Melatonin For Muscle

Yes, it will help you get to sleep and recover from jet lag, but this hormone also does much more.

Photos by Robert Reiff

When you think of melatonin, you think of the sweet relief of deep sleep. Yet in addition to being an effective sleep aid, melatonin also can aid muscle growth and provide antioxidant benefits. Here’s what you may know and what you definitely didn’t know about melatonin.

You Are Getting Sleepy

To understand precisely how melatonin makes you sleepy, you need to understand its natural function in the body. Melatonin, also known as N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, is a hormone that the body produces at night. When your eyes are exposed to darkness, a signal is sent to the brain that influences the pineal gland to convert serotonin into melatonin. Melatonin is then released into circulation and travels throughout the body to spread the message to active cells that it’s time to sleep.

All too often, light from lamps, television, computers and even alarm clocks interfere with the body’s natural production of melatonin. Taking supplemental melatonin can counteract this, inducing sleep with few side effects. Melatonin supplements have proven beneficial for a wide range of people, including those experiencing occasional sleeplessness or more confirmed insomniacs, those suffering from seasonal affective disorder, and even those suffering from jet lag after traveling to a different time zone.

If falling asleep at night is often a problem, taking a melatonin supplement before bed can help you get the rest you need. That’s not only important for being alert and sharp minded the next day, but also getting adequate sleep is important to recovery from workouts and muscle and strength gains. It also helps keep body fat at bay. Research confirms that those who get less sleep eat more than those getting the recommended seven to nine hours per night.

Antioxidant Powerhouse
Antioxidants protect muscle cells and other important structures, as well as DNA, from exercise-induced free-radical damage. While an increase in free-radical levels during exercise is normal, very intense training can lead to excessive free-radical production, which causes muscle damage (not the good kind that leads to muscle growth) and delays recovery. Research suggests that excessive free-radical buildup can increase fatigue, which may in turn limit the intensity of your workouts.

Melatonin counters these negative effects of free radicals in two different ways: directly and indirectly. It directly neutralizes free radicals to stop them in their tracks. Plus, melatonin stimulates the activity of natural antioxidant enzymes produced by the body. These antioxidant enzymes include glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutase and catalase. By activating these enzymes, you get even more antioxidant backup. And all that can aid recovery and your overall muscle growth, strength and, of course, your health.

Grow Bigger and Leaner
For those of you who are serious about growing muscle, a supplement that aids sleep and offers antioxidant benefits may not rank up there with creatine and whey protein. But before you look past melatonin as something for your parents to take, it gets better, much better. The latest buzz on melatonin is its ability to boost growth-hormone levels.

Baylor University scientists hypothesized that taking melatonin before a weight workout could boost GH levels. So they tested it out. They had 60 weight-trained men and women take 0.5 milligrams of melatonin, 5 milligrams of melatonin or a placebo one hour before a high-intensity leg workout. As reported in a 2007 issue of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the 5-milligram dose of melatonin more than doubled GH levels before the workout started, and both doses more than doubled GH levels after the workout in the male subjects.

Taking melatonin did not lead to higher GH levels for the women. In fact, GH levels in the female subjects who were given the placebo were about the same after the workout as the men who took melatonin. In other words, women’s GH levels are already pretty much maxed without the use of supplements. 

Drop the Fat
Because melatonin can raise GH levels in men, it also can help you get leaner. GH not only works to boost muscle size and strength, but it also increases lipolysis. That’s the scientific word for removing fat from fat cells, such as those blurring your abs. When you release more fat from the fat cells in the body, the fat cells become smaller. So having more GH floating around means you have more fat being freed from fat cells. And that means you can burn more fat away for good.

Another way that melatonin may enhance fat burning has to do with glycogen — the body’s carbohydrate stores. Ironically, research has found that melatonin can prevent fatigue during exhaustive exercise because it maintains higher glycogen levels in muscle. More glycogen means longer, harder training sessions, which can help you burn more body fat. Even better news is the fact that melatonin spares muscle glycogen by allowing the body to burn more fat for fuel.

Of course, you are likely wondering whether taking melatonin before workouts will put you to sleep like it does at night. The good news is that it won’t. In fact, in one study from the United Kingdom, researchers gave subjects either 2.5 milligrams of melatonin or a placebo 75 minutes before a running workout. They reported that there was no difference between melatonin and a placebo on alertness, sleepiness or rate of perceived exertion (a measure of how difficult each subject found the workout). A second study by the same U.K. researchers found that melatonin did reduce alertness but only at a higher dosage of 5 milligrams and when melatonin was taken more than three hours before the workout. Although melatonin did reduce alertness in this study, it had no negative effects on performance.

The reason melatonin does not increase sleepiness during workouts is likely because of the stimulatory effects of exercise on the mind and body. Plus, darkness is needed to cause the other physiological changes that work with melatonin to induce sleep. Therefore, taking melatonin in the daytime, or in a bright gym, will lessen its effects on sleepiness. 

Dosing Out Melatonin
Start by taking 0.5 milligrams of melatonin 30 to 60 minutes before weight training and cardio workouts. This will provide you the GH-boosting and fat-burning benefits without making you sleepy. And try taking a higher dose of 5 milligrams of melatonin 30 to 60 minutes before bed. This way, you can use melatonin to not only aid your sleep but also to get a nighttime GH boost for additional muscle growth, strength gains and fat loss.