For long term health, fitness, and fat loss (fat burning) success, understanding cortisol and the role it plays in your body is absolutely crucial. Cortisol is important for survival, but allowed to run wild can be a huge detriment to your health, fitness, and fat loss goals. Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you having trouble losing body fat? These are just two signs that you might be letting cortisol run wild. Let me get into the importance of cortisol first, and then I’ll go into how too much can derail your health, fitness and fat burning goals.
Cortisol is a hormone. It’s released in high amounts into the bloodstream in response to a stress stimulus. Why is it important? Well, it helps you survive! Let’s say you get into a car accident and your car catches on fire. Obviously, that is a stress stimulus, and that’s when cortisol comes up to bat! At this point, cortisol will help you survive. It will redirect your body’s metabolic processes to favor high level cognitive function and energy production.
In simple terms, mental ability and focus are now directed to one thing, and that’s getting out and away from that burning car! Also, because of cortisol, your body’s stored fuel gets put on high alert, it’s metabolized and prepped for quick usage. This gives you a burst of energy that helps with the survival process. As you can see, cortisol is necessary and useful for survival, but like anything else, too much of a good thing can be bad.
Your body needs rest so that it can heal and repair itself. When in survival mode, you’re body isn’t exactly concerned with rest, healing and repair. Remember that when you have a fat loss (fat burning) goal, you need muscle tissue to help raise your BMR (basal metabolic rate). If cortisol is running wild, and you are chronically stressed, building, maintaining, and repairing muscle tissue is going to take a back seat. Muscle might even start being catabolized (broken down) for quick energy usage in these states of stress. Lose lean body tissue (muscle), and your fat burning goals will suffer.
I think we all know by now that sleep is extremely important. That’s when your body can really go into healing and repairing mode. If cortisol is running wild, your body and mind are on high alert, and that’s definitely not conducive to good sleep. Not getting enough sleep? That’s going to hurt your fat burning goals!
Well designed workouts and exercise programs based on the principles of HIIT (high intensity interval training) and EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) a.k.a the afterburn effect, are going to be extremely powerful tool as you progress through on your fat burning journey. But, keep in mind that workouts are a stress stimulus. Cortisol will be kicked up. That’s not in itself a bad thing, it can actually be beneficial, remember that the metabolization process of stored energy will be fired up. The key is to get out of that stress mode as quickly as possible while still getting the most out of the workout session.
You’ve gotten in a great workout, your number are positive, but, how do you quickly bring cortisol levels back down so that your body can begin healing and repairing itself? One way is to begin the feeding process. Preferably a meal high in nutrients such as protein, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. The easiest and most efficient method would be to use a protein smoothie.
Once you’re fed, your cortisol levels will begin to come down and your body can get to other important functions other than just surviving. Another thing you can do to bring down cortisol levels after a stress stimulus is to meditate, stretch, do yoga or any other activity that will help you relax. It sounds easy, but for some of us, it actually takes practice. I have to force myself to do it, and I have to remind some of my extremely busy clients to do so as well. Our fast paced society has us being poked and prodded with all kinds of small stress stimuli all day long. We need to learn how to control that. As the saying goes, “silence is golden”, yet it’s difficult to get a moment of silence in or daily lives.
If you’ve hit a fitness or fat loss plateau, make sure that your controlling the stress stimuli in your life as much as possible. After a stress stimulus, take action to bring down the rise in cortisol. This article is meant as a quick explanation of cortisol and it’s effect on your health and fitness, for a more in depth discussion, on cortisol and other hormones , check out this excellent presentation by Dr. den Boer and Dr. Stacey:
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I want to help you succeed, because when you succeed, I succeed as a fitness coach.
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