The growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor-I axis in exercise and sport

Endocr Rev. 2007 Oct;28(6):603-24. doi: 10.1210/er.2006-0052. Epub 2007 Sep 4.


The syndrome of adult GH deficiency and the effects of GH replacement therapy provide a useful model with which to study the effects of the GH/IGF-I axis on exercise physiology. Measures of exercise performance including maximal oxygen uptake and ventilatory threshold are impaired in adult GH deficiency and improved by GH replacement, probably through some combination of increased oxygen delivery to exercising muscle, increased fatty acid availability with glycogen sparing, increased muscle strength, improved body composition, and improved thermoregulation. In normal subjects, in addition to the long-term effects of GH/IGF-I status, there is evidence that the acute GH response to exercise is important in regulating substrate metabolism after exercise. Administration of supraphysiological doses of GH to athletes increases fatty acid availability and reduces oxidative protein loss, particularly during exercise, and increases lean body mass. Despite a lack of evidence that these metabolic effects translate to improved performance, GH abuse by athletes is widespread. Tests to detect GH abuse have been developed based on measurement in serum of 1) indirect markers of GH action, and 2) the relative proportions of the two major naturally occurring isoforms (20 and 22kDa) of GH. There is evidence that exercise performance and strength are improved by administration of GH and testosterone in combination to elderly subjects. The potential benefits of GH in these situations must be weighed against potential adverse effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Growth Hormone / administration & dosage
  • Growth Hormone / pharmacology
  • Growth Hormone / therapeutic use
  • Human Growth Hormone / deficiency
  • Human Growth Hormone / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / physiology*
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders


  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Growth Hormone