Chromium can boost testosterone levels and promote muscle growth

August 13, 2008

Written By Jim Stoppani, PhD

Testosterone is a bodybuilder's best friend, and cortisol may be a bodybuilder's worst enemy.

Testosterone is an extremely anabolic hormone that encourages muscle growth; cortisol is an extremely catabolic hormone that encourages muscle breakdown. In fact, cortisol actually competes with testosterone for its receptors in muscle cells to limit the anabolic actions of testosterone. (To determine whether an athlete is in an anabolic or catabolic state, scientists look at the ratio of the athlete's testosterone to cortisol levels. The lower the ratio, the less anabolic and the more catabolic the athlete.)

Insulin resistance is another negative outcome of high cortisol levels. Muscles become less sensitive to the effects of the anabolic hormone insulin and thus "resistant." Insulin is important for allowing entry of carbs and amino acids, as well as creatine, into muscle cells. It also turns on a key step in the process of muscle protein synthesis. Insulin binds to receptors located on the surface of muscle cells. Cortisol works to make these receptors less responsive to insulin binding; in other words, it prevents carbs, aminos and creatine from easily entering muscle cells, and thwarts muscle protein synthesis. Essentially, it limits muscle growth and leads to muscle breakdown. It also forces the body to overproduce insulin, which can lead to excessive fat gain and worse — type II diabetes.

Luckily, there is a simple way to help control cortisol — take chromium. Chromium is an essential mineral that is mostly known for its ability to encourage fat loss and help muscles and other tissues extract nutrients from the bloodstream by supporting the effects of insulin. There is evidence that chromium may be able to lower cortisol production and reduce its negative effects in the body.

Increasing insulin sensitivity is another of chromium's functions. It interacts directly with insulin muscle receptors, allowing muscles to respond better to the hormone. This results in carb, amino acid and creatine uptake, and overall muscle growth.

THE STUDY SAYS A British research team conducted a study in which subjects supplemented with chromium or placebo for seven to nine days. Before and after the supplementation period, each subject underwent an experimental test that normally leads to elevated cortisol levels. The results showed that subjects who received chromium produced significantly less cortisol compared to the placebo group. Since heavy lifting also results in elevated cortisol, chromium can be used to reduce cortisol production while training.

FOOD SOURCES OF CHROMIUM Broccoli, grape juice, tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese, black pepper, whole grains, brewer's yeast and some meats contain small amounts of chromium. However, dietary chromium tends to be poorly absorbed, so your best bet is to take a chromium supplement, such as chromium picolinate.

DOSAGE By increasing your daily chromium intake, you'll help maximize the ability of your muscles to utilize growth-building nutrients and fight the muscle-wasting effects of cortisol. Take 200-400 micrograms of chromium picolinate with food in one or two doses, one of those doses being immediately before training. That dose will have time to digest and will be available immediately after the workout, when you need it most, to help minimize the negative impact cortisol can have on testosterone and maximize its anabolic properties.