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The process of anabolism is still one of mystery. We may now understand how muscle growth occurs but scientists are still uncertain of the why -- beyond the fact that muscle growth is an adaptive process. Stress it with resistance, add protein, and the muscles grow... but only to a point. And as we all know, muscle growth is greater and faster with some than with others.
We can chalk the disparity up to genetics, but that's just an easy answer without an understanding or explanation. Why one person turns weight training combined with a high protein diet into massive muscle while another who trains equally as hard and eats equally as well struggles with slow progress is an ongoing enigma. Yet, with all the unanswered questions that still exist, one thing is certain; when it comes to determining how much muscle you can grow, the main factor is how much testosterone is in your body.
Testosterone is the king of hormones in terms of developing strength and size. No wonder the use of synthetic testosterone in its various forms is a mainstay of many a competitive bodybuilder looking for that "extra edge." Actually, all steroids are, in one way or another, based on the testosterone molecule and will increase testosterone levels in the blood. This enhanced testosterone level is what has been attributed to the undeniable enhanced muscle growth experienced by those who indulge. Be that as it may, with all the use, and over-use of testosterone and other steroids, many enhanced bodybuilders don't grow much more than some natural athletes. Why? The answer to that question may turn out to be of immense importance, not only to chemically enhanced athletes, but those who are natural as well.
Follow the process of testosterone enhancement for a moment and the solution will start to become clear.
Injecting 200 milligrams of a drug like Testosterone Cypionate (a fairly low dose) will raise one's testosterone level by about 500 ngs (nanograms). That's 500 ngs above one's existing level. Most healthy men under the age of 50 have a testosterone level of between 400 to 900 ngs. What this means is, even if your T level is on the low side of 400, a mere 200 mg shot will shoot your testosterone above the upper normal range -- close to 1000! Now, anyone should be able to grow muscle with 1000 ngs of testosterone, yet time and time again, you see steroid users taking up to several times that amount and barely making gains. The reason for this is as simple as it is curious.
Most of the body's testosterone, whether it's produced in the testes or injected directly into the bloodstream via an external source, is kept in a "bound" state. In other words, it's unusable. Only a small portion of our total testosterone provides all the benefits while the remainder just floats around until it dissipates. That which is un-bound is known as "free" testosterone. And in the long run, that's the only stuff that counts.
What determines how much free testosterone we have at any given time is an enzyme known as Sex Hormone Binding Globulin -- also known as SHBG. The more you have, the more testosterone will be kept in a bound state. The pesky little chemical is also the reason some guys hardly grow even while on high dosages of steroids. The more exogenous testosterone that enters your body, the more SHBG the body will produce. It's our body's way of maintaining homeostasis. It's also another reason why taking supraphysiological dosages of steroids isn't the wisest choice. The more you take, the more it binds, so at a certain point, most of it is just wasted. It stands to reason that if one were to use steroids, it would make much more sense to use just enough to accelerate gains without too much of it becoming bound and useless. Keep in mind also, that the negative side effects of steroids increase dramatically once dosage gets too far beyond 1000 milligrams per week.
This information also bears out reports that many pros don't take quite as much as one may think. The presumption is that in order to achieve that level of muscularity they need insane dosages but it's more likely that these lucky individuals simply have more favorable androgen receptors and lower SHBG than the average bodybuilder. To put it in comparative terms, if you were to take 1000 mgs of testosterone and your "free" T is 30, yet someone else takes only 500 mgs of testosterone (or none at all) and his free T is 40, he's going to kick your butt in a competition. It isn't fair, but that's the way it is.
Instead of taking more exogenous testosterone, it would make more sense to allow more of the testosterone we already have to become unbound. Unfortunately, the amount of SHBG you have is determined mostly by genetics and those individuals who have a lot of it will probably always remain "hardgainers." SHBG also increases with age. In spite of these drawbacks, there have been some fascinating findings that may be able to tilt the odds in your favor.
There are drugs, most notably Proviron and Winstrol, that have been shown to reduce SHBG, but of course, drug therapy cannot be maintained on a continual basis. Sooner or later you have to come off. The responsible, long term approach to lowering SHBG is through natural pathways and research in the area of herbology is showing positive results toward the goal of reducing bound testosterone.
It turns out that certain herbs which have purported to have aphrodisiac effects may do so, not through increased testosterone as once thought, not through any stimulation of the genitals, not even through some increased blood flow to the penis, but through the action of reducing SHBG. What's especially encouraging about these findings is the fact that more "Free T" will not cause the negative side effects of increased total testosterone. You'll still have the same amount of natural testosterone, only more of it will be available to impart its positive effects. Among those positive effects are improved mood, heightened libido, reduced risk of heart disease and what may be most intriguing to bodybuilders, the potential for more muscle growth!
One of the best indicators of Free T levels is frequency of morning erections since there are no psychological or stimulative factors involved. It's strictly a biological response and governed by one's health. Most young men experience this daily. Once a guy gets into his 40's, that pleasant morning surprise may not rear its head as often. (Pun intended). Regardless of what age you are, if you wake up more than two days in a row without an erection, or if it's weak or becomes flaccid within a minute of being awake, it's a safe bet to say your free T is down and progress in muscle development will be slow.
One promising cure to the lack of "wake up wood" is the herb Avena Sativa. Users report a substantial increase in morning erections while using this product. Such a reaction suggests that Avena Sativa may actually reduce Sex Hormone Binding Globulin. Another anecdotal bit of evidence is the fact that some users complain of an outbreak of back acne. This, too, is a sign of an abrupt hormonal change not unlike what occurs during puberty or the beginning of a steroid cycle. The one drawback of Avena Sativa is that many commercial brands lack the active extract and it's the extract that makes it effective. When purchasing Avena Sativa, make sure it lists the percentage of "Avenacosides."
It should be at least 5%. A daily dose of 500-1000 mgs may be just what you need to start the day off with a smile. Also, be aware of the old "bait and switch" tactic. There's one popular internet company that has used the active coside version of avena and naturally customers got good results. Then, they started putting the cheaper "non-coside" herbs into the formula. They even increased the total amount to make it look "new and improved" but of course more of the ineffective herb is meaningless. It's the cosides that count. The company in question even changed labels to "throw you off track." But coside percentages MUST BE STATED on the label. One product that has proven to contain the avenacosides in the correct dosage is "Unleashed" from www.proteinfactory.com
Urtica Dioica, also known as Stinging Nettles, is an extremely interesting herb. It's not only been shown to reduce SHBG but it also lowers the female hormone prolactin. This is good news to anyone looking to stay lean and avoid the side effects of too much estrogen such as water retention and gynocemastia. Nettles has also been shown as an effective treatment for Benign Prostate Hypertrophy, due in part to the fact that it will suppress DHT (Dyhydrotestosterone). This is both good and bad. Although DHT is often referred to as the "bad" testosterone, it's also anabolic and necessary for libido and erectile function. So it may seem as if the use of Nettles may be working against your goals, but that's only if excessive dosages are used. (Over 500mgs a day)
It is, however, a better choice for the treatment of an enlarged prostate than the more common application of Saw Palmetto which just blocks DHT but provides no benefit in terms of lowering estrogen or SHBG -- both of which are also a factor in prostate health. When testosterone isn't bio-available to the body, it can still impart its negative effects on the prostate. By reducing SHBG, prostate disorders can be avoided while increasing free testosterone and potential muscle growth.
From the jungles of Costa Rica comes a relatively new discovery -- to the western world at least. For years, the peasants living off the land have been using a unique medicine derived from the fruit of the Cassia Grandis plant.
It's known as Carao and has been an effective natural remedy for anemia. But it also has an interesting side effect in many men. It spurs spontaneous erections! Could this be due to a lowering of SHBG? At this point, it would only be speculative to say. One would think that something that cured anemia would be high in iron but tests on Carao extract reveal almost no iron. This one is a big question mark. There are no official studies on Carao. It could be nothing more than the impoverished people were anemic before taking it and once cured, felt completely revitalized, yet among athletes who have tried it, the consensus is that it definitely improves endurance and sex drive. If you're especially adventurous and are willing to do some investigating in order to track it down, Carao may be just what you're looking for.
There's a saying among the people who live in the small villages of Brazil: Until a man is 60, the child is his... after that, it's Catuaba. No, Catuaba isn't the town gigolo, it's an herb that has been used for centuries as a treatment for infertility. Studies are scant but one instance where Catuaba was administered to 100 men, it turned out that in more than half of them, sperm count increased while the weight of prostate decreased. This is tremendously exciting news to bodybuilders who want the most testosterone they can get without the potentially negative effects on the prostate.
Muira Puama is an exotic Amazon herb with rumored sexual enhancing properties that has been holding up to scientific scrutiny. Muira Puama was an ingredient in some of those "Anabolic Activators" from the early 90's which have fallen out of favor. Since the ingredients were based more on folklore than science, it was presumed there was little merit to such substances. Now medical research is bearing out what was just conjecture.
There have been several scientific studies on the effects of Muira Puama and its ability to lower SHBG. It all began when French scientists conducted studies on the effects of the herb on rats. It turns out their rate of copulation doubled! Ensuing tests of humans brought about encouraging reports. More than half of the men tested with Muira Puama report heightened sex drive and the ability to maintain an erection longer. It's been popular among herbalists, but even many medical doctors have begun recommending it for erectile dysfunction and lack of libido. The theory behind its effectiveness is believed to be the release of bound testosterone.
There are many versions of Muira Puama on the market, but as is the case with many herbal products, most of them contain little or no active sapions. When purchasing Muira Puama, make sure it contains the active extract. (Incidentally, "Unleashed" from Protein Factory.com also contains Muira Puama extract).
When it comes to growing muscle, you haven't got a chance without enough testosterone. But you don't have to resort to external sources. You may have plenty already! It just needs to be free.
Freeing up bound testosterone by reducing SHBG has been a neglected approach toward greater muscle growth for too long for both natural bodybuilders and those on a cycle. If the use of any of these herbs help, even a little, it can make a huge difference in your muscle building process. So why not give yourself every advantage? Let that testosterone loose to do its thing! And accept no limits to how much you can grow.
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