If you want to build muscle, reduce body fat and get a six pack, cortisol is definitely something you want to avoid. The wrong kind of exercise can cause fat to be stored and muscle to breakdown, but the right kind of exercise can actually lower it.
Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress or high temperature. It regulates blood sugar and inflammatory responses in the body, both of which are greatly affected by exercise. By causing muscle to be broken down (catabolise) it fills the bloodstream with amino acids, which can be used for energy by the brain in the form of glucose. It also releases fatty acids from fat cells to be used by the muscles, priming the body to deal with the cause of whatever is stressing it.
Besides increasing fat storage and breaking down muscle its negative effects include reduced growth hormone and testosterone, an increased appetite and osteoporosis.
Given the numerous negative effects that corisol has on the body, you probably want to know what causes it to be released and what to do about it.
Limit Your Exercise
One of the most surprising causes of increased cortisol levels is workouts that are too long. Exercise of any type should be restricted to an hour at a time as this is when cortisol starts to have an effect. As we age our workout times should decrease using the following as a guide.
15-25 years old – 60 minutes
25-35 years old – 50 minutes
35-45 years old – 40 minutes
45-55 years old – 30 minutes
If the idea of limiting your exercise to less than an hour is too much to even consider, or you just couldn’t fit your cardio and weights into one session, you could always try exercising twice a day. Cardio on a morning and weights in the evening is a good way to achieve this, but be sure to take at least one day off a week to avoid overtraining.
Eat Regular Meals
For many other reasons than reducing cortisol, eat 5 or 6 meals a day. The most important two are breakfast, as cortisol is naturally higher in the morning, and the one after your workout, which should contain plenty of protein and low GI carbohydrates such as dextrose.
Avoiding stress is often easier said than done, but as cortisol is released in response to stress, starting your workout in a less than relaxed state means an hour is already too much. It might mentally help you feel better to train after a stressful day at work, but instead try some gentle cardio such as walking to get your cortisol levels down before you hit the gym.
There are many reasons to get plenty of sleep every night, given this it should come as no surprise that cortisol levels are lower in people who get at least 8 hours a night. Not to mention having higher levels of testosterone and growth hormone, which is good for women as well as men.
Research has shown that taking just 1g of Vitamin C improves cortisol to testosterone ratios by over 20% which means better muscle recovery and growth. Another good reason to take a multivitamin supplements alongside your natural sources.
The effects cortisol has on the body in turn affect the mind, so even if you didn’t have the goal to build muscle, lose body fat and get a six pack it’s still worth trying to reduce it for general well being.
As always, any feedback or questions leave a comment below.