Roids for Bros, GH for Pros
Steroids have always been the blue-collar anabolic drug of choice. You got them from guys named Rick or Bobby or Moose who wore faded World Gym T-shirts and always hung around the locker room at the gym.
Alternately, you'd get them through the mail and you'd get a box that contained a couple of vials enclosed in a box that was enclosed in another box that was enclosed in yet another box, all with so much wrapping tape that the post office inspector would take one look at it, say, "Oh momma, I don't need this crap," and let it pass.
And they were relatively cheap, too. You could easily afford them if you were willing to miss a car payment or two.
But growth hormone? That was the ghastly expensive white-collar drug. It was for athletes or pro bodybuilders or masters of the universe stockbrokers who got it from some guy named Horst who worked at the clinic.
GH was what blue collar guys aspired to – a "clean," elegant drug produced by genetic engineering that was hardly ever tested for and did all its magic without making your back all oily and pustular, or shrinking your testicles until they were indistinguishable from some Green Giant brand frozen peas.
But here's something the blue-collar guys can lord over the white-collar guys: Growth hormone doesn't build muscle. It's not exactly a hoax, because a hoax suggests someone was trying to fool people. No, in the case of GH, we all fooled ourselves.
For years I've described foods, nutrients, and exercise programs that increase growth hormone production, but I always did so half-heartedly because I've never really found evidence that increasing GH production, even by injecting it, amounted to much, at least muscle wise.
And neither was there any proof that GH allowed Barry Bonds to hit more home runs or helped Peyton Manning throw passes with any more zip or accuracy. It may have, however, helped Yankee's pitcher Andy Pettitt recover from his torn flexor tendon a lot quicker, and this is where the real worth of growth hormone lies.
It's 100-proof dumbassery that the law doesn't allow both professional and amateur athletes of all stripes to use GH to facilitate healing.
Regardless of this fact, millions of people, including just about anyone involved in overseeing professional and amateur sports, continues to believe that GH muscles you up – that it's a PED.
The beliefs about its efficacy are all based on two-dimensional thinking. We know that GH is instrumental in the muscular and skeletal growth of young people, and we see that old people lose muscle and suffer reductions in GH as they age, so we assume there's a correlation.
There are also numerous studies that show GH supplementation increases lean body mass and decreases body fat in GH-deficient patients. We also see GH-enhanced athletes accomplishing amazing feats on the field, and who can dismiss the gargantuan IFBB pros, all of who are no doubt using lots and lots of GH?
The trouble is, those studies that showed GH led to increased lean body mass in GH-deficient patients? The increases weren't from additional muscles. Instead, they were due to hypertrophy of connective tissue and increased water in cells (cell volumization), along with increased water in tissues because of changes in electrolyte balance.
Furthermore, these changes were observed in GH-deficient patients. GH supplementation in healthy young people hasn't been shown to promote any significant changes in muscle or strength.
Yes, what about those athletes and bodybuilders who supposedly got superhumanly good and large because of GH? Well, no IFBB athlete takes GH without also taking frighteningly large amounts of anabolic steroids. The same is true of athletes like Barry Bonds who were clients of Balco Labs, purveyors of fine anabolic cheese.
The benefits they experienced might have been solely from the steroids they were taking, or, there might be a synergy between GH and steroids that needs further exploration. But GH by itself? Piffle I say, piffle.
Yes, weight training increases the production of GH, but that doesn't mean muscular growth and GH are somehow directly intertwined.
Cardio increases GH, too. So does burning yourself, as does sitting on a block of ice. Going without food increases GH. So does slamming the door on your schlong.
Don't get me wrong, it's important to at least have normal levels of GH. Without normal levels, it'd be hard to add muscle under any circumstances, but increasing GH levels beyond normal has little if any effect on strength or hypertrophy.
But despite all I've said, GH is, or could be, incredibly effective in speeding up healing and for that reason should be legal and used in sports rehab as often as ice, massage, or physical therapy.
Granted, there haven't been that many studies supporting its use in this capacity. A 2010 Danish study showed that it increased collagen production in healthy individuals by 6 times without any negative side effects (1). The men were given GH and then asked to complete a few sets of a leg exercise (extensions). The GH didn't lead to any increases in muscle fiber thickness or density, but it did stimulate the production of collagen.
Another study, this one in Spain, found that researchers were able to speed up Achilles' tendon injuries through the use of different growth factors, including IGF-1 (the production of which is stimulated by GH) (2). Likewise, there are at least a couple of animal studies that show GH's value in speeding up the healing of damaged cartilage.
But given what we know about GH, given what I've seen GH do, it would almost surely be effective in speeding up virtually any kind of healing, potentially saving millions and millions of patients from additional weeks, months, or years of half-baked therapy and rehab.
- Doessing S et al. Growth hormone stimulates the collagen synthesis in human tendon and skeletal muscle without affecting myofibrillar protein synthesis. J Physiol. 2010 Jan 15;588(Pt 2):341-51. PubMed.
- Sánchez M et al. Comparison of surgically repaired Achilles tendon tears using platelet-rich fibrin matrices. Am J Sports Med. 2007 Feb;35(2):245-51. PubMed.