Cortisol Smackdown!

If you're a beginner, building some muscle can be relatively easy. Find a good routine, stick with it, and you'll grow muscle. What I found is that, even for extremely healthy people, there is a formidable foe... known as cortisol.
If you're a beginner, building some muscle can be relatively easy. Find a good routine, stick with it, and you'll grow muscle. It's only much later, when growth seems to stall, that you will need a specially designed schedule of lifting, eating and rest.

Losing fat, on the other hand, can be quite an elusive goal. I used to be obese, and when I got serious about getting healthy, at first, I lost weight quickly. As I got healthier though, my weight loss slowed and I eventually stalled out. I knew it was time to go back to the checklist. What I found is that, even for extremely healthy people, there is a formidable foe... a foe that desires for you to stay fat and sluggish. That foe is cortisol.

Why Is Cortisol Important?

For you to reach your weight loss goals, cortisol must be controlled. Cortisol cannot be totally eliminated, because your body actually needs it. Cortisol is the anti-stress hormone. Your body requires cortisol to maintain important processes during prolonged periods of stress.

But our bodies (in their lust for us to stay fat, dumb and happy) seem to not know when to quit producing the stuff. Studies have shown that too much cortisol causes increased appetite (read that "I get the munchies when I'm stressed out", poor blood sugar control and excessive fat storage.

One study showed that participants with too much cortisol found it impossible to lose weight even with the "perfect" diet and exercise program. Worse yet, cortisol also reduces the body's ability to process amino acids and build muscle. Cortisol excess can also inhibit growth hormone levels by stimulating the release of growth hormone antagonists, all bad news for the bodybuilder.

So what's the good news? As powerful as it is, this foe can be caged and controlled. Keeping it in the cage is the key. Here's how.

Get Enough Sleep:

This first step is nothing new, but it will be said again and again, until we get it - get enough sleep. Lack of sleep is a signal to the body that stress is all around and the body's self [preservation mode begins to dump massive quantities of cortisol into the blood stream. It's much easier to prevent the cortisol from being released that trying to do damage control after the lion is out. If you're serious about your body, get 9-10 hours a night.

Do Not Overtrain:

The second is like the first, don't overtrain. More is not better. Yeah, when you're working out you should bust your butt, but, then rest. Muscle is torn down while we work out, but it grows when we rest up. I like those days when I go full tilt, and work out to the point of nausea. But I'm not going to do it 6 days a week. It's no fun, and it wouldn't work anyway.

Quit caffeine. What? I know what I said. I hated the thought of it too. But caffeine can be one of the worst culprits in activating cortisol spikes. I started losing weight again as soon as I quit drinking diet, caffeinated soda (okay, okay, so I was drinking three and a half gallons a week, but how many of you keep track of your intake?

After all, its diet soda, right?). I now drink herbal tea (whoopee) and decaf coffee. I don't like to have to, but I like being fat a lot less. For you hard hearers, let me make this more plain: 200 mg of caffeine can increase blood cortisol levels by 30% in one hour. Is it worth it? For me I had to decide to grit my teeth through three days of headaches and get past the withdrawals. Now I'm glad I did.

Cycle your ECA stack (since we are on the subject)... if you use a true ECA (ephedra, caffeine, aspirin) you need to go two days on and one off, or six weeks on and 1 week off. Any longer on the use and the ECA quits working effectively because of being counteracted by cortisol. I go two days on and one off.

I notice a good jolt on the first day back after giving my adrenal glands a rest. BTW. Substitute Guarana for the caffeine. It's a slower release stimulant, prevents cortisol spike, and has some other beneficial factors in its makeup.

Now the best part, help from supplements. There are a number of cortisol combating supplements to help you win this war.

Other Supplements To Combate Cortisol:

Vitamin C - A study done in the 90's on weight lifters showed that individuals taking just an extra gram on Vitamin C a day improved their cortisol to testosterone ratio by over 20%. Those numbers can translate to enhanced training recovery and increased muscle hypertrophy. Pop the C. I take at least 3 grams a day, but more is OK.

L-Glutamine - There's a direct link in over trained athletes between excess cortisol and depletion of L-Glutamine in the body. Glutamine helps in recovery, it's that simple. 10-15 grams in a post workout shake is a good dose.

Chromium - Stabilizes blood sugar levels which in turn helps reduce cortisol spikes, and helps with weight loss. It's also relatively inexpensive. It also has been shown to fight cholesterol. There's no reason why someone shouldn't be taking it.

There are, along with B Vitamins, Ginger and Cayenne, number of supplements that help reduce stress on the body, which helps control cortisol. Do a search, learn about the weapons in your arsenal, get rest, train on a schedule, and send cortisol to the curb, cryin for its mama.

Deen Gill

Be sure to also check out:
The Penny Pincher's Guide To Supplements!