Stress and how it's affecting your health & fitness results!
Today we are going to talk about stress. More specifically, the stress hormone cortisol. You’ve probably heard about people go on and on about stress and cortisol and why it isn’t good for us. Today, I want to take an in-depth look at cortisol- what it is, why do we produce it and how to manage cortisol to get to your health and fitness results.
The first thing is first. Someone who is continuously stressed isn’t going to get to their health goals. No matter how hard you train or how clean you eat, if you don’t manage your stress, you won’t get to where you want to be!
Where does stress come from?
There are two states are body can be in- sympathetic and parasympathetic. Sympathetic is the stress state. Para-sympathetic is the rest and digest state.
The effects of being in a sympathetic state include an increase in blood pressure, tensing of the muscles, and hormones being released to signal the body to focus on survival. This means the systems in our body that aren’t directly linked to survival is slowed down. The systems that slow down include digestion, the reproductive system and the immune system.
Being in the parasympathetic state is characterised by being calm and relax. In this state, the systems that signal growth and repair are more active than when in a sympathetic state.
In an ideal scenario, when we are faced with danger, we go into the sympathetic system. Once the threat has passed, we go back to the parasympathetic system. However, due to the modern-day lifestyle, this isn’t always the case.
In our modern lifestyle, being in a chronically stressed state is common. It’s important to mention that anything can increase our stress levels- lifestyle factors such as family and work commitments are common ones.
If we are always stressed, then our bodies can’t recover from our workouts efficiently, even if we do all the right things with exercise and nutrition. If stress levels are always high, we won’t be able to burn fat and build muscle. Not only this, but chronically stressed people get sick more often, and libido goes down.
So, it’s all doom and gloom, right? Nope! We need to put things in place so we can have controlled stressed and controlled relaxation. How do we do this? Read on, and I’ll tell you!
Why we don’t want to be in a stressed state all the time
As mentioned previously, when we are always in a stressed state, our bodies down-regulate other non-vital systems such as rest and digestion. In terms of fat loss, I’m going to explain why chronic stress is not good.
When the stress hormone cortisol is present in the body, testosterone is low. Testosterone is the primary anabolic hormone that helps us build muscle (this is the case for men and female). Testosterone and cortisol have an inverse reaction. Meaning when cortisol is high testosterone is low and vice versa. You can probably start seeing why chronic stress isn’t a good thing. If not, keep reading, I’ll explain further.
Cortisol draws our glucose (stored sugar) into our bloodstream. When glucose is present, our bodies release insulin. Insulins role is to direct glucose into our muscles. However, if we have not trained, our muscles do not need glucose.
Ideally, the process looks like this:
Cortisol = Glucose released = Insulin released= Goes to muscles
However, someone who is experiencing chronic stress due to lifestyle factors and not training, it will look like this:
Cortisol= Glucose released= Insulin released= little to none goes to the muscles. Insulin is elevated but isn’t allowed to do what it needs to, so it’s just in the bloodstream, chilling.
This is what causes insulin resistance. The more insulin resistance someone is, the harder it is for them to burn fat and build muscle!
Hopefully, by now, I’ve made it clear at why managing stress levels is crucial if you want to burn fat and build muscle. Now that we know being in a chronically stressed state is not good, the question becomes, how can we manage stress?
There are two times in our day we want cortisol to be high. Those are during training and first thing after waking. Cortisol during training will help us smash that training session. Cortisol upon waking will help wake us up and get the body ready for the day. Other than that, there are probably times where cortisol will rise, but we don’t want cortisol elevated continuously. As explained above, this will prevent us from burning fat and building muscle.
To help us manage stress, we need to put in place stress management strategies. Some of these strategies include:
- Healthier diet
- Adequate training volume
- Relaxing activities such as walking, deep breathing exercises or yoga
- Remedial massage, and so forth.
I listed some relaxing activities, but all you need to do is choose one that you will enjoy doing. A way we can ensure if our strategy is working is to track it. Like monitoring your training or nutrition, to have a successful stress management tool, we need to track it!
There we have it. We discussed what happens when we are stress and the hormonal effects it has in our body and talked about some strategies we can put into place to help us manage stress. Hopefully, you can put these into place and start seeing results! Till next time, train and eat well!