Cortisol is the main glucocorticoid (a kind of steroid hormone) that accelerates the breakdown of proteins into amino acids. Amino acids are moved out of the tissue and into blood and also to liver cells, where they are converted into glucose through a metabolic process called gluconeogenesis, in turn providing energy.
Acute high cortisol can be a great thing, as it helps us to combat stress from illness, bleeding, infection, trauma, etc. However, chronic levels can lower our immunity by reducing white blood cells and antibody formation.
Cortisol and exercise are related as well. Cortisol increases around times of higher intensity conditioning, going back down when in rest. It’s important to distinguish between short-term and chronic cortisol release. Acute levels help you get the energy needed for your training and stimulate inflammatory responses necessary for repairing expected damage from training needed for repairing muscle and building more. However, overtraining can result in too much cortisol even when at rest, resulting in adverse catabolic effects.
Too much stress (both physical and psychological) can promote fewer white blood cells and excessive cortisol release, promoting fat synthesis and storage.
Eating carbohydrates and protein after training can offset additional cortisol release. Training in a depleted state can lead to higher levels of protein breakdown via gluconeogenesis.
So what do you do to maintain healthy levels?
–> Be sure to eat enough calories from healthy foods to support your training.
–> Eat protein and carbs after training.
–> Take rest days and deloading weeks seriously.
–> Understand that a goal of fat loss may be more challenging if you do have chronic stress. Take stress management seriously.
–> Get 7-8 hours of sleep to reduce stress and cortisol release.
It’s not a fancy new diet or anything shiny. Keep going back to the basics for a solid foundation.