If you want to build muscle as quickly as possible, there are four things that need to be in order. These include:
Your body is controlled by anabolic hormones. As much as you may like to think you have control over all the actions you take, you are very much governed by the hormones that are flowing through your veins.
A anabolic hormone is basically like a massager signal that is transported in the blood stream and targets certain cells to perform specific actions. With the case of muscle building, the three primary anabolic hormones that get called into play are:
- 2Growth hormone
Together, these anabolic hormones will help determine how quickly you are able to build muscle mass and the degree of strength gains you realize. When optimized, they can turn slow and sluggish progress into great progress that has you realizing your true potential.
To help you gain a better understand of what each of these anabolic hormones are and how you can maximize them, let’s go through some basics.
Testosterone: What is it?
Testosterone you may already know of as the primary male sex hormone. It is the hormone that is released heavily during the puberty years and what causes males to develop their secondary sex characteristics.
This includes deepening of the voice, growing of facial and body hair, as well as increasing muscle size and strength level. Without testosterone, a man would fail to become a man. He may still have the necessary parts to being a man, but he would lack the characteristics that separate man from boy.
When you have sufficient testosterone levels in your body, your ability to build lean muscle mass tissue will be much higher. You’ll notice your strength going up regularly in the gym and see a steady increase in the size and density of your muscles.
In addition to this, you’ll also likely notice that your performance increases. Men who have higher testosterone levels tend to have more aggression and drive, thus have a greater overall power output and tenacity when attacking their lifts in the gym.
As you might imagine, keeping your testosterone levels as high as possible then is paramount to success.
Ways to Boost Testosterone Levels
So what can you do to boost testosterone levels?
While it unfortunately is normal to see a decline in testosterone to some degree with age, there are many things you can do to offset this natural decline if you plan properly. Aside from testosterone booster supplements (see our recommendations here), you can increase it naturally with food, exercise, lifestyle, and more. Let's take a look.
1. Supplement With L-Glutamine
Glutamine is an amino acid that many athletes choose to supplement with as it can strengthen the immune system and decrease the catabolic response in the body. This then means it may foster increased strength and lean muscle mass development.
In addition to that however, you may also notice that adding glutamine to your protocol helps to increase IGF-1 as well as HGH, according to one study published in the Journal of Human Sport And Exercise (1).
Mix this glutamine with your post-workout protein shake or take it before bed. Both times are great options.
2. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
While any workout program you are on should already be including high intensity interval training in the mix as this is a very powerful form of exercise that can yield excellent results.
This said, it also provides other benefits as well. Research published in the Sports Medicine journal noted that when intense intervals were performed with test subjects, their 24 hour hGH secretion was increased. Do some HIIT every other day and you’ll constantly be maintaining higher hormonal levels (2).
You may also like: A Guide on HIIT.
3. Eat More Saturated Fat
As counterintuitive as it may feel as we live in a world were are told to avoid saturated fat, if you are hoping to boost your testosterone levels, you may want to get your intake up slightly.
This doesn’t mean your next breakfast should consist of nothing but eggs, bacon, and butter, but it does mean that you shouldn’t be trying to cut out all saturated fat in your diet.
Studies show that men who have a higher consumption of saturated fat with a lower consumption of dietary fiber tend to have higher testosterone profiles than men who eat a high fiber, low fat diet plan.
Again, don’t cut out all fiber, just don’t overdo it. Balance is key here. Focus on getting in some natural saturated fats from healthy sources such as dairy products, red meats such as beef and pork, along with coconut oil and moderate your intake of vegetables.
4. Stress Less
It’s also important that you do whatever you can to control and manage your stress levels. Stress causes the release of cortisol in the body, which is a stress hormone that is catabolic (breaks down tissue) in nature. This counteracts what testosterone does (builds up tissue) as it is an anabolic hormone.
Research published in the Experientia journal noted that males aged 30-55 who were classified as having high psychological stress had significantly lower testosterone levels than their lower stress counterparts (3).
Find ways to combat stress, whether this means getting counseling for whatever is causing the stress, performing intense exercise, socializing more with friends, or learning to say no to taking on tasks that you know you don’t have time for.
5. Get To Bed On Time
Sleep is another critical element in the testosterone optimization equation. If you aren’t getting quality shut-eye each night, you can rest assured your hormone levels are suffering.
One study published in the Jama journal noted that when test subjects went just one week with sleep restriction to five hours per night, they noted testosterone levels 10-15% lower than when they were sleeping for 8 hours per week (4).
Considering the fact the average yearly decline in testosterone is akin to 1-2%, if you are missing out on sleep, you could be walking around with testosterone levels of that of a man a decade older than you.
6. Eat Plenty Of Zinc Rich Foods
One nutrient that you’ll also want to pay close attention to getting more of in your diet to help optimize your testosterone levels is zinc.
Zinc plays a key role in testosterone concentrations in the body as research shows men who are deficient in zinc normally maintain lower than normal levels (5).
Men will lose some zinc with ejaculation, so if you have an active sex life, you’ll want to really double up on your dosages. Chances are, you could be falling short.
Great choices for zinc include grass fed beef, yogurt, lamb, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and oysters.
7. Don’t Overdo Cardio Training
If you want to build more muscle and get stronger, thus increasing your testosterone levels, now might not be the time to start training for that marathon event you’ve always wanted to run.
Studies suggest that endurance training suppresses testosterone release in the male body, thus standing in your way of success.
Instead, focus on short-duration sprint training if you want to keep some cardio in the picture. You don’t need to do much of this to maintain good cardiovascular shape if you are also performing intense weight lifting workouts as well.
Signs You’re In Need Of A Testosterone Boost
Some of the symptoms that may indicate that you could potentially be low in growth hormone include suffering from depression and/or anxiety, having a decrease sexual pleasure or total loss of libido, showing lower levels of strength and/or endurance, experience ongoing hair loss and dry skin, noting higher levels of triglycerides in the blood stream and higher HDL levels, as well as having reduced bone density and a risk of osteoporosis.
You may also notice that you are gaining weight and your risk of insulin resistance is also increasing.
So as you can see, you don’t have to suffer from low testosterone levels. There are steps that you can take to elevate your levels back up to a normal range so you can see success with your muscle building program.
Now let’s talk about the next hormone that is critical to building lean muscle mass, growth hormone.
Growth Hormone: What Is it?
Growth hormone is another very powerful anabolic hormone in the body that is secreted heavily during the puberty years when you notice all the rapid changes in your growth and development taking place.
When many people think of human growth hormone, their minds often drift to athletes who are caught cheating or who are abusing steroids. And while it is true that you can inject growth hormone into your body to enhance your physique and physical performance, you can also strive to increase natural growth hormone levels and do so safely.
That is what we are going to talk about here today. Human growth hormone is produced in the pituitary gland and plays many roles in the body.
How Growth Hormone Helps You
Some of the main roles of this hormone include regenerating old cells, maintaining healthy tissues of the brain and organ systems, and helping with the development of lean muscle mass.
When growth hormone is released from the pituitary gland, it is quickly converted into growth factors, the most notable one (and one you may have heard of before) being IGF-1.
Those who have healthy and elevated levels of growth hormone in the body will reap many different benefits including accelerated lean muscle mass and strength development, increased total body fat loss, improved bone strength and resilience, lower risk for heart disease, enhanced sleep quality, as well as a better overall mood. As you can see, it’s definitely a substance you want working in your favor.
3 Ways to boost Growth Hormones
1. Try L-Arginine
Yet another supplement to consider adding to your routine to help accelerate the growth hormone response is L-Arginine. This amino acid appears to increase growth hormone levels even while you are at rest, however if you combine the supplement with exercise, you can see increases to the tune of 300-500% according to one study published in the Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition And Metabolic Care (7).
L-Arginine can also help to act as a vasodilator in the body, increasing total blood and oxygen flow to and from the muscle tissues, so it may also help to boost endurance, kick-start recovery, and allow you to perform one or two more reps during each set you do.
2. Watch A Comedy Movie
Here’s a fun way to boost your growth hormone levels: watch a funny movie. Research published in the Advances In Mind-Body Medicine noted that when subjects experienced laughter, they had a positive release of beta-endorphins and HGH in the body (8).
Considering the fact that stress releases cortisol, which acts in opposition to growth hormone, it shouldn’t come as a major surprise that laughter poses the opposite benefit.
3. Dark Colored Fruits And Vegetables
Finally, if you want to make a change to your diet to help increase your growth hormone release, try adding more brightly colored fresh fruits and vegetables.
These foods are rich in vitamin C content, which is positively correlated with a higher overall level of growth hormone in the body.
Researchers noted that when subjects are deficit in this antioxidant-providing vitamin, they also tend to have low growth hormone levels as well. Berries, peppers, tomatoes, and spinach are all excellent sources of vitamin C to be focusing on adding to your diet plan (9).
So there you have some of the major ways of boosting the levels of growth hormone in your body.
Insulin: What Is It?
Most people have heard of insulin before, but usually, they tend to think of it with negative connotation.
They either think of a diabetic who has to inject themselves with insulin or think of the hormone that is released when carbohydrates are eaten that leads to fat gain.
And while it’s true, insulin is released whenever you eat carbohydrate rich foods and this can lead to fat gain, if used properly, it can also lead to muscle mass building.
The environment your body is in at the moment you spike your insulin will very largely dictate whether muscle is built or fat is gained. Likewise, how many carbs you eat will also play a key role.
The trick is to learn how to best manage insulin levels so you can get the muscle building effects without the fat gain.
How Insulin Can Help Muscle Building
Know that the main role of insulin in the body is to help keep blood glucose levels within a safe range. Whenever you eat carbohydrates, they break down in the body into glucose, increasing your blood glucose levels.
The more simple the carbohydrate and the larger the dose, the higher those blood glucose levels get. In response to this, the body releases a corresponding level of insulin to manage that extra glucose.
At this point, the insulin either shuttles the glucose off to the muscle cells (for muscle building and glycogen replenishment purposes), or to the body fat cells.
5 Ways to Boost Your Insulin Levels
By using a few diet and exercise related strategies, you can certainly get insulin on your side. Here’s how.
1. Eat Carbohydrate Rich Foods After Exercise
The primary time you should focus on eating very carbohydrate dense foods (think bagels, bread, pasta, etc.) is immediately following an exercise session.
At this point, your muscles are depleted of their glucose storage (referred to as muscle glycogen), so your body is most likely to use any carbohydrates you eat to help replenish those stores.
In addition to that, you will also use any added carbohydrates above and beyond your energy and muscle glycogen replenishment needs to help with the building of new lean muscle mass tissue.
If there’s one time of the day you can get away with eating carbohydrates that are a little simpler in nature (such as white bread, rice cakes, etc.), this is it. Take advantage of this fact.
2. Eat Fat And Protein With Carbohydrates During Non-Exercise Times
When you aren’t exercising, your goal should be to keep insulin levels as stable as possible. This will help prevent any carbohydrates you eat from getting shuttled off to body fat stores. Instead, they’ll be burned slowly for energy.
A good way to slow down the release of carbohydrates in the blood stream is to focus on eating those carbohydrates with proteins and dietary fats. By combining all three nutrients in one meal, you’ll minimize insulin while maximizing satiety. It’s the best way to keep yourself lean.
Also focus on lower density carbohydrates at these meals, choosing vegetable based foods.
3. Regulate How Many Carbohydrates You Are Eating
It’s going to be essential that even if your goal is muscle building, you are still regulating how many carbohydrates you take in. Remember, any energy taken in over and beyond your needs will eventually end up as body fat storage. You can only build so much muscle in any given day, so be sure that you are monitoring this.
Keep your carbohydrate needs in check by tracking your daily totals.
4. Perform Intense Activity, Particularly Weight Lifting
Your insulin sensitivity, which refers to how sensitive your body is to the insulin that is released from your pancreas can also influence whether carbohydrates you eat end up as body fat stores. The better your insulin sensitivity is, the better the entire system works and the more likely you’ll be to move carbohydrates to the muscle stores rather than fat stores.
Intense physical exercise, especially weight training, helps to boost insulin sensitivity, so this can help put you at an advantage (9).
5. Use Cinnamon With Your Foods Often
Finally, you might want to consider sprinkling a little cinnamon on your carbohydrate rich foods as often as you can.
Adding cinnamon to that morning bowl of oatmeal for instance or sprinkling it on your sweet potatoes may help increase insulin sensitivity further, giving you optimal blood glucose control (10).
By using this spice, you can help stay leaner, despite eating those carbohydrates.
As you can see, there are many ways to manage your insulin levels and most of these steps aren’t especially hard or out of the ordinary of what you should be doing to help promote a healthy body.
Final Thoughts on Anabolic Hormones
So there you have the main ways that you can better control the three key anabolic hormones that influence the process of muscle building. If you can get all of these working in your favor, you can rest assured they will have a positive effect on the results that you see.
- Dorgan, Joanne F., et al. "Effects of dietary fat and fiber on plasma and urine androgens and estrogens in men: a controlled feeding study." The American journal of clinical nutrition 64.6 (1996): 850-855.
- Francis, K. T. "The relationship between high and low trait psychological stress, serum testosterone, and serum cortisol." Experientia 37.12 (1981): 1296-1297.
- Leproult, Rachel, and Eve Van Cauter. "Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men." Jama 305.21 (2011): 2173-2174.
- Prasad, Ananda S., et al. "Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults." Nutrition 12.5 (1996): 344-348.
- WHEELER, GARRY D., et al. "Endurance Training Decreases Serum Testosterone Levels in Men without Change in Luteinizing Hormone Pulsatile Release*." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 72.2 (1991): 422-425.
- Godfrey, Richard J., Zahra Madgwick, and Gregory P. Whyte. "The exercise-induced growth hormone response in athletes." Sports Medicine 33.8 (2003): 599-613.
- Hakimi, Mehdi, Maryam Ali Mohamadi, and Zoleikha Ghaderi. "The effects of glutamine supplementation on performance and hormonal responses in non-athlete male students during eight week resistance training." (2012).
- Kanaley, Jill A. "Growth hormone, arginine and exercise." Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 11.1 (2008): 50-54.
- Berk, L. S. "Studying the biology of hope: An interview with Lee S. Berk, DrPH, MPH. Interview by Sheldon Lewis." Advances in mind-body medicine22.2 (2006): 28-31.
- Denny-Brown, S., et al. "The association of macro-and micronutrient intake with growth hormone secretion." Growth Hormone & IGF Research 22.3 (2012): 102-107.
- Ishii, Tomofusa, et al. "Resistance training improves insulin sensitivity in NIDDM subjects without altering maximal oxygen uptake." Diabetes care21.8 (1998): 1353-1355.
- Couturier, Karine, et al. "Cinnamon improves insulin sensitivity and alters the body composition in an animal model of the metabolic syndrome." Archives of biochemistry and biophysics 501.1 (2010): 158-161.