterone levels) or your sex.
  • Natural levels - i.e. promoted by exercise - of GH and testosterone - were not related to either muscle growth or strength.
  • Cortisol - the scary stress hormone that we are supposed to minimise due to its catabolic effects - was associated with hypertrophy.  
So what do we do with this?

As Philips says, theories that it is all down to the usual hormones - testosterone and GH - may be wrong but stress from training - cortisol promoting - may have a role.  Training to produce stress...failure?  HIT perhaps?


primalliving said...

Hmm, interesting, but maybe some of the conclusions are a bit of a leap?

They measured hormonal response 90 mins before and after the workout - What's to say that although cortisol spiked and the anabolic hormones didn't do much during this period, that outside of this window things didn't change dramatically?

We know that it takes more than 90 mins for the body to adapt to a strength training session after all.

I think it would be more interesting to see the hormone levels measured over a 24 hr or even better 48hr+ period before making claims such as there is no correlation between their levels and muscle growth.

Also interesting that they mention that there is no difference between the sexes in terms of the rate at which they can make new muscle protein - Are they suggesting here that women can build muscle at the same rate as men?

Anonymous said...

"Are they suggesting here that women can build muscle at the same rate as men?"

Rate may be the same, amount is obviously vastly different (for most).

Hormone response to training is way overrated and something promoted by the many pseudo-knowledgeable trainers and doctors out there. In essence, and to use an analogy, the assumption is generally made that because 3 follows 2, a straight line drawn from 1 to 4 will intersect 3. This is not true most of the time in reality-straight lines are the exception and not the rule.

So, just because a certain type of training acutely increases testosterone and increased testosterone (as seen in teenagers and steroid users) tends to promote muscle growth, it doesn't mean that that kind of training is better for building larger, stronger muscles.

Likewise, just because eating a post exercise protein and carb "shake" increases acute protein synthesis in the muscle doesn't mean that that shake will lead to greater muscle gains over time.

But all this stuff sure helps people look intelligent and sell complicated programs. Capitalism rules!