Hormones have a direct effect on the composition of the human body, particularly muscle vs. adipose tissue. Energy levels, strength, sex drive and performance are also controlled by hormones, along with the aging process and general health. What you eat has a direct effect on your hormone levels. I am going to focus on the basics of human growth hormone and how you can get the most out of it from your diet.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH or GH) and testosterone are the two primary anabolic hormones. This means that when the levels of these hormones increase, muscular size and strength will also increase. Because they are also lipolytic, they mobilize body fat for use as fuel, leading to a reduction in overall body-fat. Another hormone, trilodothyronine T3 ( thyroid hormone) also has anabolic and lypolitic properties.
Cortisol is the primary catabolic hormone. Increased levels of this will basically have the opposite effect of anabolic hormones, translating to a decrease in size and strength. Since cortisol is lipogenic, this means it directs the body to store body-fat. more importantly, as cortisol levels rise, levels of growth hormone and testosterone drop, and vice-a-versa.
Insulin can be anabolic in that it helps to drive amino acids (protein) into muscle cells, thus improving the rate of muscle recovery and growth from exercise. However, insulin can be lipogenic in that chronically high levels increase body-fat.
Working opposite to insulin, as glucagon rises, insulin drops, and vice-a-versa. It’s actions has the opposite effect of insulin. It leads to muscle breakdown but also to the loss of body-fat.
Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) is a hormone-like substance that has both anabolic and lipolytic effects.
There is a multitude of other hormones in the body, but these are the ones primarily affected by diet.
Before getting to the discussion on GH and diet, some background on GH and a note on terminology will be helpful.
GH-stimulatory factor, also known as Growth Hormone Releasing Hormone (GHRH), is produced by the Hypothalamus and induces the Anterior Pituitary to release GH.
GH-inhibitory factor, also known as Somatostatin, is similarly produced by the Hypothalamus and acts upon the Anterior Pituitary to halt GH release.
GH levels are highest during our growth spurt at puberty and decline steadily from then on. Stated differently, we release about 20-times less GH at 80 than we did at 20!!
Surprisingly, the amount of GH produced by the body isn’t greatly reduced as we grow older, just the amount that is released into the blood stream. It has been proposed that an age-related rise in somatostatin levels underlies the observed drop in GH with age past puberty. The pot-belly that characterizes most older males is often the result of reduced GH (Creatine Newsletter).
So the important point in regards to GH is not its production, but how much is actually released into the blood stream. So throughout this article, discussion will be on GH release (or secretion) rather than on GH production.
Bedtime Growth Hormone Release
There are two times when the release of growth hormone is the greatest. First, “… the largest burst of GH is released during the early hours of sleep-hence our eating habits are crucial to maximizing this nighttime secretion” (Jamieson, pp. 85,86). More specifically, “Growth hormone is especially dependent on sleep, because a major growth hormone surge occurs during the first episode of slow-wave sleep, approximately 30-70 minutes after falling asleep” (Faigin, p.200).
However, consumption of carbs at bedtime can blunt this crucial release of growth hormone. The greater the amount of carbs and the higher the glycemic rating of the carbs, the greater will be the increase in blood sugar and the greater the suppression of GH. Thus, “… going to bed with a belly-full of carbs is hormonally unwise and may diminish, if not nullify, nocturnal growth hormone release” (Faigin, p.201).
It if for this reason that some will recommend not eating at all for at least two hours before bedtime. However, as indicated above, the consumption of protein will increase GH release. So an even better approach would be to limit carbohydrate consumption, but to eat some protein at bedtime.
Next to be considered is the relationship of GH to protein intake. “GH is released after the consumption of protein. This might signify to the body that it is now an opportune moment to build” (Creatine Newsletter).
Moreover, “Hormonally, protein intake is positively correlated with growth hormone, IGF-1, and glucagons. These hormones, collectively, exert an anabolic and lipolytic effect” (Faigin, p.156).
This article is about diet, not supplements. But the following paragraph would apply to raising GH levels via diet as well as via supplements:
People are curious why others get better results for their HGH supplementation. When we looked into why, we discovered that growth hormone supplementation increases the need for protein and people who supply the additional protein did better with their HGH supplementation program” (HGH Magazine, “Whey Protein”).
So there is a synchronicity going on here. Increased protein intake will increase GH levels, and increased GH levels will increase the need for protein. Moreover, frequent protein feedings will increase absorption of protein and produce frequent GH spikes.
So an ideal GH raising diet would include frequent feedings of high quality protein.
Article excerpts taken from fitnessforoneandall.com
-Growth Hormone Temporarily Improves Sprint Capacity in Recreational Athletes
-Brand-Miller, Jennie, et. al. The New Glucose Revolution. Marlowe & Company: New York, 2003.
Creatine Newsletter. Issue 20. “Growth Hormone De-Mystified” – http://www.creatinemonohydrate.net/creatine_newsletter_20.html.
-Dean, Ward M.D. “Neuroendocrine Theory of Aging Chapter 3; Part 1 Energy Homeostat Dysfunction” – http://www.vrp.com/art/253.asp.
-Jamieson, James and Dr. L.E. Dorman. Growth Hormone: Reversing Human Aging Naturally. Published by J. Jamieson: St. Louis, MO, 1997.