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Human Growth Hormone in Sport: What You Need to Know

Written by Author - Authors Medical experts of the National HRT Clinic - December 7, 2015

Before turning to human growth hormone in sport or bodybuilding use, athletes need to familiarize themselves with the pros and cons of HGH. The actual benefits do not surpass the many risks associated with human growth hormone use.

What is human growth hormone?

HGH is the biologically identical laboratory version of somatotropin (growth hormone, GH) used to treat children and adults whose bodies do not produce enough of the hormone. GH acts on the body’s metabolic processes as well as cellular regeneration to support the growth of new cells. Growth hormone stimulates the release of insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1) from the liver. IGF-1 mediates many of the functions of GH, including muscle, bone, and tissue growth and structure.

What is human growth hormone in sport used for by athletes?

Some athletes turn to human growth hormone doping in sport in hopes of improving muscle mass, strength, athletic abilities, and speed. As we will show in this review, HGH does not accomplish much of what people believe.

The use of human growth hormone in sport does not provide benefits that outweigh the risks.

Is Human Growth Hormone Legal for Sports Use?

One of the first areas we want to discuss is the legality of using human growth hormone in sports. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lists growth hormone or HGH in the category of anabolic agents on their prohibited list. That makes human growth hormone illegal in sports for all levels of athletes. Included are:

  • Juniors
  • Elites
  • Masters-level

Here are some rules to know:

  • You can only use HGH if prescribed by a doctor for an approved therapeutic use, and you will require an exemption for that. Examples of approved uses include:
    • Pediatric short stature
    • Turner syndrome
    • Prader-Willi syndrome
    • Growth hormone deficiency in adults caused by head trauma, radiation therapy, tumor, or pituitary disease
  • Growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) and other medications that stimulate GH release are also unapproved for use.

The consequences of using human growth hormone in sport include:

  • Disqualification for competition
  • Prosecution since its use is illegal
  • Tarnish an athletes reputation
  • Removal of past awards and accolades
  • End a career
  • Adverse effects on health

Can Human Growth Hormone Benefit Athletes?

When we look at the intended use of human growth hormone in athletes, it is often for one of the following purposes:

  • To increase muscle bulk and strength
  • For improved endurance
  • To increase speed
  • For faster muscle recovery following exercise
  • To reduce fat mass (through lipolysis) and increase lean body mass

While these are functions of HGH, the benefits of human growth hormone in sport have not backed up the results. HGH only provides these actions for people who are deficient in the hormone.

In a 2017 study on the impact of growth hormone administration on athletic performance in healthy young adults, researchers reported the following:

  • Increased lean body mass
  • Decreased fat mass
  • Increased exercising levels of glycerol and free fatty acids
  • Did not alter exercise respiratory quotient
  • Increased anaerobic exercise capacity
  • Did not improve muscle strength
  • No improvement in maximum oxygen uptake
  • Did not increase aerobic exercise capacity

Another human growth hormone sport enhancement study showed that HGH use does not increase muscle protein synthesis or maximal voluntary strength in weightlifters. The only benefit shown beside those listed above has been in sprint speed.

What Are the Risks of Using Human Growth Hormone in Sports?

Because there are no real benefits of using human growth hormone in sport, we turn now to the potential risks. We have already mentioned the illegality, possible judicial prosecution, and tarnishing of a reputation. Now we address the adverse reactions on a person’s health.

Any time that you raise growth hormone levels higher than normal, you run the risk of significant side effects. If HGH usage continues long-term in this manner, there is also the potential for ongoing health issues.

Human Growth Hormone In Sport Side Effects
Fluid retention Swelling of the feet and hands Insulin sensitivity
Joint, muscle, nerve, and bone pain Acromegaly – growth of the facial and jaw bones Menstrual irregularities in women
Hypertension Abnormal organ growth Dentition problems
Excessive sweating Impotence in men Headaches
Human Growth Hormone In Sport Health Risks
Type 2 diabetes Carpal tunnel syndrome Cardiomyopathy
Worsening of cardiovascular disease Accelerated osteoarthritis Premature mortality

Can Human Growth Hormone Benefit Sports Injuries?

HGH for Sports
There has long been speculation about the potential benefit of human growth hormone for sports injuries. Speeding healing is also one of the reasons why Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban funded a study on the ability of HGH to help athletes improve recovery time from injury.

The study found that HGH therapy beginning one week before surgery and continuing for five weeks post-operative increased knee extension strength and reduced cartilage degradation following ACL surgery.

ACL injuries are common in many sports. The downtime before and after the surgery can lead to muscle atrophy. With the potential for human growth hormone used in sport to help maintain muscle mass before the surgery and speed healing after, it can help an athlete return to competition sooner rather than later.

Positive human growth hormone effects on sports performance following an injury can help the cells and tissue grow and regenerate to reduce residual atrophy. HGH may also help decrease the risk of re-injury and arthritis.

The Bottom Line on Human Growth Hormone in Sport

Although the effects of human growth hormone on sports performance are limited, they do still show a slight benefit for speed enhancement. HGH is illegal for use by athletes in all areas. The potential for injury healing is an area where more research is necessary. Preliminary studies have shown promise, and in the future, HGH may be approved for specific injury repair.

The side effects associated with the illegal use of human growth hormone in sport can adversely influence a person’s health. HGH should only be used when medically necessary and under doctor supervision.

For additional information, please contact National HRT for a free consultation.

Medically reviewed by   Reviewers National HRT Staff - Updated on November 21, 2023

Please note that the information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.