Athletes from all sports have been putting it to the test for years. For example, recently, several members of the Chinese swim team were caught with growth hormone in their possession while on their way to an international meet in Australia. GH is popular with athletes because, though it’s officially banned by most international athletic governing bodies, it’s presently undetectable by drug tests. Rumors are rampant that GH is also a popular bodybuilding drug. Most top-level bodybuilders who’ve used it say that when taken alone, it helps preserve muscle during stringent dieting and speeds up fat loss. When combined with other anabolic substances, such as anabolic steroids (particularly testosterone injections) and insulin, GH has synergistic anabolic effects. Some bodybuilding observers even speculate that this combination of drugs explains the current spate of bodybuilding behemoths, with a few competitors walking on stage weighing 250 or more minus even a scintilla of apparent body fat.
While it seems as if the use of drugs such as GH is rampant in bodybuilding, the truth is that availability is often limited by cost. It’s expensive to take the correct amount of GH, and if you take it for too long, the chances of side effects increase. Possible side effects include gynecomastia (male breasts); carpel tunnel syndrome (a painful nerve impingement of the hand that often requires surgery); and a facial disfigurement called prognathism, which is characterized by a protruding jaw and forehead that create an apelike appearance.
Recognition of these problems has led many athletes to investigate safer, more natural means of promoting GH release. Several amino acids are known to elicit a GH response, the most prominent being arginine and ornithine. One problem with that strategy is that the most reliable release of GH with amino acids occurs when the aminos are given intravenously, often in 30-gram or higher dosages.
An often-quoted 1981 Italian study of 15 healthy young men showed that providing them with only 1,200 milligrams each of arginine and another amino acid, lysine, led to GH blood levels eight times higher than baseline. Large doses of oral amino acids, however, may cause gastrointestinal distress because of a pronounced osmotic effect. In effect, they draw water into the intestine, leading to symptoms that can include gas, bloating and diarrhea. Even if you escape that uncomfortable fate, the aminos may be degraded by liver enzymes before reaching the blood. Using various amino acids for eliciting GH release also depends on several other extenuating factors. For example,GH is released more reliably under conditions of low blood glucose and a low content of circulating free fatty acids in the blood. That means such aminos work best if taken on an empty stomach, which explains the frequent suggestion to take GH-promoting aminos before bedtime—assuming you haven’t eaten anything for at least three to four hours. Taking them at bedtime is a way to augment the natural peak release of GH, which occurs during the initial 90 minutes of sleep. Taking other amino acids in conjunction with GH releasers, such as a whole-protein supplement like whey, will completely negate any GH activity of the GH-releasing aminos due to competitive interference with brain uptake by other circulating amino acids.