As you go about your training, whether your goal is to improve performance, decrease total body fat, or improve your rate of muscle building, one thing that you need to be aware of is cortisol.
Cortisol is the hormone that could potentially destroy all the results you have in store.
How does it do this – and what can you do to put a stop to this? Let’s look more closely at what you should know.
What Cortisol Is
Cortisol is essentially the stress hormone in the body that is going to be released any time your body is facing perceived danger, be it psychological or physical. In ancient days, when you may have been head to head with a tiger and had to escape to safety, it was a good thing as it gave you a very large boost of energy by dumping a surge of glucose into your blood stream.
In today’s world however, where we aren’t faced with tigers but are rather experiencing chronically high levels of stress due to our careers, or relationships, or other factors we face in our lives, it is a very bad thing.
How Cortisol Works
Cortisol’s main objective in the body is to provide an immediate energy boost. It does this by breaking down tissue and releasing glucose into the blood stream.
Over time though, as this carries on further and further, your adrenal glands start to burn out and rather than being energized, you’re now drained and not feeling much like doing anything.
In addition to that, in order to get this boost of energy, cortisol must break tissues down. Very often, this is your lean muscle mass tissue.
Cortisol is known to be a ‘catabolic hormone’ in the body (tissue breakdown), while insulin is known to be anabolic (tissue building).
As your muscle tissues break down, you get weaker and weaker and your resting metabolic rate slows down further and further as well.
That’s not all though.
If you are constantly experiencing this dump of sugar into your blood stream for ‘instant energy’ when you are stressed, only you are not using that energy because you are sitting in your desk at work, that means it has to go somewhere.
That somewhere is your stomach fat stores.
So in essence, high levels of cortisol on a chronic basis will reduce your muscle mass and increase your body fat, making your entire body composition that much less desirable.
Clearly not what you’re going for.
Steps To Reducing Cortisol
So how can you control cortisol? First, practice good stress management techniques. Of all the things you could do, this might just be the most beneficial.
Deep breathing, writing in a stress journal, or taking a yoga class are all great options. In fact, one study published in the Perceptual and Motor Skills journal noted that participants experienced a decrease in serum cortisol levels during a yoga class they were taking part in.
Yoga not only helps you improve flexibly, boost mind-body control and ease stress, but it could in fact help you lose fat as well.
In addition to that, look over your life and make sure you aren’t taking on more than you can handle.
Often, much of the stress we experience on a day to day basis is completely self-inflicted, so if you are able to avoid the source of your stress entirely, you can dramatically reduce your cortisol levels.
And remember that all stress counts here. It could be stress from your relationship, financial stress, career related stress, or even stress about your parents coming to visit. All stress will boost cortisol release, so you really need to do whatever you can to maintain a more stress-free mood and lifestyle.
While you won’t always be able to eliminate it, with proper stress management, you can definitely reduce it.
So don’t let cortisol derail your results any longer. Do whatever you can to get this hormone under control so that you can reach your muscle building and fat loss goals.
Kamei, T. et al. (2000). Decrease in Serum Cortisol During Yoga Exercise Is Correlated With Alpha Wave Activation. Perceptual and Motor Skills journal. Volume 90.