The physiology of growth hormone and sport

Growth Horm IGF Res. 2009 Aug;19(4):308-19. doi: 10.1016/j.ghir.2009.04.023. Epub 2009 Jun 7.


The growth hormone (GH)/ insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) axis exerts short-and long-term metabolic effects that are potentially important during exercise. Exercise is a potent stimulus to GH release and there is some evidence that the acute increase in GH is important in regulating substrate metabolism post-exercise. Regular exercise also increases 24-hour GH secretion rates, which potentially contributes to the physiologic changes induced by training. The effects of GH replacement in GH-deficient adults provide a useful model with which to study the effects of the more long-term effects of the GH/ IGF-I axis. There is convincing evidence that GH replacement increases exercise capacity. Measures of exercise performance including maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and ventilatory threshold (VeT) are impaired in 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. Administration of supraphysiologic doses of GH to athletes increases fatty acid availability and reduces oxidative protein loss particularly during exercise, and increases lean body mass. It is not known whether these effects translate to improved athletic performance, although recombinant human GH is known to be widely abused in sport. The model of acromegaly provides evidence that long-term GH excess does not result in improved performance but it is possible that a "window" exists in which the protein anabolic effects of supraphysiologic GH might be advantageous.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acromegaly / therapy
  • Adipose Tissue
  • Athletes*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Human Growth Hormone / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Male
  • Muscles / drug effects
  • Oxygen / chemistry
  • Oxygen Consumption / drug effects
  • Recombinant Proteins / therapeutic use
  • Sports*
  • Time Factors


  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Oxygen