June 20, 2003 -- Androgen supplements alone may increase the size of your muscles, but they're not likely to improve the quality of muscle mass without putting in some time at the gym. A new study shows that male hormones, or androgens, aid in making muscles bigger, but they doesn't necessarily make muscles pack any more punch.
Many body builders take androgen supplements in hopes of building muscle mass, but researchers say these findings lead to new ways to help people such as seniors and those with chronic illnesses maintain muscle strength and physical function.
In the study, presented in Philadelphia this week at the 85th Annual Meeting of The Endocrine Society, researchers examined the effects of androgens on a group of young men with HIV and a group of older adults over 60.
The young men were randomly assigned to receive either 600 mg/week of nandrolone (a form of androgen) alone or in combination with strength training, such as weight lifting. The older adults were randomly assigned to get 20 mg per day of the androgen oxandrolone or a placebo. Both treatments lasted 12 weeks.
At the beginning and end of treatment, researchers measured how much weight the participants could maximally lift using leg press, leg extension, and leg flexion machines. They also measured the size of the participants' thigh muscles and lean body mass of the lower body using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to see how the size of the muscle changed over time.
They found that taking androgens alone increased muscle mass and maximum strength in both groups. But those gains were only modest, and the quality of the muscle did not improve because the muscle size and strength increased at the same rate.
"The results of androgen therapy alone on muscle and strength are not necessarily bad, but they are not optimal," says researcher E. Todd Schroeder, PhD, of the University of Southern California, in a news release. "The men did improve their strength, but it was proportional to the muscle mass they added."
But those who used androgens along with strength training saw more significant gains in both muscle mass and muscle quality. Their muscles not only got bigger, but they also got a greater increase in strength not attributable to size alone.
"It is clear from our studies and others that resistance training is critical for increasing muscle quality, but the effects can probably be augmented with androgens," says Schroeder. "In addition, not everyone can do resistance training, and a short course of androgens can help get people stronger and more functional."