Figure 1--Structure of Nicotinic Acid
Growth hormone (GH) seems to receive a lot criticism in bodybuilding subculture; people either love it or abhor it. Rather than dabble in the debate of GH’s benefits/uses in regards to athletic performance, I find it more prudent to examine the correlation between the common B-vitamin niacin (vitamin B3) and the secretion of growth hormone in vivo.
Before diving into the nitty gritty of this article, be wary that niacin in the doses proposed by the studies included herein are not achievable from food sources alone. Humans would require toxic amounts of beef (>15lbs per day) to achieve the nominal amount of niacin that potentiates GH release. So no, you can’t just eat niacin-rich foods to achieve the effect observed by these studies.
A study conducted by Stokes et. al found that subjects that ingested significantly large boluses (roughly 1000mg to 3000mg) of niacin (nicotinic acid) exhibited a “supercharged” release of growth hormone in a somewhat delayed fashion (i.e. roughly 5 hours after the dose was taken).
In the figure above, you can see the exponential increase in GH levels that occurred in the niacin-treated group vs. the control group (that ingested no supplemental niacin). Keep in mind, this study was examining individuals who completed bouts of sprint intervals on bicycles. Thus, it was concluded that niacin provided a bolstering effect of the GH release we normally achieve with appropriate anaerobic, high-intensity exercise.
Also note how significantly large the increases in GH were. At the peak time interval (300 min post-treatment), the niacin-treated individuals exhibited between 600 and 1500% greater increases in GH compared to the control group. In fact, these levels were larger secretions than we normally achieve during our deepest phase of sleep, which is otherwise the largest natural endogenous release of GH we ever elicit.
Thus, we can extrapolate from this study the finding that niacin can still be useful for individuals even without exercising since it will stimulate a significant secretion of GH even in the absence of exercise.
What this means then is that with some smart timing and incorporation into your training/cardio regimen, niacin can provide a simple, safe, and legal way to naturally reap the benefits of your body’s own GH secretion.
Many people will argue that GH in physiological ranges is worthless, but I have to disagree with such a position. GH is a potent anti-catabolic hormone in humans and serves as an indirect mediator of a medley of anabolic hormones. GH also appears to be a useful fat-burning agent, especially in people in the fasted state since it has direct effects on various gut peptides like leptin and ghrelin. Moreover, GH promotes much deeper, more restful sleep, which is imperative for bodybuilders and gym goers alike.
Furthermore, the endogenous levels of GH achieved post-niacin ingestion are rather significant. I tread lightly about describing these levels as ”pharmacological” here because I don’t want people to get the idea that taking niacin will incur the same effects as taking exogenous HGH (because frankly, not much can replicate the peptide itself).
The take home message from the studies included herein, however, are that we can still reap that extra “edge” from a simple, safe, and legal OTC supplement, that being niacin/nicotinic acid (vitamin B3). Keep in mind that nicotinic acid is not the same as niacinamide or inositol hexanicotinate! You want pure niacin (acidic form) supplement, not the amide or inositol-bound form.
For people who follow intermittent fasting (or train fasted):
Ingest 1-3g (start at the low end and work up if necessary) roughly 3-4 hours (180-240 minutes pre-exercise).
The reasoning for such a time-gap between niacin ingestion and exercise is that GH is a rather delayed hormone in its lipolytic and anti-catabolic effects. Optimally, you want to spike GH early on or even before initiating exercise and give your body a good 20-30 minutes to attenuate it’s response.
–Furthermore, this option should present fasting trainees with maximal benefit of their own GH secretion and provide plenty of time to train then ramp up insulin in the post training phase (which is an antagonist to GH, for the most part).
For trainees who train in the fed state (especially after insulinogenic/carb-heavy meals):
Ingest niacin (same doses as prescribed above) roughly 1.5-2 hours after your last meal prior to training. The hypothesis for this dosing is that this should find the sweet-spot between allowing insulin to return to baseline levels while allowing GH to exhibit its effects just in time for you to train or do cardio.
NOTE: If you are a low-carb dieter/keto dieter, you can follow a similar protocol to the fasting group since your insulin levels should be relatively static throughout the day.
For non-training days and/or bedtime:
Given the data/findings discussed herein, arguably one of the most prudent times to take niacin would be about 60-90 minutes before you go to bed. The postulation here is that you could reap some significantly “supercharged” (hyperbole anybody?) endogenous GH secretion during your sleep with the compounding effect of niacin.
Most readers are likely aware that nicotinic acid can cause a side effect known as flushing. This causes the skin to feel itchy and warm, somewhat similarly to beta-alanine “tingles,” but more irritating. To circumvent the niacin flush, it is best to either take niacin with or after a meal or start with a low dose – such as 100mg – and gradually work your way up to the target dose, in increments of 50mg to 100mg extra per day.
Another option is to take 325mg of aspirin about 30 minutes prior to your scheduled niacin dose.
The plus side to niacin (nicotinic acid) supplementation is that it is readily available, cheap, safe, and actually has some solid clinical evidence to back it up. There are a variety of other health benefits derived from niacin that weren’t covered in this article, such as optimizing cholesterol profiles and improving cognition.
In no way is this article suggesting you should label niacin as some “wonder-pill,” but it is potent nonetheless, especially for increasing endogenous GH secretions.
1.Stokes, K.A., Tyler, C., & Gilbert, K.L. (2008). The growth hormone response to repeated bouts of sprint exercise with and without suppression of lipolysis in men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 104(3), 724-728.
2.Daniel Jr, W. A., Aynsley-Green, A., Zachmann, M., & Prader, A. (1976). Interrelation of the therapeutic effects of growth hormone and testosterone on growth in hypopituitarism. The Journal of pediatrics, 89(6), 992-999.
3.Salomon, F., Cuneo, R. C., Hesp, R., & Sönksen, P. H. (1989). The effects of treatment with recombinant human growth hormone on body composition and metabolism in adults with growth hormone deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 321(26), 1797-1803.
4.Quabbe, H.J., Luyckx, A.S., L’age M., & Schwarz, C. (1983). Growth hormone, cortisol, and glucagon concentrations during plasma free fatty acid depression: different effects of nicotinic acid and an adenosine derivative (BM 11.189). J. Clin Endocrinol Metab., 57(2):410-4.