Written by Lisa Allen | Edited by Dr Mark Kapnoudhis
The ability to build muscle is largely controlled by hormones produced within the body. Testosterone is the number one hormone that controls how much muscle your body is able to produce and is talked about over and over again, however there is not a whole lot of talk about cortisol the number one hormone that the body releases that actually hinders muscle growth.
Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands when the body is placed under stressful situations. These situations vary from sleep deprivation, schooling, commuting, weight lifting, general exercise etc. In order for the body to bring your body back to a state of homeostasis(neutrality) the body produces cortisol.
The main effects of cortisol on the body is an increase in insulin to control blood sugar levels, decrease in protein synthesis, turning protein into glucose, and slowing or even stopping altogether muscle growth.
Cortisol essentially takes the focus off the muscles of the body and places the greatest focus on the brain and other organs needed to calm the body down, this is good in small doses however it’s when our bodies produce too much that it can have devastating effects. Cortisol is a needed hormone for overall health however it is also important that you do not allow your body to over produce it.
Controlling the Release of Cortisol
While exercise whether cardio or weight training is good for you and does provide numerous health benefits to your body it also places a lot of stress on the body. The problem is that when you begin to overtrain and train for prolonged periods of time your cortisol levels will go up and continue to go up so long as you continue to stress your body. This is why through numerous studies we have learned that moderate to intense exercise sessions should be kept between 45- 50 min.
Cortisol levels are at its highest levels in the body in the morning and after a workout. It is at these most stressful times that your body needs an increase in carbohydrates and protein in order to provide your body with a way to neutralize your cortisol levels within the body.
Studies and research has shown that when we are in our deepest point of sleep also referred to slow wave sleep our cortisol levels are at their lowest point within the body, and the growth hormone levels are at their highest. This is why getting a good nights sleep is critical in order to get the best results.
Again cortisol has its place and function within the body, however we need to keep it under control so that we do not run into problems. As you have learned it is released with stress, and we can all attest to the fact that our lives today can become pretty stressful. Learning ways to cope with, avoid and get rid of stress in our lives is going to help our body keep cortisol levels under control.
Caffeine causes our body to run at a heightened state because of its stimulating effects on the body. This of course places more stress on the body and therefore causes our cortisol levels to increase. Consuming 2-3 caffinated beverages has been shown to raise cortisol levels.
As a bodybuilder you work very hard and put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into building that muscular physique that your after. It is important that you take into consideration the detrimental effect that elevated cortisol levels within the body can completely destroy all that effort.
Using the guidlines in this article will greatly help in reducing the release of cortisol and help to increase the results you see.