The release of this naturally occurring hormone from the pineal gland (in the brain) follows the body’s circadian rhythms (internal clock) and helps to regulate sleep and wake cycles. Because of this, the body’s natural melatonin levels become elevated during dark hours of the day and decrease with daylight. Due to its association with circadian rhythms, most people consider melatonin supplements only when they are trying combat jet lag or insomnia. However, it may be surprising for most to know that melatonin is also a potent pre-workout supplement, that has very little effect on wakefulness or energy levels during workouts. In this article we have put together research supporting melatonin as pre-workout supplement that can aid in muscle building, fat loss, and recovery.
Pre-workout Melatonin: Evidence for antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions
Intense exercise is associated with increases in oxidative stress and research over the past several years has illustrated that antioxidants taken prior to exercise can increase workout performance and improve recovery. In the past two decades scientists have shown that melatonin acts as one of the body’s most active antioxidants and free-radical scavengers— in fact, this stuff is about twice as active as vitamin E and synergizes with other antioxidants to improve their overall activity. A recent study conducted at the University of Seville Medical School (Spain) looked the effects of taking melatonin prior to intense exercise on oxidative stress, immunity, and fat metabolism in football players. The athletes either took 6 mg of melatonin or a placebo 30 minutes prior to completing an hour of continuous intense training. Upon completion of the study, the authors concluded that the melatonin supplement significantly increased blood total antioxidant activity and decreased exercise-induced oxidative stress. Furthermore, they observed that the melatonin group had increased fat metabolism during training and improved immunity.
Beyond increases in oxidative stress, long and intense exercise bouts signal the body to release inflammatory factors that increase muscle soreness and cause significant muscle damage. As inflammation increases during training, many note decrements in work performance, decreases in exercise intensity, and require increased recovery time between sessions. A recent study published in the Journal of Pineal Research examined whether pre-training melatonin supplementation would improve the oxidative and inflammatory responses associated with intense training. In this study, a group of highly trained endurance athletes were given melatonin supplements or placebo for three days prior to completing a grueling 50 km uphill run in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (in Granada Spain). The supplement regimen consisted of taking 3 mg of melatonin with dinner 2 days before the run, 9 mg (split between breakfast, lunch, and dinner) the day before the run, and 3 mg 1-hour prior to the run. Blood and urine samples were taken prior to and immediately after the run and tested for several markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. At the end of the study the authors concluded that oral supplementation of melatonin during high intensity exercise is efficient in reducing oxidative stress and markers of inflammation. In all, such improvements in the muscular microenvironment protects muscles from damage, thereby potentiating training adaptations.
Melatonin: an anabolic hormone booster
After a bout of heavy exercise, the body mounts hormonal responses that increase anabolism— resulting in increased strength, exercise capacity, and muscularity over time. A key hormone released during exercise recovery is growth hormone (GH), which (as its name implies) regulates muscular growth, but also decreases fat mass. Under normal conditions, GH (like melatonin) follows the body’s internal clock, with highest levels of GH being released from the anterior pituitary at the onset of deep sleep. Interestingly, studies have shown that taking up to 5 mg of melatonin (without daily exercise) prior to sleep or during wakeful hours results in increased blood GH levels—forming a link between blood melatonin levels and GH release.
In terms of the GH response to endurance and resistance exercise, melatonin can potentiate that too. A study conducted in the UK and published in the European Journal of Endocrinology in 1999 showed that taking 5 mg of melatonin, 1-hour prior to completing a short bout of moderate intensity cycling exercise, results in a significant increase in GH release when compared exercising after taking a placebo. Eight years later, scientists from Baylor University (Waco, Texas) reported that trained males given 5 mg of melatonin one hour before a leg workout had higher GH levels before and after training compared to subjects who received a placebo. In fact, they illustrated that even test subjects who took just 0.5 mg of melatonin had higher GH levels after training. Together, these studies support the use of melatonin on rest and training days to boost GH secretion and maximize muscularity.
How to supplement melatonin
So, all in all it should be obvious that melatonin is a great supplement to take during training and rest days to improve oxidative status, augment GH release, and promote restorative sleep at night. Based on past and current literature, the best way to supplement melatonin and take advantage of all its positive effects is to take 0.5-5 mg 30-60 minutes prior to training and 0.5-5 mg immediately before hitting the sack. On rest days take the pre-workout dose at the same time as you would on training days.
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