Anabolic Resistance: Understanding and Overcoming a Major Hurdle for Weight Lifters

6 min read

Anabolic Resistance: Understanding and Overcoming a Major Hurdle for Weight Lifters

Anabolic Resistance: Understanding and Overcoming a Major Hurdle for Weight Lifters

Anabolic resistance is a term that might not be familiar to everyone, but for weight lifters, it represents a significant challenge that can impede progress. It refers to the reduced ability of muscle tissue to synthesize protein and grow in response to training and nutrition, which can make gaining muscle mass and strength more difficult. In this comprehensive blog post, we will delve into the concept of anabolic resistance, its causes, how it affects weight lifters, and strategies to overcome it.

Understanding Anabolic Resistance

What is Anabolic Resistance?

Anabolic resistance is a condition where muscle protein synthesis (MPS) becomes less responsive to stimuli such as resistance training and protein intake. This resistance makes it harder for individuals, especially weight lifters and bodybuilders, to gain muscle mass and strength despite following rigorous training and nutrition regimens.

The Science Behind Anabolic Resistance

At the cellular level, anabolic resistance involves several complex processes:

  • Insulin Resistance: Reduced sensitivity to insulin can impair the muscle's ability to take up amino acids and glucose, which are essential for muscle growth and repair.
  • Inflammation: Chronic low-grade inflammation can interfere with anabolic signaling pathways, diminishing the effectiveness of muscle protein synthesis.
  • Hormonal Changes: Variations in hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone, and cortisol can affect the body's anabolic response.

Who is Affected by Anabolic Resistance?

While anabolic resistance can affect anyone, it is particularly prevalent in:

  • Older Adults: Aging naturally leads to a decline in anabolic sensitivity, a condition often referred to as sarcopenia.
  • Individuals with Metabolic Disorders: Conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes are associated with insulin resistance, which contributes to anabolic resistance.
  • Chronic Dieters: Repeated cycles of dieting can disrupt metabolic function and reduce anabolic sensitivity.

Causes of Anabolic Resistance

Age-Related Factors

Aging is one of the primary factors contributing to anabolic resistance. As people age, there are several physiological changes that occur:

  • Decreased Hormonal Levels: Levels of anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone decline with age, reducing the body's ability to build and maintain muscle mass.
  • Reduced Muscle Protein Synthesis: The efficiency of muscle protein synthesis decreases, meaning that older adults require more protein and more intense training to achieve the same muscle growth as younger individuals.
  • Increased Inflammation: Aging is associated with increased systemic inflammation, which can further impede muscle growth.

Lifestyle and Dietary Factors

Several lifestyle and dietary factors can contribute to anabolic resistance, including:

  • Poor Nutrition: Inadequate protein intake or poor overall diet quality can impair the body's ability to build muscle.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: Lack of physical activity reduces the sensitivity of muscle tissue to anabolic stimuli.
  • Chronic Stress: Elevated cortisol levels due to chronic stress can interfere with muscle protein synthesis and increase muscle breakdown.

Metabolic Disorders

Conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes are strongly linked to anabolic resistance. These conditions are characterized by:

  • Insulin Resistance: Reduced insulin sensitivity impairs nutrient uptake by muscles, making it harder to synthesize protein and build muscle.
  • Chronic Inflammation: Metabolic disorders are often accompanied by chronic inflammation, which disrupts anabolic signaling pathways.

Impact of Anabolic Resistance on Weight Lifters

Difficulty in Gaining Muscle Mass

For weight lifters, anabolic resistance can make it significantly harder to gain muscle mass. Despite following a rigorous training and nutrition plan, those affected by anabolic resistance may see slower progress and diminished muscle growth.

Impaired Recovery

Anabolic resistance not only affects muscle growth but also impairs recovery. Muscle protein synthesis is crucial for repairing muscle damage caused by intense workouts. Reduced anabolic sensitivity means that muscles take longer to recover, potentially leading to overtraining and injury.

Reduced Strength Gains

Anabolic resistance can also impact strength gains. As muscle growth is stunted, so too is the development of strength. This can be particularly frustrating for weight lifters who are striving to increase their performance and lift heavier weights.

Strategies to Overcome Anabolic Resistance

Optimizing Nutrition

Protein Intake

One of the most effective ways to combat anabolic resistance is to optimize protein intake. This includes:

  • Increased Protein Consumption: Older adults and individuals with anabolic resistance may benefit from consuming more protein than the general population. Aim for at least 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
  • Leucine-Rich Foods: Leucine is a key amino acid that stimulates muscle protein synthesis. Incorporate leucine-rich foods such as dairy, meat, and legumes into your diet.
  • Protein Timing: Distribute protein intake evenly throughout the day to maximize muscle protein synthesis. Aim for 20-30 grams of protein per meal.

Balanced Diet

A balanced diet that supports overall health is crucial for combating anabolic resistance:

  • Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Include foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, such as fatty fish, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Healthy Fats: Incorporate healthy fats from sources like olive oil, avocados, and fish to support hormone production and reduce inflammation.
  • Complex Carbohydrates: Opt for complex carbohydrates that provide sustained energy and support muscle glycogen replenishment.

Resistance Training

Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is essential for overcoming anabolic resistance. This involves gradually increasing the intensity, volume, or frequency of your workouts to continually challenge your muscles. Strategies include:

  • Increase Weight: Regularly increase the weight you lift to ensure your muscles are continually challenged.
  • Increase Repetitions or Sets: Adding more repetitions or sets can also help to stimulate muscle growth.
  • Vary Exercises: Incorporate different exercises to target various muscle groups and prevent plateaus.

High-Intensity Training

High-intensity resistance training has been shown to be particularly effective for older adults and those with anabolic resistance. This includes:

  • Heavy Lifting: Lifting heavier weights with lower repetitions can stimulate greater muscle protein synthesis.
  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): Incorporate HIIT sessions to boost metabolic rate and improve insulin sensitivity.

Hormonal Optimization

There are also natural ways to support hormone levels, including:

  • DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) - 

    DHEA is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It serves as a precursor to other important hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. DHEA levels decline with age, and supplementation can help restore these levels, supporting muscle mass and overall vitality.
  • Pregnenolone - Pregnenolone is another steroid hormone that serves as a precursor to various hormones, including DHEA, progesterone, and cortisol. It plays a crucial role in maintaining hormonal balance and supporting cognitive function and mood.
  • 7,8 Benzoflavone - 7,8 Benzoflavone, also known as 7,8 benzochromenone, is a flavonoid compound that has shown promise in enhancing hormonal balance and promoting muscle health. It is known to act as an aromatase inhibitor, which can help maintain optimal testosterone levels by preventing the conversion of testosterone to estrogen.
  • Resveratrol - Resveratrol is a naturally occurring polyphenol and phytoalexin produced by several plants in response to stress, injury, or fungal infection. It is primarily found in the skin of red grapes but is also present in blueberries, cranberries, peanuts, and red wine.  This amazing compound can also help optimize testosterone via a few different pathways.  By inhibits aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. Leydig Cell Stimulation,   Leydig cells in the testes produce testosterone. Antioxidant Protection, reducing oxidative stress, resveratrol protects Leydig cells from damage, supporting their function and testosterone production. 

Additional Supplementation

Protein Supplements

Protein supplements such as whey protein, casein, and plant-based protein powders can help to ensure you meet your daily protein requirements. They are particularly useful for older adults or those with increased protein needs.

Leucine and BCAAs

Leucine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) supplements can help to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and overcome anabolic resistance.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can support muscle protein synthesis. Consider taking a high-quality fish oil supplement.

Monitoring and Adjusting

Regular Assessment

Regularly assess your progress by tracking metrics such as muscle mass, strength, and recovery. This can help you identify if anabolic resistance is impacting your gains and adjust your strategies accordingly.

Professional Guidance

Consider working with a fitness professional or healthcare provider who can help to tailor your training and nutrition plan to your specific needs. They can provide personalized recommendations and monitor your progress.


Anabolic resistance is a significant challenge for weight lifters, particularly older adults, individuals with metabolic disorders, and those with chronic dietary restrictions. Understanding the causes and effects of anabolic resistance is the first step in overcoming it. By optimizing nutrition, engaging in progressive resistance training, supporting hormonal health, and considering targeted supplementation, weight lifters can combat anabolic resistance and continue to make gains in muscle mass and strength.

As research continues to evolve, new strategies and interventions may emerge to further assist in overcoming anabolic resistance. Staying informed and adaptable in your approach will be key to long-term success in your weight lifting journey. Remember, consistency and perseverance are essential, and with the right strategies, you can achieve your fitness goals despite the challenges posed by anabolic resistance.