In my first book, Thrive, I write extensively about the destructive nature of chronically elevated cortisol levels, caused by stress. The first onset of elevated cortisol actually provides a surge of energy and even increased strength. However, soon after, if cortisol becomes chronically elevated, it turns catabolic, meaning that it will eat away at muscle and cause body fat to be stored. Clearly, this needs to be understood when building a program. Natural hormone manipulation can have a significant impact on results, and we can use that understanding to our advantage. Of course, we want to encourage our bodies to make less cortisol and more human growth hormone (HGH). After about the age of 30, our bodies naturally slow their production of HGH, which can lead to lean muscle loss, stored body fat, weaker bones, hair loss, reduced elasticity of the skin, and other general signs of aging, including slower recovery between workouts, greater inflammation, decreased range of motion, and reduced flexibility.
Fortunately, there are ways to help increase our HGH production, by way of properly designed workouts and well-timed, purposeful eating. The Thrive Fitness program of course takes this into consideration.
Here are eight natural ways we can ensure our workout and nutrition results are maximized by boosting HGH production.
1. Perform VO2 Max Training
Training above anaerobic threshold for short bursts, which engages fast-twitch muscles, helps to produce HGH. Known as VO2 max training, this strategy is put into practice starting on page 113. Using your largest muscles, such as glutes and quads, to lift heavy weight will also release HGH. Squats and one-legged pistol squats—included in the max strength / build / afterburn workouts—are an integral part of the hormonal manipulation utilized by Thrive Fitness.
2. Have a 4:1 Carbohydrate-to-Protein Ratio Recovery Drink Immediately Following a Workout
Consuming carbs on their own will cause the hormone somatostatin to be released, which directly inhibits HGH from being produced and therefore slows recovery rate. Within about 20 minutes of completing a workout, drinking a mixture that is made up of a 4:1 carb to protein ratio will help restock glycogen stores, and the protein in the mixture will prevent insulin from spiking. This will result in HGH being produced, which will significantly speed recovery by quickly bringing the body to an anabolic state. (See pages 163–166 of Thrive Fitness for recovery drink recipe.)
3. Eat Foods That Contain Glutamine
Eating foods rich in the amino acid glutamine soon after a workout and before bed will also assist your body’s HGH production. Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning the body can generate an adequate amount; however, glutamine stores become depleted when the body is under stress. Whether the stress is mental, emotional, or a result of the physical strain of exercise, glutamine levels are likely to be lower than ideal unless stress-supporting foods are a regular part of your diet. Pea protein and spinach are good sources of glutamine.
4. Spend Time Outside
Vitamin D that comes primarily from the sun helps the body produce more HGH. Even getting 30 minutes of sun exposure a day can have a clearly positive impact. Direct sunlight is best, but even if the sky is overcast, there’s still vitamin D reaching you. Having your arms and legs exposed will turn your body into a vitamin D harnessing machine.
5. Increase Melatonin Production Before Bed
Increased melatonin levels have been shown to boost HGH levels. The best way to elevate melatonin production is to limit the amount of light that enters your eyes, starting about an hour before bed. Avoiding the TV, computer, and phone for an hour before you go to sleep can significantly increase melatonin production, and in turn HGH production. Melatonin is naturally produced in readying your body for a deep sleep, but if there is too much light entering your eyes, its production won’t ramp up.
6. Consume Protein Before Bed
Consuming high-quality, complete protein before bed will boost HGH. Plant-based, alkaline-forming protein in liquid form is ideal, as it’s easier to digest and keeps inflammation down. Also, foods such as almonds, lentils, and pea protein have been shown to help the body naturally produce gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps the body relax before bed and increases HGH production. (below, see HGH-releasing pre-bedtime smoothie recipe.)
7. Eat Foods Rich in L-arginine and L-lysine
Eating foods that are rich in the essential amino acids L-arginine and L- lysine before bed, as well as before long, less-intense workouts, will help produce HGH. L-arginine will also enhance nitrogen oxide production, which will dilate blood vessels and therefore allow more blood to be pumped throughout your body with less strain placed on the heart. This will improve performance, as well as sleep quality, in turn allowing more HGH to be produced. Walnuts and pine nuts are excellent sources of these amino acids.
8. Enable Your Body to Get High-Quality Sleep
It’s commonly said that we need eight hours of sleep a night to be in peak form. But I believe that quality is much more important than quantity. A person who sleeps only six hours may well be better rested than someone who sleeps a full eight, simply because the phase of the sleep is deeper. As I write about extensively in Thrive, reducing cortisol levels has a dramatically positive effect on enabling the body to sleep more efficiently. The deep, desirable delta phase of sleep that the body is able to reach when cortisol levels are low directly increases HGH production.
Pre-Sleep HGH-Releasing Smoothie
This smoothie is low in starch and sugar, has plenty of high-quality fat and complete protein, and is rich in L-glutamine (from pea protein), L-arginine, and L-lysine (from walnuts and pine nuts). Because of this, it will enable the body to relax before bed as well as reduce the production of HGH, which will speed the recovery process, help build lean muscle, and reduce body fat.
1 handful spinach
1⁄4 cup pine nuts
1⁄4 cup walnuts
1 (2-inch) piece cucumber
1 (2-inch) piece celery
Juice from 1⁄2 lemon
1⁄2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 scoop Vega Protein & Greens (natural flavor) (or pea protein)
3⁄4 cup water
Blend all ingredients together in a blender.
MAKES 1 SERVING.
Brendan is the formulator and cofounder of, bestselling author of the Thrive book series, creator and host of the web series, and creator of the . He’s also a former professional Ironman triathlete and a two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion. Brendan is regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on plant-based performance nutrition, and therefore works with several NHL, NFL, MLB, UFC, and Olympic athletes. Brendan now invests in and works with socially responsible food & tech companies whose mandate is to fix our food system and reduce the environmental strain of food production.