Get A Handle On Cortisol, or It Will Put Love Handles On You
Most people in the fitness and bodybuilding industry know that hormones are important to build muscle and reduce body fat. Of these hormones, testosterone and growth hormone are kings. However there is another hormone that is important to know about. It is cortisol, a steroid hormone that is termed “catabolic” because it has the opposite effect to testosterone, growth hormone and even insulin. Cortisol breaks down muscle tissue instead of keeping it anabolic in order to build it up.
Although bad for muscle, some people think cortisol is good for fat reduction since it catabolizes tissue including fat. People that make the claim that cortisol is good for fat loss don’t do their research very well and only read part of the studies.
While cortisol increases whole-body lipolysis, it spares abdominal fat and you get much fatter in the stomach region. This partially explains why people with chronically elevated cortisol levels are characterized by abdominal obesity. If you do fasted cardio or go on low calorie diets for cutting, you can actually increase body fat because of cortisol increase.
In fact cortisol, which is released by the adrenal glands under conditions of high mental and physical stress and high temperature, is the body's primary catabolic hormone. The dangers of excess cortisol are:
- Reduced growth hormone, and testosterone output.
- Reduced muscle and increased abdominal fat.
- Impaired memory and learning.
- Reduced glucose utilization.
- Impaired immunity.
Not good right? Although there are some redeeming qualities to cortisol, this article will focus on the problems with too high of cortisol release and what can be done about it.
One of the big factors intensifying cortisols effects that reduce muscle and increase fat is;
"EXERCISING ON AN EMPTY STOMACH FIRST THING IN THE MORNING. THIS HAS BEEN SHOWN TO INTENSIFY CORTISOL'S EFFECTS decreasing muscle mass through catabolism and increasing fat gain."
THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT TO BUILD THE SHAPELIEST MUSCLE POSSIBLE AND REDUCE BODY FAT YOU NEED TO CONTROL CORTISOL RELEASE.
How do you control excess cortisol release?
This may seem backwards thinking since stress creates cortisol but proper science based exercise helps reduce cortisol levels. The key is to not over train and to do just enough to adequately stimulate the particular system being training (muscular or aerobic). HIIT cardio sessions should be kept at between 30 and 45 minutes and weight sessions should be no longer than 45 minutes if you don’t want a rush of cortisol limiting your muscle gains or fat loss.
The endorphin release from these two types of exercise should offset any release in cortisol. Exercise will, during and straight afterward, place the body in a catabolic state 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. Weight training also increases growth hormone which offsets cortisone release.
NUTRITION IS KING
Nutrition is the key factor for bodybuilders when it comes to keeping cortisol in check. To control cortisol release, eating first thing in the morning and directly after a workout are optimum times unless you are in specific training to reduce some muscles while increasing others but this approach must be done carefully. Insulin doesn’t balance and soften the release of cortisol unless food is present. Any food helps but ones higher in glutamine and vitamin C are best (check out article on high glutamine containing foods).
MANAGE YOUR STRESS
Cortisol is released based on stress and not just stress on muscles. 15 minutes of meditation or Yoga a day is essential if you want to achieve the strongest muscles and leanest body possible.
Glutamine is the uncrowned champion of supplements. It isn’t as well known but it is the most important supplement (amino acid) you can take for keeping cortisol levels under control. Research studies abound showing that Glutamine can directly reduce cortisol and also through increasing growth hormone levels (studies). In fact, Glutamine can increase growth hormone levels 430% and keep them up for over an hour and a half if dosed properly.
BCAA’s have great research showing they can reduce cortisol levels when dosed at 5-6 grams right before workout and first thing in morning (study) .
Cortisol is at its lowest and growth hormone is at its highest during REM sleep. Taking Glutamine and BCAA’s right before bed can help this situation even more.
Chronic cortisol release due to stressors of excess exercise without the proper nutrients present and daily stressors without yoga or mediation can wreak havoc on your gain goals.
Get food into your system before working out or if trying to cut, make sure you have glutamine and bcaa’s.
Exercise within the windows of time specified to keep cortisol in check
Chill and sleep properly each day. Do 15 minutes of yoga or meditation and work to get 7-8 hours of sleep
Take Glutamine and BCAA‘s daily to force cortisol into its basic roles for health and not let it shrink your muscles and increase your belly fat.
“Heads up special advice important tip. Research will be revealing how sucralose can reduce these supplements effectiveness and cause a myriad of other problems. The reason you won’t hear more about this from other companies is because well over 95% of all sports supplements contain sucralose because it is cheap and sweet.”