growth hormone bodybuilding

Posted 10 months ago

Growth Hormone and bodybuilding

As you begin to climb the ranks in the bodybuilding game, you are sure to come across the use of growth hormone (GH) alongside anabolics. This is seen in particularly in the heavier classes that require more muscle mass such as heavy weights, super heavy or class 1,2 etc. Although it might not be needed, it can and will be used by athletes in the classes below these too.

Importantly and unfortunately, many people who do use GH might do so without a full understanding of what it does in the body and how it can help when bulking or dieting. Therefore, the aim of this article is to discuss exactly what growth hormone is, what it does within the body, and why it is used in bodybuilding. As a disclaimer, please be aware that the information discussed in this article is for education purposes only and should not be deemed as advice of any kind.

What is growth hormone?

Growth hormone is a peptide hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. Peptides are short strings of amino acids, typically comprising 2–50 amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are larger clusters of peptides (formed of amino acids) linked together. Peptides are thus smaller molecules than proteins, which makes them easier for the body to absorb.

GH stimulates cell growth, reproduction, and regulation in all cells across the body. Relevant to bodybuilding, it is directly involved in regulating body composition alongside carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism. In the medical world though, it is used to treat muscle wasting diseased associated with AIDs/HIV, pituitary tumour deficiency in adults, and chronic kidney disease or tuners syndrome in children.

Once secreted from the pituitary, GH will stimulate the liver to produce a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). It is the IGF-1 that directly works on all cells in the body to reproduce and potentially grow, both in size and number.

Why would this be used in bodybuilding?

If you were to ask any bodybuilder out there how much muscle gain they would get from GH use alone without the accompanied use of anabolics, they would tell you that it would be very little. However, when using anabolics alongside GH, there is a significant increase in the muscle gained, relative to what would be observed if one were to just use anabolics on their own.

The mechanisms by which this occurs is still misunderstood due to a lack of research around it, and as such, definite conclusions are hard to come by. However, there is a theory that seems to explain the link between GH, use of anabolics, and muscle growth. Here comes the geeky part:

We know from the information above that GH increases IGF-1 secretion from the liver, which helps body cells reproduce and grow. To take advantage of this effect, bodybuilders will take exogenous GH so that they can have more of that effect occur than what would be secreted naturally. Given the half-life of GH being 2-4 hours, this will be done twice across the day, so that there is an ongoing higher level of GH in the body, which leads to higher levels of circulating IGF-1 in their body across the day.

Now, here’s the key: the use of anabolic steroids increases IGF-1 receptors in skeletal muscle. This means that as a result of taking GH and anabolic steroids, one will find themselves in a scenario in which there is an increased level of IGF-1 in their body, and an increased number of receptors for that molecule to bind to in muscle. Once bound to those receptors, IGF-1 can then promote the growth and proliferation of the cell; and so there you have the link between GH and anabolics. However, more research would be required to define the exact pathways and mechanisms by which it does so.

There is also an additional reason for which GH is used by bodybuilders. In fact, GH has been shown to upregulate the breakdown of stored fat, but also to promote the use of that fat as an energy source. This is of course advantageous to any bodybuilder who is dieting for a competition, as they don’t need to manipulate energy balance to see an increase in fat loss. However, this effect is only observed when one is in a fasted state; hence why you will tend to see bodybuilders who use growth hormone do fasted cardio.

Personally, I tend to use it due to its positive effects on connective tissue (i.e., tendons, ligaments, and joints). When we train, we can pound muscle into the ground one session and come back stronger the next week, and whilst our muscles will recover fine, the recovery of our connective tissue takes a little longer. Bearing in mind that GH promotes cell growth and recovery in all cells, it consequently supports the recovery of our connective tissue, shortening its natural recovery period. I’ve found that when I don’t use GH, my joints can feel a little achy at times and I am more prone to injury, and then the complete opposite happens when I do use it consistently.

Lastly, some bodybuilders may use GH for its cosmetic effects such as improved skin health and hair quality.

Are there any negatives?

Like anything within the assisted bodybuilding realm, there are consequences for taking exogenous hormones. The main risk would be remembering that GH promotes growth in all cells. As such, if you had a benign or malignant tumour(s) in your body, it would grow as a result of taking GH, and the growth of said tumours would be irreversible. I know that might sound a bit morbid because you might not know if you have one or not, but it is a risk you need to be aware of.

Not only that, but if you were to use high dosages, you could see the growth of your hands, feet and even skull, which again, is irreversible. Personally, I have only used lower doses and haven’t noticed such side effects, but everyone will respond differently.

For as much as GH will promote the recovery of connective tissue, users can sometimes experience some swelling around joints, pain, and carpel tunnel syndrome. It will promote some fluid retention which may lead to lower back pumps and an increase in systolic blood pressure.

You will tend to see bodybuilders use insulin alongside GH use, and that is because growth hormone will promote the breakdown of stored glucose into the blood stream as well as the conversion or amino acids to glucose. This results in an increase in blood sugar, which could leave blood sugar levels in a sub-optimal range for muscle growth and may promote an increase uptake of glucose into fat stores. Personally, having used GH on its own in 2020 versus using GH alongside insulin in 2021, I can say that my blood sugar management was much better in 2021. I was also able to hold better condition at the same weight and my blood pressure was a lot lower. If blood sugars were to stay elevated and left unchecked for an extended period (years) this could lead to insulin desensitization and becoming pre diabetic.

When might you choose to start using GH?

Like with any compound/hormone used in assisted bodybuilding, the decision to use is highly personal, so I’ll just discuss my own journey and why I decided to use it.

Alongside insulin, GH was something I swore I would never use. This mainly stemmed from a lack of knowledge surrounding these hormones, and an irrational fear of getting something wrong or developing ‘growth gut’.

But as the years went on, my knowledge grew alongside my goals. Going from just wanting to do a men’s physique show in 2017, to being hell bent on winning a British title in 2021 in classic physique, the enormity of the goal changed significantly.

Like most bodybuilders, we want as much muscle growth as we can possibly get, thus my decision was made. I’d never really got above 120kg in previous bulks, but when I introduced growth hormone for the first time in 2020 I was able to push up to 132kg. Looking back on it now, I was holding a lot of fluid and my blood pressure was terrible; but fast forward to 2022, where I’m now using insulin alongside it, things are very different. I’m much leaner, holding less fluid, and my blood pressure is within range. Lesson learnt for me: control your blood sugars if you’re thinking of using GH.

With regards to when to consider using it, I personally think that it can be a fantastic addition if you’re looking to push into the heavier weight classes. However, if you’re simply just wanting to be a big dude in the gym, then I wouldn’t even consider it, not to mention that it’ll set you back a fair bit of cash each month.

In summary, growth hormone promotes cell growth, proliferation, and regulation in all bodily tissues, and its effects are mediated through IGF-1. It is the IGF-1 that serves as the link between the use of anabolics and GH, whereas the use of GH alone wouldn’t give you much benefit.  Like anything in this sport, the use can come with risks, and if you’re not careful, it can have serious consequences over time. From personal experience, I would always look to control your blood sugars whilst using and would only implement into one’s journey if your goal shifts in its enormity.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons