What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the body during stressful situations, active physical activity, or with a lack of nutrition. In fact, increasing cortisol levels is a kind of protective reaction of the body. In a state of shock, this hormone helps to act faster, with physical exertion gives explosive strength, and with insufficient nutrition makes it look for food (1) .
From a biochemical point of view, cortisol primarily increases the level of the hormone adrenaline (which helps to focus on the source of danger) and makes glucose more accessible for metabolism (which provides a sharp surge of strength). The normal level of the hormone is 10 μg / dl, with stress it rises to 80 μg / dl, with severe shock - up to 180 μg / dl.
The mechanism of action of cortisol
As FitSeven mentioned above, by increasing the level of cortisol, the body is trying to urgently mobilize reserves of fast energy. The main sources of this energy are first glucose and glycogen , and then muscle tissue. At the same time, free fatty acids (i.e., fat stores) cannot be used, since their involvement in the metabolism takes time.
Immediately in the first minutes of the action of cortisol, the concentration of attention increases significantly, which helps a person quickly make vital decisions. However, a high degree of anxiety overloads the nervous system - it is obvious that chronic being in a similar state causes a complex disruption of the metabolism and provokes stress.
Why does cortisol break down muscles?
Cortisol is one of the athlete's main enemies, because the high level of this hormone causes the body to literally destroy muscles. The role is played by the fact that cortisol is actively increased during physical training - which, on the one hand, gives a sharp surge of energy, but, on the other hand, exhausts the body and the central nervous system.
In fact, under the action of cortisol, muscle breaks down to amino acids and glucose (the latter is present in the muscles as glycogen to ensure their work). High blood pressure directs the formed glucose into the brain, which causes an “adrenaline shock” and a feeling of light intoxication, familiar to most long-distance runners.
The harm of high cortisol
If a single increase in cortisol due to unexpected hunger or extremely active physical activity “only” destroys muscles, then a constantly high level of this hormone not only leads to chronic stress and increased irritability, but also leads to a significant deterioration in metabolism and metabolism (1 )
Scientific studies show that chronically high levels of cortisol cause both a general set of visceral fat and increased deposition of fatty tissue in problem areas (in men on the sides, lower abdomen and back, in women - on the hips). High cortisol provokes obesity , and obesity - a further increase in cortisol levels, thus creating a vicious circle.
How to lower cortisol levels?
It is extremely important to remember that typical attempts to lose weight, consisting in combining active cardio exercises with a low-calorie diet with a sharp refusal of food, are the main factors in increasing cortisol and a dangerous metabolic disorder. As a result of such a strategy, the body switches to the mode of fat storage, and not to the mode of losing weight.
To lower a high level of cortisol, first of all, you need adequate nutrition and an adequate level of physical activity (that is, not too low and not too high). In addition, stress management is another necessary and important step in lowering cortisol. That is why doctors recommend stress-prone people to start meditating as quickly as possible .
Cortisol and sports training
The results of a scientific work published in the sports journal Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2) indicate that in the first minutes of physical activity, athletes' cortisol levels first increase to 60-65 μg / dl, then they almost double and remain constant however, after 40-50 minutes it starts to grow again.
The increasing level of cortisol activates catabolic processes in the muscles, switching the body from the regime of tissue construction (which is strength training) to the process of their destruction. If an athlete does not take sports supplements to lower cortisol, the maximum duration of the training should not exceed 45-50 minutes.
Cortisol Reduction Supplements
Fortunately, lowering cortisol during exercise is pretty easy. It is enough just before training to take 5-10 g of BCAA amino acids (or even a portion of regular whey protein) mixed with 20-30 g of high glycemic index carbohydrates (4) . In extreme cases, Powerade, Gatorade or another sports isotonic is suitable.
In a few minutes, a fast-digesting cocktail closes the muscle's energy needs, directing fast carbohydrates into the blood and eliminating the need for increased cortisol. However, as FitSeven has already mentioned in a separate article, such a strategy is suitable only for muscle growth, but is absolutely not suitable for training for burning fat .
The production of cortisol is the primary reaction of the body to stress, hunger, or active physical activity. In the short term, increased cortisol destroys muscles and leads to overtraining in athletes; in the long term, it worsens metabolism, stimulates fat deposition and provokes the development of chronic stress and even depression .
- Cortisol and stress, source
- The effects of phosphatidylserine on endocrine response to moderate intensity exercise, source
- Phosphatidylserine, Wikipedia Article, source
- Sharp, Carwyn PM; Pearson, David R. Amino Acid Supplements and Recovery from High-Intensity Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.