Exercise & Hormones, Exploring the 8 hormones that get involved

March 16, 2023 4 min read

Exercise & Hormones, Exploring the 8  hormones that get involved

The endocrine system produces hormones, biochemical substances that act on specific cell receptor sites. These hormones control a variety of bodily reactions, such as energy metabolism, reproduction, tissue growth, hydration, protein synthesis/degradation, and emotional states. An understanding of the hormones released in response to exercise and their physiological effects is essential for optimal muscle gain and fat burning.

Hormones are divided into three major categories: steroids, peptides and amines (modified amino acid hormones). Each type has a distinct chemical composition which influences the way it binds to certain receptor sites. Steroid hormones bind to the nuclei of cells, peptides are composed of amino acids and bind to receptors in the cell membrane, and amines, having a nitrogenous base, act on the sympathetic nervous system.

Anabolic hormones stimulate new tissue growth, while catabolic ones are involved in breaking down existing tissue. Controversially, anabolic steroids are often cited as a way for athletes to gain an unfair advantage; however, these substances are actually natural byproducts of bodily processes that foster tissue growth.

Listed below are some important exercise and hormones along with the physiological functions they control.


Insulin, a peptide hormone produced in the pancreas, regulates carbohydrate and fat metabolism by promoting the storage and uptake of glucose and glycogen when blood sugar is high. Additionally, insulin can cause fat to be stored in fat tissues rather than used for energy. To avoid this, it's important to avoid foods with high sugar before exercising as they can elevate insulin levels and impair the body's ability to use glycogen to fuel physical activity. For optimal performance, wait until you start to sweat before ingesting any sports drinks or energy gels.


Produced by the pancreas, glucagon is released in response to low blood glucose levels and stimulates the release of free fatty acids (FFAs) from adipose tissue, augmenting blood glucose levels. Additionally, glycogen stored in the liver is mobilized as glycogen stores are depleted during exercise.


Cortisol is an adrenal-synthesized catabolic steroid hormone triggered by stress, low glucose and exercise, which enables the metabolism of triglycerides and protein to generate glucose necessary for extended physical exertion. Excess physical stress or inadequate rest can cause a cortisol surge, provoking fat metabolism; however, excessively high levels may also compel it to catabolize muscle protein for fuel as opposed to preserving it for tissue repair.

Epinephrine and Norepinephrine

known as catecholamines, are necessary hormones for the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to generate energy and maintain body function during physical activity. Epinephrine, or adrenaline, made by the adrenal gland, boosts cardiac output, boosts blood sugar for exercise energy, facilitates glycogen breakdown and boosts fat burning. Norepinephrine has similar effects but additionally reduces vessels in non-active body parts.


Testosterone, a steroid hormone produced by Leydig cells of the testes in males and the ovaries of females and to a lesser degree the adrenal glands of both genders, enables muscle protein resynthesis and repairs proteins damaged by physical activity, thus playing an essential part in muscle growth. Its production is stimulated by exercise-induced muscular tissue damage and works by attaching to specialized receptor sites.

Human Growth Hormone 

Anterior pituitary gland-released HGH is a peptide hormone that initiates cell growth. It acts on particular receptors, heightening muscle protein creation, stimulating bone mineralization, enhancing immunity and stimulating fat metabolism. Produced during REM sleep, HGH secretion is also activated by strenuous strength/power/cardio workouts at or above OBLA. It increases muscle cell numbers, increases the mineral content of bone, decreases the body's fat reserves, and provides a stronger immune system. HGH production is increased during REM sleep, and is elevated even further during high-intensity strength training.

Insulin-like Growth Factor 

Insulin-like growth factor (IGF) has a molecular structure akin to insulin and is stimulated by processes that generate HGH. IGF is a peptide hormone manufactured in the liver and bolsters the action of HGH in mending protein harm caused by exercise, thereby making it a significant hormone for improving muscle growth.

Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor 

High-intensity aerobic exercise has been observed to augment measurable levels of BDNF, with a concomitant rise in anabolic hormones, such as HGH and IGF. BDNF promotes the growth of neurons in the brain, thereby potentially improving cognitive performance. Regular usage could lead to improved cognitive function, a reduction in stress hormones, and increased feelings of wellbeing.

Comprehending how exercise impacts the hormones that oversee physiological processes will help you create successful exercise plans for your patrons. Both short- and long-term hormonal reactions to exercise exist. In the direct post-exercise phase, testosterone (T), HGH and IGF are generated to mend damaged tissue. With time, there is an augmentation in receptor sites and binding proteins which enable T, HGH and IGF to be used more effectively for tissue repair and muscle development. For patrons seeking musculature growth, the levels of T, HGH and IGF are produced in accordance with the mechanical tension created during resistance exercises. Moderate to powerful loads completed until momentary exhaustion evoke high levels of mechanical strain, resulting in increased muscle protein damage and prompting high production of T, HGH and IGF for protein repair, ultimately resulting in musculature growth.

The effects of physical activity on the human body are determined by a multitude of hormones, several of which are responsible for adaptations to exercise. Fitness professionals understand that the nervous and muscular systems are integral; still, hormones can powerfully affect many of the physiological responses to activity. Therefore, it is accurate to declare that hormones largely direct how the body responds to exercise.

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