Cortisol is often referred to as a ‘stress’ hormone but its main role is to put you into a state of readiness. It does this by:
· Increasing adrenaline to boost wakefulness and focus.
· Increasing heart rate and oxygen transportation to muscles.
· Mobilizing stored energy (glycogen, fat stores and amino acids) to prevent you running out of fuel during times of physical exertion.
· Maintaining blood sugar levels.
So, cortisol is actually quite necessary for normal bodily function and healthy metabolic processing. But if it stays elevated for too long, it can produce negative effects:
· It directly increases muscle breakdown.
· It decreases nutrient uptake by the muscles.
· It increases myostatin, which is a protein released by the muscles that limits muscle growth and repair following exercise.
· It can decrease testosterone levels (which is important for not only men but women also).
· It can alter brain chemistry resulting in lack of motivation, depression and laziness.
· It decreases the conversion of thyroid hormone T4 to T3 (slowing metabolism and fat-loss).
· It increases blood sugar levels and frequency of insulin release. This can lead to insulin resistance, again limiting fat-loss potential.
There are many strategies you can use to keep cortisol at bay:
· Follow a structured exercise regime designed to achieve results but that also allows adequate recovery.
· Steer clear of excessive steady-state cardio exercise (i.e. jogging).
· Supplement with Vitamin D and also a good Zinc+Magnesium product to assist with sleep quality, recovery and hormone production.
· Get to bed early enough to allow your cortisol levels to reset overnight.
· Avoid long gaps in between your day time meals (i.e. don’t skip meals).
· Manage mental stress and fatigue with relaxation and/or therapy.
The bottom line? Short spurts of cortisol at the right time is very useful, but chronic elevation can quickly become problematic if you want to look good and feel great.