Hormones and Weight Gain
(It's not all about Testosterone and Estrogen)
When it comes to getting ripped, everybody knows it requires a combination of a clean [low-carbohydrate] diet and a solid training program.
But did you know your hormones are also an important part in this equation?
While you go pump iron and eat enough protein to feed a small tribe in Africa, your hormones are silently working away in the background - either to your advantage or raging war against your body.
This could be the reason why you can’t seem to lose anymore weight or you’re struggling to see any improvements despite all the hard work. If you can begin to understand how your hormones work and how they are affected by exercise, nutrition and your lifestyle, you can ultimately maximize your workouts and optimize your body's hidden weight loss weapons.
Insulin is a peptide hormone that is released by the beta cells within the pancreas, when our glucose levels exceed normal levels (70-110mg/dl). There are insulin receptors present in most cell membranes, and as such they are called insulin dependent, because they can absorb and utilize insulin. Once insulin is secreted, it binds with the glucose molecules in our blood stream and carries the glucose into the insulin receptors on skeletal muscle and the liver. Here it's stored as Glycogen, where it is ready to be used as an immediate fuel source, if need be so.
The problem lies, not in the secretion of Insulin, but in the levels of Glucose in our blood. When we consume a carbohydrate rich meal, our blood glucose levels rise, rapidly, resulting in a rise of insulin to carry the glucose molecules into the muscles and liver for storage. Some of this glycogen will be used for energy, however, if our energy expenditure does not utilize all this glycogen, then it remains in storage until we need it. While this is happening, the rest of our dietary intake, fats and more carbohydrates, are simply transformed into triglycerides, which is the principle storage form of fat. This is the process of becoming a fat mess.
- This is further explained in "Fat Loss 101: How Fat Loss Works"
What can you do?
Finding a balance between carbohydrate consumption, controlling glucose and insulin levels and regular moderate to high intensity exercise, will prevent you from falling victim to this metabolic nightmare. If you’re trying to lose weight, you need to reduce your carbohydrate intake to no more than 130grams of carbohydrates.♣ Replace your carbohydrates with protein and fat. This will help you to better control your insulin and glucose levels, not to mention melt the fat right off.
♣ (The Good Looking Loser Fat Loss Diet recommends <30grams of carbohydrates)
People who have a slow metabolism (metabolic rate) tend to have a slow thyroid. The opposite is true of people that have a fast metabolism.
If you have high TSH, T3 and T4, assuming you are also healthy, you metabolize and utilize dietary fat, carbohydrates and protein efficiently. If you don't, you tend to store fat easily and also have trouble building muscle.
These hormones are not just related to "if you put on weight easily," they are actively involved in the health of your cells and EVERY SINGLE process that happens in your body.
Thyroid hormone requires a separate comprehensive discussion.
I'll leave you with this-
When I was a personal trainer and nutritionist in Hollywood (2009-2011), other than diet, the key to helping my clients lose weight and keep it off was [safely] MAXIMIZING their TSH and T3 production. Even before I wrote them a specialized diet or training routine, I made them go to the doctor to get a thyroid panel. EVERY SINGLE ONE of my clients that was overweight ALSO HAD low TSH, T3 and T4 production. This is almost always how it is. The doctor, a board-certified endocrinologist, and I would work together to find the correct dose of thyroid hormone (specifically, T3) to give our trainee. Within 7 to 10 days, many of them were down 5-1o pounds with absolutely no change in diet or exercise. Many lost all the weight they wanted in one month.
Supplementing thyroid hormone is absolutely LIFE-CHANGING for some people. I am personally prescribed 12.5-17.5 mcg of T3/day. I can eat 4000 calories/day, not workout and not gain a single pound.
I attribute a lot of my success in life to the fact that I have optimal hormone levels.
This is not medical advice and is subject to our medical disclaimer. It is my opinion and I encourage you to see a doctor and only act on his recommendation and under his supervision.
I highly encourage you to be proactive about your health and not just wait until a doctor "by chance" discovers something at your once-a-year same-as-always checkup.
Furthermore, just because a doctor says your thyroid is "fine," doesn't mean it's not super low. You could be 20 years-old and have the TSH levels of a 90 year-old and most general practitioners will tell you "you're fine" and "there's nothing wrong" because it falls into the low-normal range.
ASK FOR THE NUMBERS.
It is YOUR HEALTH and YOUR RIGHT to see them and interpret them.
You want high-normal TSH levels to feel your best and keep fat off your body.
A large percentage of people that are depressed are given anti-depressant medicines, when they actually have a slow thyroid (hypothyroidism) which is causing the problem.
Getting old, at least hormonally, is completely optional.
You can ask your doctor for a "thyroid panel" from your doctor by citing "fatigue" and most insurance will cover it. Some doctors, however, will be a pain in the ass and require you to see an endocrinologist (hormone doctor) or one of his other friends.
If you don't have the time, patience or insurance to deal with a doctor you can get your own CONFIDENTIAL blood tests. Your doctor, insurance, law makers and parents don't get to interrogate you about why you want to be knowledgeable and proactive about your health.
I recommend using True Health Labs (USA, UK), you can get a-
If you've never ordered a blood test on the Internet, it's easy and inexpensive.
It DOES NOT require a doctor's approval or health insurance.
Pick the one you want, buy it, print out the email they send you, go to the nearby blood draw center you select (usually 1-2 miles away), take the test, you'll get your results via email in 48-72 hours.
It's easier than going to the doctor and it's one of those "non-mainstream" suggestions that bodybuilders, athletes and "certain people" know about that others might not.
Every client that worked with me in Los Angeles was required to take AT LEAST the "Full Thyroid Panel" but most of them were happy to take any test that Dr. Cohen and I told them to.
If you want to burn fat and build muscle, it won’t happen without the help of Growth Hormone.
Like its name suggest it promotes growth, the growth of strong muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage. It also helps you burn fat for fuel when you exercise. So how do you get your body to produce more of this magical hormone? The answer is through Exercise and Diet. Aerobic exercise of greater than 45 minutes and high intensity interval training are the best ways to increase your levels of growth hormone. The consumption of protein also helps stimulate your body to produce more growth hormone.
What can you do?
Consume a diet rich in protein, incorporate a couple of sessions of moderate to high intensity aerobic training or high intensity interval training in your week . This will ensure you are gaining the most benefits from the increased levels of Growth Hormone in your body. 8 hours of sleep is critical too.
As much as I'd like to sell you a supplement and use the money to buy hookers- as of March 2013, these measures will help you more than any ripoff "HGH" supplement. HGH supplements are complete garbage.
If you want the benefits of supplementing growth hormone, get the real deal. Synthetic growth hormones helps keep your glucose levels stable so you hypothetically can burn fat all day long.
Growth Hormone and Protein
As a short aside, it's helpful to learn about the relationship of Growth Hormone to Dietary Protein.
Growth Hormone is an anabolic hormone, meaning that it encourages growth and cell production. It is released after the consumption of protein and encourages protein synthesis (increase in muscle mass) and lipolysis (the breakdown of fat stores for energy = weight loss). Protein intake is positively correlated with growth hormone. Increasing your protein intake will increase your growth hormone levels and increased growth hormone levels will increase your muscle mass.
Think about vegetarians, this is one of the main reasons they are all so skinny and lack muscle. The extra muscle mass you gain will then again increase you body’s need for growth hormone and so the cycle continues. Moreover, frequent protein feedings will also increase absorption of protein and produce frequent growth hormone spikes. Ironically, growth hormone is suppressed by a high carbohydrate diet and peaks when insulin is at its lowest.
What can you do?
A diet that includes frequent feedings of high-quality protein encourages growth hormone production for its anabolic processes. Consuming a low-carbohydrate diet is critical if you want to ensure you are to gain the full benefits of growth hormone.
This hormone is secreted when your blood glucose levels drop below the normal range of blood glucose. It encourages the liver to convert your stored glycogen (glucose that is stored in your muscles and liver) back to glucose and release it into the blood stream to maintain your blood glucose levels. A major benefit of Glucagon is that it encourages lipolysis, the breakdown of fat to fatty acids for energy (ie. weight loss). Dietary guidelines that would encourage Glucagon production are based around a low carbohydrate diet. When exercising, glucagon levels do not usually increase until after approximately 30 – 45 minutes.
What can you do?
If you are trying to lose weight and want to maximize your glucagon levels, aim to exercise for at least 45 minutes in order to get the best results through the increased glucagon/lipolysis process. Additionally, avoid consuming carbohydrates (ie. Sports drinks) during your training as this will only reduce your levels of glucagon and negate its benefits.
If you are trying to lose weight, you shouldn't be drinking Gatorade or Powerade, ever. Sports drinks ARE NOT health drinks, they almost as bad as soda.
Glucocorticoid is a steroid hormone which is also lipolytic (encourages break down of fat stores for energy) in nature. It stimulates gluconeogensis, where the body uses lactate, amino acids or other non carbohydrate based structures to produce glucose to maintain normal glucose levels. It usually occurs when someone is following a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet, Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) or during periods of fasting or starvation. Increased secretion of this hormone will increase weight loss.
What can you do?
There is only one thing you can do in order to increase your glucocorticoid production... keep your carbohydrate intake very low. Too much carbohydrates and you won’t be getting any of the lipolytic benefits of this hormone.
Leptin, Ghrelin and CCK are the 'Hunger Hormones'. They play the major roles in keeping us feeling full or alternatively making us hungry or crave particular foods.
Leptin regulates not only hunger but also our metabolism. It sends messages to a section of our brain (the hypothalamus) where it lets it know if we are full and have consumed adequate energy intake. Interestingly, people who are overweight typically have high circulating levels of leptin, but despite this still report hunger frequently. Scientist believe that overweight individuals develop a resistance to the effects of leptin. Furthermore, scientist have found that leptin levels reduce in individuals who are sleep deprived and increase in times of emotional stress.
What can you do?
The key to managing your leptin levels is in your body fat mass.
Leptin levels are typically in proportion to your body fat mass. However with high circulating leptin levels, the body develops a resistance to this hunger hormone, making you more prone to constantly feeling hungry. The only way is to lose the extra fat!
Ghrelin on the other hand works in the opposite way to Leptin.
It sends a message to the hypothalamus to let it know, that the stomach is empty and it requires food (energy). It also stimulates cravings and hunger and can alter our conscious food choices for something calorie rich rather than nutrient dense. Ghrelin levels are increased in individuals who don’t get sufficient sleep or good quality sleep.
What can you do?
Ensure you are getting enough good quality sleep. Other then rest, there really isn’t any way other way to control ghrelin, however if you are trying to lose weight, increasing your appetite is probably not something you are looking to do.
Cholecystokinin is the third major hunger hormone.
It is responsible for the digestion of dietary fats and proteins. It is a strong hunger suppressant and makes us feel satiated and full, however, is slow in its message response to the hypothalamus. Therefore you should eat slowly, so CCK can do its job. People who eat their food fast, override this physiological process. It’s like having an off switch but not ever knowing! Dietary fats are the biggest stimulator for CCK, meaning a low fat diet will not promote the secretion of CCK.
What can you do?
Eat your food slowly, chewing everything well. Ensure your diet has plenty of healthy fats in it and that each meal also contains adequate fats.
Summary of Major Metabolic Hormones
|Increases glucose uptake and utilization by muscles and liver. Encourages storage of dietary fat intake as adipose tissue||↑Insulin = Weight Gain↓ Insulin = Weight loss|
|Produced by the digestion of dietary carbohydrates.Encourages use of glucose for energy source and storage of dietary fat as adipose tissue.||↑ Glucose = Weight Gain↓ Glucose = Weight loss|
|Increases Amino Acid uptake and protein synthesis. Helps maintain normal blood glucose levels and mobilise fatty acids for energy.||↑Growth Hormone = Weight loss &increased muscle mass↓ Growth Hormone = Weight Gain|
|Secreted when glucose levels fall below normal. Stimulates the release of fatty acids into the blood stream. Stimulates the breakdown of stored glucose in skeletal muscle and the liver||↑Glucagon = Weight Loss↓ Glucagon = Weight Gain|
|Accelerates the rate of glucose synthesis and glycogen formation. Breaks down protein within your body to make glucose – Unhealthy Weight loss, Encourages Fatty acid release into the blood stream||↑Glucocorticoids = Weight Loss↓ Glucocorticoids = Weight Gain|
|Secreted when food is digested in the intestines. Sends message to brain to let it know you are ‘full’||↑Leptin = Satiety / Fullness↓ Leptin = Cravings / Hunger|
|Secreted in response to dietary fat and protein intake. Causes the release of digestive enzymes and acts as a strong hunger suppressant.||↑ CCK = Satiety / Fullness↓ CCK = Cravings / Hunger|
|Secreted when stomach is empty. Encourages eating/hunger/cravings||↑Ghrelin = Cravings / Hunger↓ Ghrelin = Satiety / Fullness|
Putting it all Together
The key message to take away from this article is that hormones play a very important role in weight loss.
Even if you aren't a professional bodybuilder or athlete- it helps to know how your body works, especially if you have goals related to your physical appearance.
I can easily maintain a reasonably low body-fat percentage and about 180-190lbs of lean body mass and I barely work out these days (unfortunately). Diet and keeping my hormonal profile optimized is critical for that. Otherwise I'd probably look like anyone else who worked out 1 or 2 times (or less) a week.
The way you exercise and eat, influences your hormones, which could be helping your weight loss efforts or making you a fat mess. Use the information discussed in this article as a guide, a guide to help you choose what foods to eat more of, what foods to eat less of and when and how you should eat.
If you skimmed to the bottom, I also want you to be aware that you can be proactive and get a blood test for ALMOST ANYTHING. I encourage you to take control of your own health and not rely on "chance" or doctors to see that you're in optimal health.