Cortisol is a hormone that is released due to stress. Whether it’s physically or mentally, cortisols primary function is to deal with anti-stress and anti-inflammatory. Your body needs cortisol to maintain processes during long periods of stress therefore it is needed and cannot be eliminated from the body.
So why has cortisol been deemed such a bad reputation? One of the roles of cortisol is to provide the body with an alternate form of energy when there isn’t enough glucose available. The process is known as gluconeogenesis which is the process in the liver that creates glucose from non-sugar sources to provide energy to parts of the body that need it. Basically the body breaks down muscle tissue for the amino acids which will then be used to create sugar. This can happen with intense exercise especially in a fasted state when all glycogen levels are depleted. Cortisol is also linked to the production of fat cells. When levels of cortisol are readily elevated this results in fat storage. This fat storage is found around the organs know as visceral fat in animals.
So how can we combat this Gluconeogenesis? A study was conducted that not only compared the effects of consuming water to amino acids to amino acids plus carbohydrates during intense exercise, but also which groups showed a presence of cortisol during workouts. The study consisted of 3 groups, one only consuming water during intense exercise, one only consuming amino acids during intense exercise, and one consuming amino acids and carbohydrates during intense exercise. The end result showed all groups gaining lean mass but some groups more significant than others. The water only group had gains, but in the smallest amount. The group consuming amino acids had much more significant gains then the water group, but not as much as the group that consumed amino acids and carbohydrates. Now how did they measure cortisol presence in each individual? Researchers measured the amino acid 3-methyl-histidine in urine as a marker for muscle breakdown which can be directly linked to the presence of cortisol. The end result showed the group that consumed carbohydrates during exercise had less cortisol present. This is due to the fact that the body didn’t need to generate its own sugar. Sugar was provided in their intra-workout drink, and when consumed, this added more sugar to the blood stream of the individual. A great drink that can help protect against gluconeogenesis is Aminolytes by Beast Sports Nutrition. This intra-workout drink provides the body with not only the branch chain amino acids, but the essential amino acids as well. There are also added electrolytes to help fuel you through your workout.
There are supplements to take and decisions you could make on a daily basis to prevent higher concentrations of cortisol throughout your body.
- Get enough sleep! – Lack of sleep makes the body believe there is constant stress which will lead to release of cortisol in the blood stream. Cortisol is also noted to be at its lowest during slow wave sleep (this is when your body’s growth hormone levels are at its highest).
- Intake of Vitamin C – A study was conducted comparing testosterone levels to cortisol levels with the intake of vitamin C. The end resulted showed the individuals consuming vitamin C daily, improved their testosterone to cortisol ratio. Also has immunostimulatory effects as well.
- Stress reducers – Vitamin B, Ginger, Cayenne, chamomile, Tarragon, Rosemary, Sage, St John’s Wort, turmeric, rhodiola rosea, green tea, ashwagandha, blueberries, dried apricots, and even turkey (contains L-Tryptophan).
- Supplement with L-Glutamine – Over trained athletes show a direct correlation with excess cortisol and the depletion of L-Glutamine. Glutamine is great for recovery and also possesses many immunostimulatory effects as well.
- Chromium – this mineral stabilizes blood sugar which will help reduce cortisol spikes.
Vincent Russo, 25 years old from Kenilworth NJ. Has a BA in Biology from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison NJ. A Bodybuilding.com Team Athlete, Silver Model, High School Football Coach, Teacher, Waiter/bartender. Was a top 5 finalist out of 500 guys for bodybuilding.com‘s 2012 BodySpace Spokes Model. Compete in the Men’s Physique category where in recent competitions placed 2nd in NPC East Coasts (Nov. 2011), and 3rd in Bodybuilding.com‘s BodySpace Spokes model competition (LA Fit Expo 2012).