Tuesday 2 October 2012

Growth Hormone and Fat Loss

Question: I am working with a young, female client.  She is a beginner with no history of resistance or cardiovascular training.  Her goals are to "tone up" and "get ripped".  We are three weeks into a fat loss resistance training program and she recently told me she is going to start taking a growth hormone supplement. What, if anything do you expect these do for her?  She is in her prime as far as naturally producing growth hormones, correct?  Are there any risks?

Answer: My training philosophy is to do things the natural way. I want to get the best results possible without the use of growth hormone, steroids or other performance enhancing products. I don't say this to judge those who choose to use drugs, but I choose not to use them and the clients and athletes I train don't use them either. Therefore, when it comes to fat loss or any other goal, my goal is to figure out the best way to do it naturally. 

Your client is definitely correct in that growth hormone is very effective for fat loss. Many professional body builders use it for that very reason. If you choose to do it naturally, it can still be beneficial to try to increase the body's growth hormone levels in a safe way. There are several ways to do this including sleep (getting more sleep and more sleep before midnight), frequent eating and staying warm.

In terms of training, there are two effective strategies:

  1. Increase lactate levels: intense metabolic weight training or interval training - get the set/interval duration up over 30-40sec so that you really get the lactate production going. Note: be sure to stop sets sooner if you see a loss of proper technique or excessive fatigue
  2. Increase training volume: research on growth hormone seems to suggest that a higher volume of training (i.e. more sets) seems to increase growth hormone secretion. Note: be sure to gradually build up the volume and monitor for over training or joint/tendon/muscle overuse issues.

The one thing that seems to be unclear is whether or not these changes result in a significant-enough increase in natural growth hormone secretion to make a difference for leanness. However, they are all good things to do, so even if they don’t significantly increase growth hormone, you don't lose out by doing them.

Now in reference to this particular supplement, there does not seem to be a lot of information on it other than the YouTube add and the testimonial. My hunch is that it is a just a trendy new fad supplement with big claims that will under-deliver. I agree with you that your client does not likely need it - especially at her age. Most likely it will just be a waste of money. If the supplement does happen to stay around long enough, then we may get some actual research on its effectiveness and find out if there are any side  effects. If it truly is like taking growth hormone, then you have to consider the following: 

The endocrine system is very fine-tuned. I have often given people the illustration of a giant control panel full of knobs and dials with each one set just perfectly. If you come along and drastically spike one level, the body often tries to re-gain hormonal balance by adjusting the levels of other hormones. Now, in all fairness, this seems to be more of an issue with steroids than with growth hormone, but based on my study of the endocrine system I still believe it is best to not mess with hormones. Because growth hormone is relatively new, there still is a lot to learn about long-term effects. 

Another thing for your client to consider is public opinion. Many people seeking to make physique changes are doing it at least in part to earn the respect of others. The problem with using drugs is that general public still views them as "cheating". They don't understand that professional physique athletes who use drugs still have to train very hard and long and follow a very strict diet. Therefore, conversations can go like this:

Everyday person: "wow, what's your secrete?"
Your client: "I used growth hormone and trained really, hard and ate well"
Everyday person (just hears "growth hormone"): "Oh" (then walks away un-impressed)

Ultimately, the choice is up to your client. However, I think you as a trainer should help her make an informed decision. I would encourage her to spend her money on healthy foods and training sessions with you.

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