Can Hormone regulation help with athletics? Athletes should be aware of their hormone levels because it is impossible to train seriously and not affect your endocrine system. But increased hormones don’t equate to increased performance and too few people keep that in mind. As important as hormones are, it is equally important to keep them at the proper levels.
Hormones are chemical messengers within our bodies that preside over growth, mood, appetite, metabolism, immune response, reproduction and all other aspects of human biological function. Hormones are secreted from the endocrine glands in the body. The glands are ductless, so hormones are released directly into the blood stream rather than by way of ducts. Without hormonal messaging, muscles wouldn’t rebuild after exercise, cells wouldn’t absorb nutrients, and oxygen couldn’t travel throughout our bodies.
The key hormones for an athlete to know about are growth hormone (or human growth hormone, HGH), insulin and insulin-like growth factors, cortisol, DHEA and testosterone.
Growth hormone is an anabolic hormone that promotes growth. It targets the muscles and cells that are being stressed by exercise and makes them receptive to adaptation. The muscles actually adjust during recovery. We naturally secrete growth hormone during the delta wave part of sleep, but as we get older we have less and less time in deep sleep. During exercise we also emit growth hormone, but in tinier quantities.
The most commonly overlooked hormones involved in exercise are the insulin-like growth factors and insulin. Insulin-like growth factors are stimulated by growth hormones and bind to cells to regulate cell growth and processes. Insulin oversees the cells’ uptake of glucose and storage of glycogen, necessary to ensure we have the right energy pathways available for our training.
If you’re eating well, sleeping, and exercising, these hormones work to self-regulate and maintain a balance.
Hormonal imbalance occurs when we have too much or too little of a particular hormone. And any deviation in our body’s self-regulated hormonal equilibrium can result in system-wide failure. For example, a woman who runs more than 20 miles per week increases secretion of the hormone prolactin, which begins a cascade of events that can disrupt the menstrual cycle, which can translate into infertility and weakened bones. When athletes overtrain, their bodies can become overwhelmed with cortisol, leading to excessive protein breakdown and sleep disturbances, such as insomnia and night sweats.
Over training is the most likely thing to throw off an athlete’s hormone balance, which leads to all the symptoms associated with over-training: sleeplessness, extreme muscle soreness, elevated resting heart rate, or overall fatigue. Generally, if you experience those symptoms, you relax your training.
Other things that can impact the hormone balance include life stress, which causes a release of cortisol, epinephrine and norephedrine. A lack of sleep can stall your secretion of growth hormone, as can alcohol. Age also decreases the amount of growth hormone and slows down the entire system. Not eating enough calories can cause a disruption in the whole system. Any sickness or trauma will also force your body to prioritize hormone regulation to those things first.
Because of the risks associated with imbalanced hormones, athletes would be wise to consult with the doctors to have hormone levels tested and monitored while training. With hormone regulation and optimization, athletes can heighten performance.