Thursday, July 22, 2010
Cortisol & Your Exercise Program
Since I just finished another pump-inducing WFH workout it seemed like a good time to post on cortisol. Back in the 80s it wasn’t a big topic. Well, it actually was a big topic but marketers had yet to catch wind of it so no one talked about it. But, if you’ll recall the no-fat phase that ran from the late 80s to early 90s, cortisol was a big reason behind what was going on.
First off I should explain what cortisol is. But I’m not going to. Denis Faye of The Real Fitness Nerd has done a perfectly good job in an article archived at Beachbody. Click on this paragraph if you’d like to know more about it and what you can do about it.
Cortisol has various tasks. It's instrumental in controlling blood pressure, and it also supplies emergency energy to the body. It does this by decreasing insulin sensitivity and stimulating something called gluconeogenesis, the creation of new glucose from amino acids. Unfortunately, these amino acids come from the breakdown of body proteins through a process known as catabolism. In other words, during times of stress, cortisol aids in breaking down muscle mass for use as energy.
Most of you have only heard of cortisol due to marketing hype, which Faye also covers,
A few years ago, a wave of supplements hit the market vilifying the stress hormone cortisol, claiming that it caused an accumulation of excess fat. While this "fact" helped companies like CortiSlim® sell plenty "cortisol blockers," there was a tiny problem. It's complete hogwash. So let's set the record straight, shall we?
What I’m going to discuss today, which the article doesn’t go into, is the bird’s eye view of cortisol and how it affects your workouts and your results. I mentioned it in a 80s post because one of the no-fat era’s poster ailments was anorexia. Most of you know what it is, I’m sure, and cortisol is a big part of it because when you don’t eat your body releases excessive cortisol in an emergency response to lack of calories. When this happens regularly you get into a vicious circle of chronic cortisol release, which keeps catabolizing your muscle tissue, not to mention throwing your body’s hormonal cycles off which can lead to major illness over time.
But cortisol issues don’t just happen to anorexics. Everybody beginning a new training program goes through a period where they produce excessive cortisol. One of the things that happens with excess cortisol is released is water retention. When we retain water we feel bloated and this bloated feeling can lead us into another Catch-22 situation where we either stop eating or stop training hard. It’s vital that you do neither.
Cortisol is somewhat of an emergency hormone. You are supposed to get more of it when you’re under stress because it enhances your performance (it’s a banned PED in sports). When you are training you release more in the adaptive phase of a program. As long as you stick to your diet and exercise program (assuming it’s of sound design) your body will adjust. You’ll stop retaining water and your performance will increase as will your results.
What often happens is that we react to this temporary weight gain and exacerbate the problem. Women often mistake this as building muscle mass and quit pushing their weight workouts or quit the program they’re on. This always infuriates men who only wish muscle could be gained in a matter of days! Men, however, especially fit men trying to gain some mass, sabotage their programs by getting scared about losing their ripped abs and stop eating at a time when your body needs more calories than normal.
So I guess the whole point of this post is to tell you to see your program through to its end. By cutting it off early you don’t give it a chance to work as it’s designed. It’s also an excuse to post a pic of some more great 80s fashion.