Top Methods for Maxing Out Your Anabolism – Training Before Sleep, Suppressing Myostatin and More

By on July 9, 2016


When it comes to building muscle, hormones make a huge difference. This is why we have ‘hard gainers’ at one end of the spectrum and giants who balloon as soon as they look at a weight at the other. If you don’t believe that hormones make all the difference when it comes to growth, then just take a look at anyone who takes steroids for some very clear evidence!

This is also why there are so many articles on how you can increase your anabolic hormones through diet. And sure, there are plenty of tricks and techniques you can use this way to moderately elevate your testosterone levels or growth hormone. I’m just not sure that the amount of benefit quite justifies the amount of work involved…


Which is why I’m actually more interested in other methods that involve timing your workouts or manipulating your body’s natural rhythms to jack up your anabolism to the max. I’m not saying that these methods will transform your gains either but they’re definitely interesting…

Making More Use of Sleep

Did you know that the first cycle of sleep is the deepest and the most anabolic? My friend saw this fact and came up with the notion that he could potentially increase anabolism by waking himself up and repeatedly going through only that first sleep cycle.

It doesn’t work quite like this unfortunately. That’s because the first sleep cycle is the point when you’re most tired, which in turn is due to a build-up of adenosine (a by-product of the energy system) in the brain (among other things). If you wake up then go straight back to sleep, then you’ll not need to sleep as deeply and so you won’t.

Power Naps

But sleeping more certainly does increase anabolism, which is why it’s so important to protect your sleep if you’re trying to gain muscle mass. Sleep is when we produce the most HGH and testosterone, so you need to sleep longer and deeper to maximize your gains.

And that also means you can increase your anabolism by sleeping during the day – taking a power nap. To be as effective as possible though, this needs to be a full sleep cycle that lasts 90 minutes and allows you to wake up in the lighter stages after entering SWS (slow wave sleep).

What might also be interesting to consider is how you’re going to time that sleep. Another time we’re highly anabolic is straight after a workout, so why not sleep immediately after lifting weights and that way double up the anabolism? This way, you can head to your most anabolic state right when your muscles are already flooded with growth-encouraging metabolites, as well as blood and nutrients.

Training Before Bed

Training right before sleep is actually something that Rich Piana recommends. Rich Piana is a bodybuilder and YouTube personality. He’s certainly a… big character… and opinions are divided on him. I’m not saying he’s a guy you should genearlly emulate in other words and he also uses steroids by the bucketload… But you can’t deny that he has particularly massive arms – and one way he claims he does this is by curling weights right before he goes to bed.

This is something I was interested in trying myself, so I experimented with it for a while and had a think about how it should work. I decided that I would focus on just the arms and contrary to what Rich recommends, I would use slow eccentric reps a) because they trigger more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and b) because they let me keep my heart rate low while training, so that my sleep isn’t too negatively affected. I also combined this with a slow-release casein protein shake, so that amino acids would be delivered slowly throughout the night.

I found that this timing was potentially very useful for accelerating growth. Now, I have no concrete evidence for this. This is very much a ‘N = 1’ study, so it may be that the results couldn’t be replicated. But I would wager that there are some benefits to this type of training, even if they’re minor.

There are still problems here though. For one, curling weights before bed isn’t super practical. And so the best solution I actually found while experimenting was to use dynamic self-resistance, or even static contraction – using my own body to pump the muscles with blood. Another issue is that training this close to bed would almost definitely negatively impact on your sleep. So in that way, following up a workout with a power nap might be more effective.

Suppressing Myostatin

Myostatin is a word that regular readers of this blog might already be familiar with. This is the substance that instructs the body to break down muscle in order to use it for fuel. I’m fascinated by it because of some studies looking at genetically modified mice. When their ability to produce myostatin is blocked, they beef up and experience about 35% more muscle growth with no negative side effects. Humans have been born with this mutation naturally as well and the results are the same.

Enter the slew of fake supplements claiming that they can block myostatin production. Unfortunately, none of these supplements has been proven and they’re pretty much just snake oil.


This study showed the effect of completely suppressing myostatin production in mice via gene doping

But one trick for suppressing myostatin that does work? Wine gums. Or any source of carbs in fact. That’s because myostatin is released primarily when cortisol and ghrelin (the hunger hormone) get released – when blood sugar is low. At this point, the body is simply noting that it is low on energy and pointing to your muscle as one possible source. We don’t want this if we’re trying to boost muscle mass, so we need to avoid cortisol by avoiding hunger.

One way to do this is to eat huge meals – which every serious bodybuilder knows already. Another way to do it is to just avoid letting your blood sugar dip by making sure to top up with quick sources throughout the day. Don’t let your stomach grumble!


Also important to consider is that like hunger, psychological stress also increases cortisol thereby triggering myostatin and muscle breakdown (1). This is why training to decrease stress levels can actually result in improved anabolism and hypertrophy.

And one way to do this? Meditation. If you meditate, then you can actually put yourself in the ‘rest and digest’ state following training. This will have immediate, short-term benefits as simply the act of breathing deeply will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and signal your body to begin the repair process. For those who don’t have 90 minutes spare to sleep after they’ve worked out, using meditation to put yourself back in a calm state might just be the ideal way to up your anabolism slightly.

But over the long term, the benefits are potentially even more profound and could potentially lead to generally decreased cortisol (and thus myostatin) and increased growth hormone and testosterone (2).

(Note that improving your resting heartrate through steady state cardio could also have similar long term benefits.)

It kind of makes sense to think that learning to cope with stress can help you to be more anabolic. When you think of the typically neurotic and anxious character, you tend to think of them as being very thin. Likewise, we imagine larger people to be more laid back and ‘jolly’. This might not be a coincidence!

The Bottom Line – Understand Your Rhythms

The bottom line is to understand that your body goes through rhythms. Sometimes we are alert, switched on and catabolic – during training, first thing in the morning, when we’re hungry, at work. Other times, we are anabolic, relaxed and creative – during sleep, after training, after eating and just before bed. We’re constantly yo-yoing between ‘fight or flight’ and ‘rest and digest’ and your job is to spend more time in the latter state if you want to build muscle. To build muscle, you need to be rested and well fed and you need to send signals to your body that it is living in safe and prosperous times.

This is why advice such as taking cold showers or going ketogenic can be destructive for bodybuilders. A cold shower is fine before training as it will wake you up and increase testosterone production. But it also triggers the stress response, so this is not what you want when you’re trying to build muscle. After training a warm shower will increase your growth hormone and help you to relax your muscles and slow your heart rate. Anything that makes you feel relaxed, happy and safe will allow you to build more muscle. Anything that makes you feel alert or stressed – including caffeine – will increase catabolism.

That’s because these are the same things as far as your body is concerned: stress is your body’s way of saying that you are under threat, whether that means you’re going hungry, you’re cold or you’re being chased by a lion. Either way, you need to conserve resources and you need to divert all available energy to systems that help you hunt, run, forage or stay warm. Hence ‘fight or flight’.


Conversely, when you’ve just eaten, your blood is spiked with tryptophan from the carbs, which passes through the blood brain barrier and gets converted to serotonin – the feel good hormone. Eventually, serotonin turns to melatonin making us sleepy and putting us in an even more anabolic state.

It goes further too – did you know that people who are very sedentary have a lot more fast-twitch muscle fiber? That’s because fast twitch muscle fiber is more energy hungry and thus only tends to exist in times when we are in caloric surplus. If you do a lot of long distance running on a low calorie diet though, your body will switch to slow twitch fibers because they’re more efficient.

So my conclusion? Rest up, sleep and meditate. A practical option is to start meditating after heavy workouts, or to try using self-resistance before sleep. Avoid letting your blood sugar dip if your interest is in building muscle. But most importantly, learn the importance of your rhythms and fit your training and eating around them in a smart way.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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