People who are aware of human growth hormone (HGH) and its role in the body often want to know if its release can be naturally stimulated. After all, it’s been deemed “the youth hormone.” Who in their right mind wouldn’t want a regular and hefty dose of ‘natural HGH release’ if it can serve as even a modicum of “the fountain of youth?” This vital hormone is secreted by our pituitaries in large amounts when we’re young. That daily discharge steadily decreases as we age, with a steep drop-off occurring in our late thirties. Given that HGH plays a major role in preserving many things youthful, it’s natural to want to know if natural HGH release can be improved.
Here is just a short list of positive effects of increased human growth hormone (HGH) in the body:
- Lower body fat
- Increased muscle strength
- Higher energy levels
- Improved libido
- Improved skin elasticity
- Improved mental acuity and memory
With these major benefits in mind, let’s start with the realization that there are only four purported ways of increasing natural HGH release. Here are those four methods:
- Improved diet
- Improved sleep
We’ll start by examining each of these methods of natural HGH release in an attempt to uncover which ones are promising and which are manifestations of slick attempts at trying to separate you and me from our money.
“Natural HGH Release”: Do HGH-releasing supplements work?
A few years ago, I was introduced to a medical doctor who specialized in “hormone replacement therapy.” I declined his offer to put me on exogenous HGH and testosterone, but something he said resonated with me nonetheless. He told me he’d recently attended a nutritional supplement trade show in Las Vegas. At the show, there was a booth at which representatives of a high profile supplement company were hawking their version of an “HGH releasing secretagogue.” He claimed to have assertively called them out on the fraud in which he perceived them to be engaged:
“Hey… you guys are just ripping people off with that stuff. None of it releases human growth hormone. You’re charging 50 to 60 dollars for a box of pills that don’t do anything.”
He told me that one of them answered back with the following paraphrase:
“Uh… well… we really don’t care. If people want to believe this stuff will cause their pituitary glands to spurt out HGH like stimulated little fire hoses, we’ll sell it to them.”
All these years later, I have to say that time has supported the assertion of the good doctor. His personal incentive to promote HGH drugs notwithstanding, his assessment of the natural products seems right on the money. Secretagogues purported to increase natural HGH release became heavily marketed in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. If any of them were effective, they’d likely have become wildly popular by now. Word-of-mouth about their positive effects would have had plenty of time to proliferate. As it turns out, their faddish time in the limelight has since died down.
The reason might be due to something else for which the doctor reminded me. He said that these supplements are all based on research findings that suggest supplementation with the amino acid L-Arginine increases natural HGH release. However, the studies that showed L-Arginine to be a potent HGH releaser were all done using high-dose injections of L-Arginine – not over-the-counter pills and capsules containing relatively puny doses of the amino acid.
An article by Dr. Jarrett Morrow cites a relatively recent study done to discover if oral doses of L-Arginine actually have any effect on HGH release. Despite the finding that both high and low doses increased plasma arginine levels, neither had the effect of increasing HGH, nitric oxide, IGF-1, or insulin levels. That’s a sobering finding for anyone thinking about plunking down their hard-earned cash for bottle of L-Arginine or an ‘HGH secretagogue.’
If you mention these findings to an HGH secretagogue marketer or nutritional supplement store clerk, you’ll likely hear a diatribe about how L-Arginine needs to be “stacked” with L-Lysine, L-Glutamine, an effervescent delivery system, or any number of other nutraceuticals in order to be effective. I can only say that this reminds me of the late 1980s and early 90s when everyone swore that combining arginine with L-Ornithine was the secret to realizing its HGH-releasing magic.
Bottom line: Let the buyer beware when traversing the front lines of supplement marketing for natural HGH release.
“Natural HGH Release”: Could exercise do it?
Personally, I find the idea of increased natural HGH release through certain exercise protocols to be a much more compelling possibility than attempts to boost it through supplementation. It just makes sense that certain stresses on the body might necessitate increased release of this recuperative hormone as a compensatory response.
Back in the 1980s, a product called Cybergenics was based on the premise that natural HGH release could be increased through a very specific type (and specifically timed) weight training regimen. The prescribed workout was extremely intense, calling for multiple sets of forced repetitions. Adding to this intensity was the requirement that workouts be done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach after 12 hours of fasting by the participant. The only calories allowed were a cup of black coffee (no cream or sugar) to help one’s nervous system through the intense workout.
Ironically, if it weren’t for Cybergenic’s obvious excesses, its creator (Scott Chinery) might have been onto something. It turns out that both fasting and intense exercise has been shown to stimulate the pituitary gland to increase the pulsatile frequency of natural HGH release. The Cybergenics protocol combined these workout and fasting demands with supplementation of products containing (among other things)… you guessed it… arginine and ornithine.
So why didn’t the Cybergenics program have lasting impact?
Obviously, if the tissue-damaging demands of a regimen override the recuperative benefits of even an increased amount of regenerative hormones stimulated by that regimen, a negative outcome will result. This was the case with Cybergenics. It might have been on the right track with its HGH stimulatory measures, but it was overkill. Not even bodybuilding routines that are absent of insane intensifying techniques will result in progress if rest days between workouts are inadequate in number. Thus, weekly workouts consisting of too many sets that are performed with maximum intensity will result in overtraining – an outcome for which increased natural HGH release will likely not compensate.
Natural HGH Release through Workouts: A workable approach?
So… could there be an HGH releasing workout method that’s moderate enough in intensity to be effective? Are there techniques that could feasibly stimulate natural HGH release without completely obliterating the muscles?
Back in 1990, a book was released that outlined a workout protocol that was said to do exactly that. The author’s name is Douglas M. Crist, PhD. His book, ‘Growth Hormone Synergism’, explained a method he called ‘Staggered Volume Training’ (SVT). Though the book has long been out of print, the basics of his methodology are described on a handful of bodybuilding websites.
In a nutshell, SVT advised adherents to perform workouts first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (sound familiar?). These workouts consist of between 6 to 10 sets per exercise of 7-12 reps per set. No more than two major exercises are to be used for each muscle and no more than three minute’s rest is to be used between sets. In addition, the workout weight being used should be between 60% and 70% of the one-rep maximum the trainee is capable of performing on the particular exercises being used.
Here’s where the “staggered” concept comes in: The six to ten sets per exercise are to be done in groups of three – trading off between two major muscle groups. For example, if you were doing chest and back together, you might perform three sets of bench presses followed by three sets of T-bar rows. You’d then go back to three sets of bench presses… then three sets of rows again. Obviously, in doing this, you’d hit nine sets for each of the two body parts after switching between the two exercises five times.
By staggering the sets like this, Crist claimed that the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles could be maximized while keeping the volume of workout weight at the highest level possible. This combination of high lactic acid levels, max volume loads, and low blood sugar levels would cause the pituitary gland to augment natural HGH release.
The author never did describe how the user of this regimen was supposed to apply progressive overload; I guess its application was simply assumed. He was specific, however, in the frequency of working each muscle group in this manner – about every five days. This seems excessive by my estimates, even if natural HGH release is successfully enhanced. And it just might be the “make-or-break” factor that kept Staggered Volume Training from ever taking off.
For whatever it’s worth, the use of L-arginine and L-ornithine in conjunction with this workout is taken in a 2:3 ratio. Mr. Crist recommended 2 grams of ornithine with 3 grams of arginine for those weighing over 200 pounds – 1.5 grams of ornithine with 2 grams of arginine for those weighing 151-200 pounds – and 1 gram of ornithine with 1.5 grams of arginine for those weighing 150 pounds and under. These, of course, were to be taken on an empty stomach before workouts and/or before bedtime. Whether they helped with natural HGH release is debatable.
I’ll admit to never having tried Douglas M. Crist’s SVT program. For any of you who have, I’d love to get your comments at the end of this post.
Natural HGH Release: The Peak 8 Exercise Method
For those who still don’t realize the rewarding benefits of bodybuilding, there’s a ‘sprinting method’ of exercise that’s purported to enhance natural HGH release. The method was developed by Phil Campbell and popularized by Dr. Joseph Mercola. It calls for doing sets of all-out thirty second sprints with intermittent 90-second rest periods in-between. This sprinting workout can be done through actual running or pedaling all-out on a stationary bike. In either case, a two hour period of refraining from carbohydrate consumption following the workout is advised in order to maximize natural HGH release.
It’s called Peak 8 because the ultimate goal is to perform eight of these evenly spaced, thirty second sprints after a 3-minute warm-up period. Campbell and Mercola claim that not only does this work the heart muscle anaerobically but can also increase HGH levels by as much as 530 percent. Like the muscle building workouts of SVT, it’s claimed that this increased HGH release is due to extreme lactic acid buildup.
Whether such a dramatic HGH increase occurs through this type of training and the extent of actual benefits is anyone’s guess. Dr. Mercola himself gives personal testimonial of noticeable fat loss acceleration from using the program. Of course, if I were his trainer, I’d get him on a conjunctive adherence to my HardBody Success bodybuilding protocol to really give him some physique improvement to rave about.
What I find interesting is the idea of combining some Peak 8 workouts with an empty stomached hybrid of SVT and the HardBody Success system. After all, the HardBody Success muscle building principles are very compatible with SVT. And since one of my major principles is allowing more rest days between bodybuilding workouts, adding in a couple Peak 8 workouts would be easy.
I’ll keep my readers posted on whether I test a combination of these methods along with the results I experience.
Natural HGH Release through Improved Diet and Sleep
Up to fifty percent of daily HGH release happens while we sleep. A big nighttime burst in HGH occurs shortly after falling asleep with subsequent sleep-time releases being correspondent with sleep wave patterns. Basically, the more ‘slow-wave sleep’ (SWS) patterns we get, the more nighttime HGH release occurs. This relationship can be readily seen in a study whereby a deprivation of SWS patterns results in reduced HGH release.
Unsurprisingly, nightly bouts of SWS tend to reduce in number and duration as we age. So does release of melatonin, the naturally occurring compound in our bodies that helps us sleep. One has to wonder if these are cause-and-effect occurrences or merely correlative. Would using supplemental melatonin prior to sleep be a good method of improving natural HGH release? It’s definitely a method that’s been used by many people.
Diet-wise, a key to remember is that high insulin seems to be antagonistic to the release of natural HGH. For this reason, it’s often advised to abstain from food intake for four hours before nighttime sleep in order to maximize HGH release. This is where I personally draw the line; going to bed four hours hungry would be my prescription for awakening two hours later with a bad case of the munchies. I personally go as far as carb tapering in order to minimize nighttime insulin levels, but that’s about it.
Ironically, it’s noted in the fourth paragraph of the Wikipedia description of slow-wave sleep that high carbohydrate ingestion can help induce this deep stage of slumber. With this in mind, I find it difficult to believe that blood sugar levels aren’t sufficiently lowered for HGH release by the final hours of deep sleep. At least if one makes his or her final meal of the day consist of exclusively protein and dietary fat, insulin should be sufficiently lowered for the final phases of SWS.
This just underlines the reality that there’s not total agreement on everything pertaining to improvement of natural HGH release.
Your comments and experiences are encouraged.