Will stress sabotage muscle building & weight loss goals?
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It works with certain part of your brain to control your mood, but other than this, it also plays an important role in several things your body does. For example, it:
- Controls Sleep Cycle
- Increases Glucose Levels
- Regulate Blood Pressure
- Reduce Inflammation
- Controls the use of Macronutrients (Carb, Fats and Protein)
How Does it Work?
The human body is definitely amazing. Your brain can sense if your blood contains the right level of cortisol. If it is not right, your brain will send signals to the adrenal glands to adjust the production of cortisol accordingly.
An instance where your body may product too much cortisol is when your body is on high alert, such as stressful or 'fight or flight' situations. Cortisol can alter functions that get in the way, such as:
- Digestive Systems
- Reproductive System
- Immune System
- Growth System
That is why many people tend to have digestive issues (e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome), low sex drive or even fall sick easily due to a weak immune system.
Cortisol and Muscle Growth
As mentioned above, when cortisol level is high, it affects the body's growth process (e.g. muscle growth). It accelerate the breakdown of protein into amino and sugar, which means that your body starts to use muscles as an energy source. In the long term, it also has adverse effects on your metabolism (e.g. slow metabolism rate), which may cause weight gain.
Supplements that Lower Cortisol Levels
1. Fish Oil
One study looked at how 7 healthy men responded to mentally stressful (Mental Arithmetics & Stroop Tests) testing over three weeks. One group took 7.2g/day of fish oil and the other group did not. Results concluded that the group that took fish oil daily had their cortisol levels drastically reduced.
A randomised, doubled-blinded, placebo-controlled crossover study looked at how Amino Acids (AA) affected the cortisol levels (Exercise-induced Cortisol) of 20 healthy recreationally active male. During the test, they ingested an AA mixture and proceeded to do a trial workout on a cycle ergometer for 80 minutes at 50% of maximal oxygen consumption. Plasma Cortisol were evaluated 30 minutes before and after the exercise. Results concluded that the Amino Acids mixture suppressed the Exercise-induced Cortisol.
One study looked at how Magnesium supplementation affected the cortisol levels of 9 healthy persons. Their cortisol levels were measured one hour before and after an ergometer exercise. Before the test, they were on a fourteen days Magnesium Aspartate (Mg) supplementation. Results showed that cortisol concentration was significantly lower after the Mg Supplementation.
Stress has a huge list of negative impact on your body, from muscle loss to even digestive issues. Therefore, it is important to keep an open mind and take breaks when needed to prevent your body from stressing out. Other than taking care of your mental health, many studies have also shown that supplements (mentioned above) help to lower cortisol levels.
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2. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2020, July 23). Acute supplementation with an amino acid mixture suppressed the exercise-induced cortisol response in recreationally active healthy volunteers: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled crossover study. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7376855/
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