Steroids are a type of hormone. Hormones are “chemical messengers”– made, stored, and released into the blood largely by a group of “body structures specialized for secretion” which are spread throughout the body and called Endocrine Glands. The endocrine glands are stimulated to release their hormones in response stimuli which usually originate OUTSIDE the body. In other words, hormones are key players in the moment to moment adaptation of the body to the constantly changing world around it.
Besides coming from Endocrine Glands, hormones can sometimes be made directly inside a cell. This source and distribution of hormones is called “autocrine secretion.” These hormones never leave the cell which makes them. A hormone that is important to weightlifters (though I won’t talk much of it today) can be of this type… it is called Insuline-Like Growth Factor One.
Additionally, hormones can be secreted from cell to cell without the need to swim through the bloodstream. This method of hormone secretion is known as “panacrine secretion.” Since these hormones do not use the blood, the communicating cells must be adjacent.
But back to the main line of our story… Most blood-carried hormones travel with a buddy in an inactive state until hormone and road buddy unbind from each other. A variety of “binding proteins” can ferry hormones. Because bound hormones are inactive, the population of them swimming in the bloodstream in any given moment acts like a fluid storage unit for hormones until they are used.
Unfortunately for biology students the world over who are trying to memorize lists of hormones and what they do, most hormones play multiple roles. For just one example, our authors point out that Testosterone reacts with almost every tissue. Also, hormones can influence each other… in this way they can act in tandem to produce a third, moderated outcome. Some hormones, like Growth Factor, are believed to link together or aggregate in such a way that it increases their power to stimulate the cell.
Let’s postpone talking about the different types of hormones (Peptides, Thyroids, Steroids, etc) for just a bit, and talk first about hormone receptors… A hormone can only affect a cell possessing a receptor for that particular hormone.
The number of receptors can increase or decrease, as well as their sensitivity. If a hormone can’t get to a cell receptor and react with it, then it will be useless to the body. Hormone receptors are located in two places: 1) Peptide-Hormones react with receptors on the surface of cells, and 2) Steroids and Thyroid-Made-Hormones, have their receptors in the holy-of-holies– the nucleus of a cell.
Hormones are nothing to play around with. They impact the very DNA of our cells. Steroids and Thyroid-Made-Hormones, each with a key to the nucleus itself, can affect the DNA relatively straight-forwardly. However some hormones, like Peptide-Hormones, “have to influence the DNA via second-hand reactions.”
.Here are the principle Endocrine Glands (remember, these are what made and secrete hormones)…
- Gonads – Testes (dudes) or Ovaries (chicks)
2 & 3. Adrenal Glands – these are in the vicinity of the Liver and Kidneys;
– there’s the internal part (the “adrenal medulla“) and
– an exterior part (the “adrenal cortex“– which, by the way, I’ve always thought is a misleading name since “cortex” sounds like “core”– but don’t let it confuse YOU like it did me)
4 & 5. Pituitary Gland – at the bottom of the brain; also two parts here: the 1) Anterior Pituitary and the 2) Posterior Pituitary
- Thyroid Gland – in the neck
- Parathyroid Glands– at base of the Thyroid
- Pancreas – below the liver, between kidneys
- Kidneys – below the liver and on either side of the pancreas
10. Liver – above pancreas and kidneys
11. Heart – they claim everyone has one of these
[by the way, I hate it when the computer thinks it’s smarter than me and starts trying to help me number… urghh…]
Now let’s talk about STEROIDS—natural ones. Keep in mind that this term “anabolic” refers to things in the body which build things; they are energy-sucking. “Catabolic” refers to things which work in the opposite curve of the circle of life—they tear things down and release energy.
Steroids naturally come from one of two places in the body: the gonads (testes/ovaries) or the adrenal cortex. They are fat-soluble. And as I pointed out earlier, since steroids not only have a key to get inside the cell but also enter the nucleus, they get direct access to genetic material and can have the cell make whatever protein they dictate.
Testosterone, as the name suggests, is a steroid hormone which comes mostly from the testes– that is why women have 15 to 20 times less concentration of testosterone then men. Additionally, our authors tell us that “most studies have not been able to demonstrate an acute increase in testosterone following resistance exercise workout for women.” That’s unfortunate for female bodybuilders because testosterone is vital in making muscle.
I mentioned that Steroids are fat-soluble. This boring little fact actually proves quite important– for whereas Steroid Hormones can enter far into the cell, Polypeptide Hormones —not being fat-soluble– are not able to cross the cell membrane. That’s why their receptors are on the outside of the cell. At least two important hormones for weightlifting are Polypeptides– Growth Hormone and Insulin. They have to recruit messengers inside the cell to carry their instructions for them to the protein-builders of the cell.
Growth Hormone comes from the Anterior Pituitary. Growth Hormone not only directly stimulates protein synthesis, but also stimulates production of Insulin-Like Growth Factor One, which comes from the Liver or can be made directly inside the cell via the autocrine method I mentioned earlier. Our authors tell us that the role of Insulin-Like Growth Factors in protein synthesis is “prolific”– but not very well understood.
According to our authors, women actually have more Growth Hormone then men.
And speaking of women and hormones, here’s a news flash… our authors confirm that hormone concentrations vary in females with the menstrual cycle. I only mention this here because one of the outcomes of these hormonal changes is that female hormone responses to exercise varies depending on the phase of menstrual cycle they are in at the time of the work-out– “although the mechanisms of this variation are unclear.”
Insulin, from the Pancreas, is also involved in protein synthesis, as well as in the storage of glycogen (used for energy body the body). Furthermore, by inducing glucose transporters to move from the inside of the cell to the cell membrane, Insulin increases the amount of glucose a cell sucks-up.
Cortisol is an interesting hormone. It is made in the Adrenal Cortex, and it’s a great example of the concept of “creative destruction”– the idea that sometimes before something new can be built, something old must be torn down. Cortisol is associated with anabolism’s opposite activity– catabolism (as you recall, that’s the breaking down of proteins). However, Cortisol also signals the body to start synthesizing the glucose and storing the glycogen needed to supply the energy for growing muscle. Without enough glycogen, proteins would be shifted from muscle-making activities to energy-making tasks– which would not be the most efficient use of proteins for achieving strength-building goals. Also, some breaking down of old proteins is a necessary part of remodeling muscles to be bigger and stronger.
Of course, bodybuilders are rightfully fearful of Cortisol’s dark side (breaking down things)… Speaking in general of the importance of altering weight-lifting exercises, the authors state that “training protocols must be varied to allow the Adrenal Gland to engage in recovery processes and to prevent the secondary responses of Cortisol– which can have negative effects on the immune system and protein structures.” They suggest sometimes allowing yourself longer rest-periods and reducing the number of sets in order to allow the Adrenal Gland to engage in recovery processes which will prevent the release of too much Cortisol and the “chronic catabolic responses” associated with that hormone.
I also find Cortisol interesting because it comes from adrenal gland’s Adrenal Cortex. Why does this interest me? Because the Adrenal Gland is associated with the fight-or-flight mechanism— a stress event in the body triggered by perceived danger. Thus, the activation of Cortisol shows how a hard work-out and a dangerous situation can result in similar body responses. In other words, as our authors state it, the “induced stress” of resistance exercise “leads to events similar to the classic fight-or-flight response.”
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One of the goals of designing a weightlifting regimen is to try to manipulate the body’s endocrine system— specifically the hormones involved in muscle-building. “The type of resistance training workout used,” contend our authors, “dictates the hormonal responses.”
When we’re in the gym moving heavy things around, we are actually in the process of manipulating the endocrine system. One of the things we are doing, especially if we are men, is increasing the amount of testosterone in the body.
There are Five Ways Of Increasing Testosterone Via Weightlifting…
- through heavy, large muscle-group exercises, such as deadlifts, squats, and power cleans
- by struggling against HEAVY resistance in general (lifting between 85 and 95% of the maximum amount we can lift one time in whatever exercise we are doing)
- through the volume of strength-requiring exercises (doing multiple sets of multiple exercises)
- by utilizing short rest intervals (30 seconds to one minute) which keep pushing the body to grow stronger
- by the long-term application of weightlifting– two years or more
Similar factors increase the Growth Hormone response of the body. The authors remind us in the context of Growth Hormone that we cannot simply repeat the same exercises month after month… to maximize hormonal response to weightlifting, we must change-up the exercises– continuously stressing the body and pushing it outside its comfort zone.
The hormones EpiNephrine and norEpiNephrine, which I haven’t talked about, can also be manipulated by exercise patterns. Both of these hormones increase force production and muscle contraction rate. Furthermore, they increase blood flow and energy availability– not mention the secretion of testosterone. And again, the same type of workout advice is given for the maximization of these two hormones as for Testosterone and Growth Hormone. Say our authors…
“A high intensity, short rest, heavy resistance exercise-routine typically used by bodybuilders for development of strength and hypertrophy was shown to maintain increased plasma norEpiNephrine, EpiNephrine, and Dopamine levels for five minutes into recovery.”