Recovery for Throwing Harder

Deer Antler Velvet for Recovery: Reviewing the Evidence

  • August 5, 2015 /

The locker room rumblings are everywhere. Deer antler velvet, they say:

“My buddy took it and he got huge!”

“I hear with the velvet spray you can train hard every day and won’t ever get sore!”

These claims are impressive, but is there any truth to them?

The research is in its early stages, but so far the results are overwhelmingly conclusive:

Deer antler velvet (in spray or pill form) has little to no supporting scientific evidence supporting its use. In fact, the only evidence, personal anecdotes – can be accounted for via the powerful placebo effect, which is what many supplement companies rely on to continue selling ineffective products.

This article will summarize the current body of research and let you decide for yourself what to make of it.

Full disclosure: deer antler velvet is thought to potentially contain the hormone Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which humans naturally produce and which plays a key role in muscle growth and repair. If this were in fact the case, using the substance could theoretically cause positive drug tests in organizations that ban IGF-1 supplementation, such as the MLB and NCAA, explaining why the MLB issued a statement to players warning against using deer antler velvet. As we will cover, its unlikely that this product would ever actually trigger a positive test, though, as it hasn’t been shown to increase the user’s IGF-1 levels.

Additional disclosure: I have not personally ever used the product. Instead of relying on anecdotal evidence (the lowest form of evidence), this article is focused on repeatable scientific evidence. In other words, even if I had used it and loved/hated it, that’s still only a single case study and doesn’t really tell us enough to draw conclusions from.

If deer antler velvet really were effective, research would quickly exonerate it as an effective supplement, with multiples studies able to replicate these results.

But first, let’s back up:

What is deer antler velvet?

Deer antler velvet is crushed antler, from deer or elk, that is ingested for its supposed health and/or performance enhancing benefits. Because these antlers are said to regenerate and grow so quickly, they have been used in traditional chinese medicine for health purposes, and have been marketed by supplement companies in recent years as a miracle recovery product and legal steroid alternative.

Is deer antler velvet everything it is chalked up to be?

So does it work?

The current growing body of evidence is in overwhelming agreement regarding deer antler velvet and performance enhancement. There appears to be no reliable data supporting its effectiveness.

  • Testosterone: of three studies, not one showed that supplementing with deer antler velvet resulted in any increase in serum testosterone levels in athletes. Studies used dosages ranging from 560 mg to 1.5 g daily and ranged from 10 to 12 weeks in duration. (1-3)
  • IGF-1: Only one study has looked at the effect of deer antler velvet supplementation on resulting serum IGF-1 levels, and showed no effect. This is the whole point of the supplement – to ingest the natural form of IGF-1 and theoretically increase your own levels to get recovery benefits. So this data, which used relatively high dosages, seems to drive a dagger into that theory. (2)
  • Growth hormone: 10 weeks of supplementing 560 mg daily of deer antler velvet had no measurable effect on growth hormone levels. (3)
  • Aerobic/anaerobic performance: studies have not currently shown any significant effect of supplementation on either aerobic or anaerobic performance. (2-3)
  • Lean mass and bodyweight: the one study to examine deer antler velvet’s effect on lean body mass and bodyweight showed no statistically significant effects. (2)
  • Power output: one study showed a slight increase in peak power in the quadriceps following supplementation, while another study could not repeat these findings and showed no increase in power. The authors of the former study admitted that more testing would need to be done to corroborate their findings. (2-3).

Deer antler velvet has also been studied in a number of other contexts, including neurology, cardiovascular health, bone metabolism and inflammation. To read more about deer antler velvet research as it relates to general health, click here.

Conclusions

Don’t fall for the hype. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the claims supporting deer antler velvet for athletic performance and muscle repair have any truth to them.

But my buddy swears by it – he took it and got huge!

Did he? Or did he just make sweet gains for a few weeks and convince himself that he did? Let’s talk about the placebo effect as it relates to deer antler velvet, a compound that is often cited as a legal and/or undetectable steroid alternative.

Let’s look at what happens when a group of highly trained athletes are told they are being given steroids.

This study has been around for a while, but hasn’t gotten the publicity it deserves. 15 advanced strength athletes trained for 7 weeks, focusing primarily on increasing their weight in 4 main lifts (bench press, squat, military press, seated press). At the end of the 7 weeks, they had increased their lifts, on average, by a combined 22 lbs.

Here’s where it gets interesting:

6 of these guys were selected at random, and told they would be part of a “steroid” follow-up phase, where they would be given legal steroids and train for an additional 4 weeks following a similar program. The catch: they were all given placebo pills.

These guys each went on to increase their lifts by a combined 100 lbs, more than four times the gains in little more than half the time, all because they thought they were on steroids.

Of course, steroids do work. Very very well. But part of that is the result of the expectation that they are going to work so damn well, explaining why already advanced lifters saw steroid-like gains for a short time simply because they thought they were going to.

Is it really that much of a stretch to think that athletes being sold a “miracle supplement” like deer antler velvet often see similar gains, at least for a few weeks?

The mind is a powerful thing.

Where to go from here

Most people would rather lie to themselves that a product is working than admit they were wrong.

But that’s not you.

Take this information and use it to make better decisions about your training, your supplementation, and where you get your information from.

Here’s to reaching your potential,

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For our complete list of supplement recommendations (and much much more), check out our brand new ebook: Building The 95 MPH Bodyavailable for instant download here.

References

  1.  Conaglen HM, Suttie JM, Conaglen JV Effect of deer velvet on sexual function in men and their partners: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study . Arch Sex Behav. (2003)
  2. Sleivert G, et al The effects of deer antler velvet extract or powder supplementation on aerobic power, erythropoiesis, and muscular strength and endurance characteristics . Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. (2003)
  3. Syrotuik DG, et al Effect of elk velvet antler supplementation on the hormonal response to acute and chronic exercise in male and female rowers . Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. (2005)

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