The history and connection between baseball and anabolic hormones have been extensively covered by the media, the fans, and by the players themselves. Opinions from all sides of the spectrum have been weighing in on this topic ever since the scandal several years ago.
Today, I want to talk a little bit about these hormones and what type of connection we can bridge between them and the sport specific muscle growth for baseball.
It doesn’t really take a sports scientist to realize that hormones can play a major role in the performance of an athlete.
Just take a moment and compare the athletes who have tested positive to the ones who haven’t, or compare the non-tested bodybuilding federations to the tested bodybuilding federations.
The influence of anabolic hormones on muscle growth becomes extremely obvious, even to the untrained eye. It isn’t unusual for an athlete to gain 10-15lbs on a steroid cycle, good luck trying to do that naturally within a matter of 10 weeks or so.
Interestingly enough, research in this area demonstrates that resistance training causes large hormone spikes in natural athletes within the brief time period post-training.
In many cases, the increase of hormonal response can remain within several hundred percent of what its baseline value is.
On the surface, it would seem to make the most sense that the exercise routines that produce the largest elevations in hormonal response would then also produce the greatest gains in muscle growth.
You first have to take into consideration that an IFBB bodybuilder is a literal walking pharmacy. They take insane doses of over a dozen hormones/medications in order to keep these anabolic processes running 24/7, as opposed to just post-workout.
The effects of exercise in natural athletes are much more transient and generally last only up to a max of a few hours after training. This is an important distinction because the difference between chronically high hormone levels (via performance enhancing drugs) vs. transiently elevated hormones is like a comparison of apples and oranges.
They are wildly different.
What the research shows today for natural baseball players is that although post-workout hormonal elevations aren’t anything to write home about, these spikes can magnify muscle-building results.
Brief hormonal spikes act as potent anabolic stimulating agents that turn on certain enzymatic pathways for muscular growth and strength gain. Once this pathway is activated, it acts like a domino knocking over many other dominos (in this case, more specifically labeled as the mTOR anabolic signaling cascade) to activate various muscle building pathways within our tissues.
Post-exercise hormonal spikes in natural baseball athletes seem to play at least a permissive role in optimizing performance and maximizing the response to the baseball-specific training that they are doing.
There are plenty of hormones involved here, but the three that are most prevalent and worthy of further breakdown are testosterone, IGF-1, and growth hormone.
One of the most talked about hormones in sports science history, testosterone promotes muscular strength and growth in a variety of ways.
It directly promotes protein synthesis (adding protein to muscle tissue) and inhibits muscle protein breakdown.
Second, it activates dormant muscle cells (known as satellite cells) to add themselves to muscle tissue in order to make it bigger.
Finally, it indirectly promotes muscle growth by signaling other hormones and enzymes involved in muscle building to start kicking off their pathways as well.
The anabolic effects of testosterone can be seen in the absence of weight training, but, lifting weights magnifies the actions of testosterone.
Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1)
IGF-1 is arguably more important to the direct muscle growth post-exercise than testosterone is, even though testosterone is the popular kid at school.
First off, several types of IGF-1 have been identified by researchers. Two of the forms are produced by the liver and create a downstream effect which increases Mechano Growth Factor (MGF), these all end up working together to be incredibly relevant towards recovery and muscle growth post-exercise.
Current research indicates that MGF can initiate muscle growth in more ways than one by increasing protein synthesis, activating nearby satellite cells to bind with existing muscle tissue, and increase the number of calcium levels within muscle tissue which promote maximal muscular contraction.
MGF seems to be most elevated when muscle damage occurs (soreness post-exercise), and how big your pump is during training may also enhance MGF levels.
Even though it’s called the growth hormone, it’s not even close to as anabolic as testosterone or IGF-1.
Growth Hormone (GH) is most a repartitioning agent, meaning, it is mostly involved in the increasing use of fat for fuel, and stimulates amino acids to be reserved/added to the body as opposed to fat.
Within the research, GH seems to be much more potent at reducing body fat than building muscle tissue. Most of the anabolic effects of GH are only prevalent due to its working relationship with IGF-1.
GH increases IGF-1 production, which then downstream increases MGF as well. Given the extreme effectiveness of IGF-1 and its family member MGF on muscle and strength development, it is hypothesized that this is the primary reason why GH has any muscle building role in the body whatsoever.
To wrap things up, as you can see the mechanisms of muscle growth are incredibly complex and involve finite signaling of dozens of pathways within muscle cells locally.
The growth process is extenuated by nearby satellite cells as well as these various hormonal signaling growth factors. So for baseball players, optimizing all of these pathways is going to provide the greatest return on investment for improving your hitting power, sprinting speed, and ability to throw harder.
To get more information on how to properly train for baseball to ensure you’re taking advantage of everything you can, be sure to check out our baseball training programs!