What is cortisol and why is it crucial for getting muscular and lean?
Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands during the body’s “fight or flight” response to stress. Don’t get it wrong ‒ cortisol is not the ultimate enemy, it has really important roles in your organism. The problem is when cortisol levels are elevated and high for too long. High cortisol levels can make losing fat and build muscle mass impossible, and we all know that’s not what you want!
When cortisol levels are too high for prolonged periods of time, this leads to:
• Fat gain in the abdominal area
• Muscle mass loss
• Poor sleep
• Impaired cognition
• Increased injuries
• Low immunity
• Mood swings
But don’t worry, I’m here to give you some simple tips so you get the most of advantages of cortisol but not the downsides.
I. Change your eating habits
1. Get smart with your food choices
Build your meals around high quality protein, healthy fats and vegetables. They will provide all the nutrients your body needs and keep you full, so you don’t feel the need of eating junk foods. If you don't know how to make healthy choices or how to structure your meals, let me help you! Check out my Personalised Meal Plan, made according to your goals and lifestyle.
2. Eat regularly
If you go without eating for too long time during the day, your blood sugar levels drop really low and this leads to increase in cortisol. Also, it’s more likely to make poor choices with the food and reach for “junk”. Try eating 4 to 6 meals a day (every 4-6 hours is a good option).
3. Eat the right kind of carbs
Eating healthy carbohydrates (such as boiled grains), especially after training, elevates insulin and insulin is a cortisol-antagonist hormone. Also, consuming carbohydrates improves sleeping.
Don't know which carbs are the right for you or when to eat them? Take the quiz and try out my personalised meal plan, made for your needs.
4. Drink enough water
Everybody knows how important is drinking enough water. Especially if you train hard, it’s really important to hydrate during and AFTER your workout. You probably haven’t looked it from that point of view, but not drinking enough water leads to elevated cortisol levels. Opt for 0.6 to 0.7 ounces of water per pound of bodyweight.
5. Be careful with Caffeine
Caffeine is great for many reasons, but like everything else in life, if you use it in moderation. If you overdo it, especially if you are under stress or for any reason anxious, caffeine will increase cortisol levels. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and interferes with sleep.
1. Vitamin C
Supplementing with vitamin C after training helps your body to metabolize cortisol.
Vitamin B1 and B6 support adrenal gland function and that way they are promoting healthy cortisol levels. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid), is easily depleted during stressful times, so supplementing with it will help prevent unhealthy spikes in cortisol levels.
B-vitamins are also necessary for the adequate production of GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid). GABA is a neurotransmitter that has anti-anxiety and insomnia-relieving properties. B- vitamins promote healthy cortisol levels by supporting your metabolism and ensuring good energy levels.
Magnesium calms down the central nervous system, sooths the cardiovascular system and promotes good sleep. And, as you know, good sleep is one of the most important factors in maintaining healthy cortisol levels.
Taurine is a well known supplement for better recovering from heavy training. Italso calms down the central nervous system and stimulates the release of GABA., like Magnesium and vitamin B.
5. Omega 3’s
Fish oil has anti-inflammatory action which helps lowering cortisol levels.
1. Improve your sleep
Sleep deprivation leads to hormonal disbalances, inflammation, impaired utilization of nutrients from food and of course, high cortisol levels. Put simple, if your sleep is not enough (or is poor), you’ll be fat, hungry, miserable, angry… you get the point. Try getting 8 hours of good sleep and have good sleeping hygiene. This means:
• Turn the TV, computer, Wi-Fi rooter, the lights off before you go to sleep
• Choose comfortable mattress and pillow
• Use blackout curtains, eye shades
• For optimal sleep the room temperature should be between 60 and 67 degrees
2. Train hard and smart
Training is also proven to improve cortisol balance, but don’t overdo it ‒ train intensively one hour or less and don’t overdo cardio, otherwise it will have negative effect on cortisol levels.
3. Meditate/do yoga
It’s proven that just a couple of minutes a day of meditation or deep breathing calms down the nervous system and balances cortisol levels. In addition, meditation helps in balancing other hormones, crucial for better body composition and quality of life, such as growth hormone, testosterone and DHEA.
4. Have fun
Do all the stuff that makes your heart sing. Having fun is the best stress reducer!