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Cortisol: Influence on Training

The secret to attaining your best possible physique is an endocrine balancing act, where in which you must ensure certain hormones stay high whilst keeping others lower.


The secret to attaining your best possible physique is an endocrine balancing act, where in which you must ensure certain hormones stay high whilst keeping others lower.

There are the more obvious ones which you can quickly factor into this equation; testosterone, insulin and growth hormone. Although you’d be right to acknowledge these as being of great importance, it is equally as crucial to understand catabolic hormones; their impact on the body and how to keep them at optimal levels for your body to be healthy and develop.

A pivotal catabolic hormone in this quest for a great body, is cortisol. Cortisol – also known as the stress hormone – is secreted when the body is put under a great deal of emotional or physical stress, this can be induced by anything from exercise to a tough day at work. Before delving into the topic, it is important also to understand that cortisol does have a purpose and if the body secreted too little, we would be in grave danger. In this case we are solely examining excessive secretion.

The secretion takes place at the adrenal glands and the secretion typically peaks naturally in the diurnal rhythm first thing in the morning and progressively lessens as the day goes on. When a stressful situation is encountered the peak in cortisol can be detrimental to the body, here are some of the harmful effects:

- Increased weight gain. This can actually arise in specific areas on the body, including the stomach and face.

- A reduction in strength.

- Reduction in muscle mass.

- Increased anxiety.

Cortisol and Adrenal Fatigue

There are ways to combat these adverse effects which are completely in your control, and here are some recommendations:

Get your sleeping pattern on track

Ensuring you’re getting 8+ hours of good quality sleep will reduce the body’s levels of stress. Research suggests that missing just two hours of these valuable 8 can lead to an increase in cortisol secretion of up to 50%. If you do lose valuable sleep make it up with a nap in the day.


Taking your mind away from the situation which is causing the stress can have a huge impact on circulating cortisol levels. Schedule in some valuable time dedicated to relaxation of both the mind and body.


This is an amino acid which is influential on maintaining healthy immune function. When cortisol spikes too high, L-Glutamine gets depleted and can leave the body susceptible to illness. Ensuring you consume 5-10g prior to and after working out will keep stores high and immune function optimal.

By Steve Watson, BSc Sports Science






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