Hormones are not the first things that come to mind for most when they think about building muscles, or losing fat. Often, people think about either the weight room and how much they dislike it, or the treadmill and how much they dislike it. A proper diet low in unnecessary fats, high in protein and controlled in calories only does so much for physical fitness.
No, that does not mean that a proper diet is unimportant, eating well is one of the most crucial components in fitness. That simply means that without considering other components, such as regular exercise, adequate rest (yes, rest is equally important) and the impact of hormones on muscle production and fat reduction, it is an incomplete equation. Here we are talking about the “switches” that can help ramp up muscle growth and fat burning, but they can also work against those processes if not properly controlled.
The 6 most important hormones in balancing fat burning and muscle growth to get a lean, cut body are: growth hormone, testosterone, estrogen, thyroid hormone, insulin and cortisol. Although both testosterone and estrogen are mentioned, yes, this is a unisex set of concepts and can be applied across the board. These are not necessarily fat burners, but understanding how each of these individually affect muscle growth and fat burning can make the difference in results being mediocre versus insane.
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Starting with this seems to be easy, since growth is in the name, but it is actually also important for maintaining muscle while still cutting fat. Often when cutting fat, muscle is lost too, slowing the metabolism. Keeping growth hormone high can help maintain that muscle tissue, keeping fat burning efficiently. Getting a full 8 hours sleep can help replenish growth hormone.
Other means by which growth hormone can be maintained are by doing high-intensity interval training and lifting heavy weight for low reps (maxing). Keeping insulin low can also have the effect of aiding growth hormone levels. Supplementing with niacin can also be a benefit, if low growth hormone is suffering for any specific reason.
Testosterone and growth hormone together are the two main drivers behind building muscle mass. Yes, women create testosterone as well. Both genders make and need both gender hormones, but they create and maintain them both in different levels (hence, genders). Testosterone is responsible for synthesizing protein into muscle mass, as well as keeping growth hormone levels high. If testosterone levels drop, growth hormone levels will drop as well, which severely cripples the ability to build muscle, as well as maintain it.
To keep testosterone high, many of the same rules apply as keeping up growth hormone levels. Staying well-fed with healthy fats can help. Red meats are a great source of the ingredients for high testosterone levels.
Estrogen is created by both genders, though less in men. Much the same as testosterone keeps muscle building and fat burning high, estrogen works opposite that and reverses those benefits. Keeping fat content low and eating green vegetables like broccoli can also help keep estrogen lower. Alcohol consumption, as well as use of narcotic (opiate) drugs will both suppress creation of testosterone and help estrogen work more on the body, so limiting both of those is also a very important key to that perfect beach body.
Thyroid hormones have much the same effect as testosterone — regulating metabolism, keeping protein synthesizing into muscle and fat burning. Low calorie diets can result in a lowered creation of thyroid hormone, again, reducing gains and losses. An iodine-rich diet can help to regulate thyroid hormone production.
Insulin overproduction can lead to more fat storage than expected. In safe amounts, insulin can help a body at rest to burn fat. However, it is a dangerous balance to tamper with, which should be done aided by a trained professional. To elevate insulin levels, high carbohydrate levels need to be taken in, so a carbo load directly before or after a work out helps.
Cortisol tends to have negative effects on the body as a whole. It is also known as the stress hormone because it accumulates when the body and mind are under a lot of stress. To keep levels of cortisol low, preventing stress and not over-training can help. Keeping caffeine intake low is also beneficial. Working hard for gains and losses of fat deserves the gains earned, so taking the time to properly rest and keep life enjoyable will serve to benefit physical fitness. It’s scientifically proven, so don’t forget to enjoy life.