This is part four in a series on “Eating For Your Hormones.” It is scientifically shown that metabolism is hormonally controlled, so making dietary choices with your hormones in mind can dramatically increase the results you see and dramatically increase your likelihood of success in getting healthy and fit. Check out Part I: Insulin, Part II: Cortisol, and Part III: Leptin to get up to speed.
Ripped at 70? Really?
What’s the difference between this guy and your fat grandfather who can hardly get himself up off the toilet? It can be argued that there are a lot of differences, but if you ask me, they are all intricately related and one of the main differentiating factors is their hormonal profile.
Of course, genetics will play a part in this, but the main determinants in hormonal profile are due to behavior (diet, exercise, sleep, sex, sunlight exposure, etc.). It has been discovered that virtually every process in your body is controlled by your hormones, so the size and density of your muscles, the amount of bodyfat you have, and your mental status, among other things, are all controlled by hormones.
The good news: We know how most of these hormones work, and you can control them.
Somatotropin, also known as Human Growth Hormone (HGH), has been shown to be one of the most, if not THE most powerful fat burning hormone around. Not only this but its’ anti-aging properties are what allow that 70 year old dude to look decades younger. Plus, it is genetically related to Placental Lactogen, chorionic somatomammotropin, and prolactin which are all extremely important in fetal growth promotion and lactation (all good, life-giving, things!)
Human Growth Hormone is what’s known as a “peptide hormone,” meaning that it is basically a protein that is used as a messenger to allow communication between the brain of other tissues of the body. It is produced in the pituitary gland, but controlled by the hypothalamus. Some of the benefits of Somatotropin include:
- Lipolysis – working together with other beneficial hormones, Somatotropin supports the enzymes in the metabolic pathways that use fat as fuel. (1) Remember, you want to be a fat burner, right?
- Anabolism – Sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass) has been indicated in the pathophysiology (disease progression) of insulin resistance, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, CHD, and CVD, as well being a large determinant of survival in instances of cancers and other degenerative diseases. (2) The bottom line: You want more muscle mass (even if you’re a dainty lady and don’t want to look like a man – don’t worry because you don’t have enough testosterone to look like a man. Why The Ladies Should LIft Heavy, Too.)
- Immune Function – By supporting and encouraging the growth, in both size and density, of bones, where immune cells are “born,” Human Growth Hormone indirectly bolsters the immune system. (3, 4)
- Stabilizing Cholesterol and Triglyceride levels – Since Somatotropin, along with a number of other hormones, are in direct control of fat metabolism, keeping your HGH level up serves to keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels where the need to be.
- Reverses Atherosclerosis – “clogged arteries,” so hot right now. It seems that just about everyone in the universe dies of a heart attack, except for these people, them, these guys, or even those guys. Keeping your HGH levels where they need to be seems to help out with that. (5) I would think that mechanism would be –> proper fat metabolism –> Less inflammation –> nowhere for cholesterol to get lodged in the walls of arteries.
Now, having learning that Somatotropin is a good thing, and that we want more of it, we have a conundrum. Our Human Growth Hormone levels fall as we age (for sedentary adults with a poor diet), and unless is is purposely bolstered. In most people, a 60 year old will have half the Somatotropin as a 25 year old, and an 80 year old will only have 10% as much as the 60 year old!
You’re not going to notice a drop in your HGH levels, nor have any of the “symptoms” of other hormonal decreases, like hot flashes or trouble sleeping. The slow, steady decline of HGH, causes a ripple effect in your hormones and has been shown as one of the root causes of the physical deterioration that we call aging. (6)
Some of the effects of aging that can be attributed to decreasing levels of Human Growth Hormone are:
- more body fat
- less muscle mass
- changes in skin tone (“splotches” and discolorations)
- decrease in bone density
- decreasing organ size – smaller liver, kidneys, pancreas, and brain!(7) – yeah, I know, this is completely crazy. If you think about it, this means that along with lower HGH, the tissues that secrete your other hormones start to shrink too! Talk about a double whammy.
- Other Hormones – As we know, all these pesky hormones are related, so there are a lot that stimulate HGH release. The main ones are the sex hormones, Testosterone and Estrogen. Also, having low levels of insulin appears to increase HGH. The most likely scenario is that low/normal blood sugar means low insulin and high HGH.
- Deep Sleep – The majority of Human Growth Hormone that is released is released while you’re sleeping. So more/better sleep = more HGH, mmmkay? I have a hypothesis that is why I get super, duper, ‘toddler’s face in the spaghetti’ kind of sleepy after a super high intensity workout.
- Niacin (Vitamin B3) – This is not very “paleo,” as you would, literally, have to eat 15-45 lbs. of beef liver to get the amount of Niacin that would lead to an increase in HGH. Can you imagine eating a 5 gallon bucket of beef liver? I mean, come on. But pills work just fine!
- Fasting – The mechanism is probably related to the effect of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) on HGH secretion. This is why Intermittent Fasting is so freaking great for muscle growth, fat loss, and a bunch of other favorable adaptations.
- Hard Exercise – If you know me, you know I like the hard workouts (but remember how damn sleepy they make me!) As always, I suggest short, high intensity, compound movements with weights.
Okay. So, that’s all the bad news. Now, for the good news:
Low HGH is Preventable AND Reversible!
**BOOM BOOM** :::tada!::: (fireworks and confetti)
Assuming you’re like most people and don’t have a real hormonal imbalance disease that MUST be treated medically, then there are easy ways to fix this problem we call aging (to a point… While this is kinda like the fountain of youth, it’s not quite the fountain of youth.)
There are both natural and unnatural ways to go about upping your somatotropin levels. I bet you can guess which ones I like better. You can get HGH supplementation, and you’ll see many of the positive effects early on, but the long term effects of exogenous (made outside the body) hormone therapy are not well understood. It kinda looks like they might give you cancer, make you crazy, leave you broke, and destroy your body’s ability to make your own hormones. <--- Tweet This!
I don’t suggest hormone therapy. I DO suggest naturally enhancing your body’s ability to synthesize and secrete hormones for itself. Here are a few of the things that stimulate Somatotropin release:
Much time could be spent on each of these points, but, as this is the “Eating For Your Hormones” series, I’ll focus on the diet. The few lenses we’ll look through are general diet, pre and post-workout meals, and diet + sleep.
Eating, Hormonally Speaking
1. General Diet Guidelines
I’ve said before that you have to stop viewing your meals as an isolated jam session and see them in the larger context of the hormonal changes that follow. Most people will be able to use their diet like a switch to turn Human Growth Hormone on and off, so let’s turn it on!
- Up Your Testosterone or Estrogen – I think you know who you are…The sex hormone levels and Human Growth Hormone levels are directly correlated, so if we can up one we can up the other. So, pick one:
- Keep Your Blood Sugar Low – Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) has been shown to markedly increase HGH. In fact,
In normal subjects, hypoglycemia produces an abrupt and sustained rise in levels of human growth hormone in plasma. This effect is independent of insulin, glucagon, or epinephrine. Prolonged fasting is accompanied by a rise in the hormone level in plasma. Measurement of this hormone after induced hypoglycemia is a specific test for pituitary somatotropic function.(8)
If we want to keep blood sugar low, then we need to eat like we want to keep blood sugar low. This means no grains, no sugar, no “low-fat” dairy, and no processed carbs except on Cheat Day!
- Fast from time to time – You’ve probably heard about intermittent fasting, and may have thought it was a faddish type diet, but there really is some science behind the purported benefits. Among other things, fasting induces hypoglycemia, and, as mentioned above, this is a very good thing! So while I generally suggest eating breakfast, skipping a meal, and giving yourself a 16-20 hour fast can do wonders!
2. Eating Around Your Workouts
I’d say there’s not necessarily one right way to eat pre-workout, but there sure are some wrong ways. And they’re probably not what you think. Like I’ve said before, we need to look at a pre-workout meal (like all meals), not as an isolated event in time, but as a starting point of a hormonal cascade that can serve to:
- store or burn fat
- boost or suppress your immune system
- raise or lower a wide variety of hormones
If you recall, high carbohydrate intake increases insulin secretion, increasing fat storage and shifting metabolism away from burning fat for fuel, in favor of burning sugar. This is a bad thing when the goal for most people when working out is either to lose fat or gain muscle.
Growth Hormone is inversely related to Insulin. So when insulin is high, growth hormone is low. There is also some evidence to suggest that eating a high fat meal just prior to working out can have a negative effect on Growth Hormone production. (9)
Most likely, this is because one of the jobs of Somatotropin is to release free fatty acids into the bloodstream to be used elsewhere. Why would you need these fatty acids released if you’ve just consumed a bunch of fat?
Side Note: My hypothesis is that if you are a fat burner instead of a sugar burner, then a high fat meal will not have the same negative effect on post workout growth hormone levels.
Depending on where your metabolic gauge is set, different foods can have different effects on fat burning/fat storage and many other processed
With these things in mind, there are 2 ways that I would suggest you eat before a workout. Either:
- A high protein meal – This gives your body the available amino acids to build new muscle fibers and inhibits the catabolic effect of weight lifting because your body doesn’t need to take amino acids from your muscles.
- Workout Fasted – There is plenty of evidence coming out that workout out on an empty stomach may be the way to see the greatest effect from your exercise.
If this intermittent fasting thing sounds good to you, take a look at Eat Stop Eat, by Brad Pillon.
Eat Stop Eat is very newbie friendly, yet well referenced and scientifically accurate. This is the only book on the market with a substantial collection of research on intermittent fasting. It is a good, enjoyable read and extremely well written.
This book covers topics pertaining to intermittent fasting and metabolism, health, body composition, hormonal effects and much more – and comes highly recommended from me!
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4. Crist DM, Kraner JC. “Supplemental growth hormone increases the tumor cytotoxic activity of natural killer cells in healthy adults with normal growth hormone secretion.” Metabolism. 1990 Dec;39(12):1320-4
5. Dawson-Hughes B, et al. “Regulation of growth hormone and somatomedin-C secretion in postmenopausal women: effect of physiological estrogen replacement.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1986 Aug;63(2):424-32.