We all have our own unique challenges when it comes to fitness, our ability to persevere, and the rate of change in which that progress occurs. Despite this fact, many people choose to assume we are all the same and any impressive progress made by someone else must be due to "cheating" with growth hormones or anabolic steroids. Of course, we all know there are athletes who do choose to go that route but it would be foolish to assume everyone does.
Admittedly, there have been many times where I’ve wondered whether an athlete is "using" but I knew my assumptions weren't always right. So, as a basic principle, I always left myself with the this thought: "damn, that's some hard work right there". Until someone gives you reason to believe otherwise, don't.
Many of you have probably stumbled across the words "anabolic", or "growth hormones" or perhaps you've overheard conversations or rumors about them. And if you're like most people, you have a general idea about what they are but most of your knowledge is based on assumption, rumors, or media. The details might allude you. As an athlete who is questioned daily about this topic, and accused of using them, I'd like to share some knowledge about them. For the sake of clarification, I do not use hormones or steroids.
By simple definition, growth hormones are used by athletes in hopes of using them as a shortcut to increase muscle mass and recovery. Other uses include unproven anti-aging qualities ("fountain of youth"). Until recently, they were quite expensive. Due to their gaining, global popularity, cheap imports from places like China have become available. With costs falling between $100 to $500 per month and such ease of accessibility even high school athletes have started using them more commonly. Research suggests that significant use of the drugs by athletes of all levels will continue indefinitely.
So, what does HGH do? As a naturally occurring hormone it is secreted by the pituitary gland which then works with the liver (the liver produces another growth promoting hormone called insulin-like growth factor IGF-1 which mobilizes fats from fat cells to control body composition) in a process that initiates repair and healing of bodily tissue, including muscle. Think of how that theoretically benefits an athlete and the recovery period. It is during this repair/recovery period that gains occur. The synthetic form or HGH is no different. Athletes using it for performance enhancement are essentially taking control of the process typically initiated by the pituitary gland and speeding up the rate and frequency at which recovery begins and ultimately promoting growth. But not so fast...
Compared with testosterone, HGH has shown minimal beneficial effect on muscle gain or performance. Animal studies found that GH use stimulates muscle growth. Observations in athletes also suggest that naturally occurring GH is already quite high in elite bodybuilders who train intensively; however, the side effects can be severe.
Prolonged use of GH may produce low blood sugar, elevated insulin levels, heart enlargement, and elevated blood fats. Long-term administration could also lead to acromegaly (abnormal growth of the hands, feet, and face, caused by overproduction of growth hormone by the pituitary gland), cardiomyopathy, peripheral nerve damage, osteoporosis (weakening of the bones), arthritis, heart disease, insulin resistance, carpal tunnel syndrome.
Some athletes have also been found to take drugs that increase natural growth hormone secretion. These drugs include propranolol, clonidine, levodopa. There is no evidence that these practices enhance muscle hypertrophy.
So, what's the take away here? The practice of using performance enhancing drugs is a personal decision and some of you will support it. It's also dangerous to your health. Again, I do not suggest drug use and strongly advocate for good meal plans, well developed workout programs, recuperation, and healthy supplementation if possible.
In my upcoming blogs I will discuss an extension of Growth Hormones that is Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1).
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