We’ve all heard it! Being stressed only makes things worse.
And of course its true…!
After busting our gut in the gym and resisting all the lovely cake, the last thing we want is to not see results.
Understanding cortisol effects may have a big impact on how you go about your lifestyle or competition prep. Some of what I’ve listed below may definitely make you think twice about habits or regimes which seem completely legit if your not taking into account the effect it has on your cortisol.
Cortisol hormone is released from your adrenal glands when your body is under physical or mental stress. It is an important hormone but too much of it leads to decreased muscle growth and decreased fat loss.
We can see the errors here! ^
Here’s my advice on how to reduce cortisol levels:
- Stress Management – (Obvious) Less stress -> Less cortisol. Its easier said than done but constantly worrying about your weight or progress will only increase cortisol levels. Try going for a brisk walk to clear your head and you will also be rewarded with a small does of endorphins which should offset some cortisol in conjunction with the light aerobic exercise.
- Workout Duration – Exercise will place the body in a catabolic state (and increase cortisol) both during and straight after a workout. BUT provided the sessions are not too long and nutritional needs are met a relaxed state will ultimately be achieved. (And cortisol release will be controlled.) These regular 1-2 hour intense cardio sessions are a NO GO for me. I have the odd crazy intense routine workout but the rest of the time I stick to 30 minutes aerobic exercise and 45 minutes of weights.
- Weight Training – Pretty simple ->Weight training increases growth hormone which offsets cortisone release.
- Deep sleep – We all know sleep is our best friend. But it is important to achieve deep sleep every night to fully benefit. This is where cortisol levels are at their lowest, and growth hormone is at its highest. Result!! Now this is where I let myself down, so I’ve been reading a book to help my whirling brain and it work wonders. I just need to stop myself before I read for 90 minutes without noticing the time. But apparently reading only takes 6 minutes to relax your brain! –> Note to self!
- Nutrition – Eating first thing in the morning and within 30 minutes post workout are the most important times to control cortisol levels because this is when it is at a high level. We have already established the catabolic state post workout, but this is also true for your body first thing in the morning. Which is why fasted cardio is such a big no for me as my body will be catabolic and will break down muscle protein into glucose. No thank you!
- Caffeine – I know this one isn’t going to go down well! BUT it is true that caffeine levels can cause spikes in cortisol levels. Of course it all depends on how much you consume and how close together but just bear it in mind, especially drinking multiple cups of coffee first thing in the morning…!
This is just my advice on what I do to to keep my cortisol levels as low as possible 🙂 The worst thing is when you are putting in all the hours and not getting results. Some of the above or certainly a combination of a few may be where you are going wrong.
Photo credit: Gareth Dix