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If you're lifting weights and lots of them, cortisol may be literally eating away at your muscle building potential.

An excess of cortisol can lead to a progressive loss of protein, muscle weakness and atrophy, and loss of bone mass through increased calcium excretion and less calcium absorption.

With the amount of stress that athletes' place on their bodies, they generate high levels of free radicals as well as cortisol. Excess cortisol can also adversely affect tendon health. Cortisol causes a redistribution of body fat to occur through an unknown mechanism. Basically the extremities lose fat and muscle while the trunk and face become fatter.

Some of the signs of over-training include higher cortisol levels, which may cause depression-type effects. Cortisol excess can also lead to hypertension because it causes sodium retention, which makes you appear bloated, and potassium excretion.

Another one of cortisol's undesirable effects for athletes is it causes insulin resistance by decreasing the rate at which insulin activates the glucose uptake system, likely because of a post-insulin receptor block.

Stress to the body can include trauma, anxiety, infections, surgery, and even resistance training and aerobics. Recent research has shown that increased cortisol levels also increased protein breakdown by 5% to 20%.2 Even mild elevations in serum cholesterol can increase plasma glucose concentration and protein catabolism within a few hours in healthy individuals. 3 Cortisol increases with increasing time of intense exercise. In over-trained individuals, cortisol levels increase while testosterone levels decrease. That is why one measure of over-training is the testosterone:cortisol ratio.

Over-training is defined as an increase in training volume and/or intensity of exercise leading to a decrease in performance Cortisol can increase body fat levels especially when it's increased dramatically in the body. Increased cortisol levels have an adverse effect on testosterone levels. In fact on of the primary anti-catabolic effects of testosterone and anabolic steroids is it's decreasing muscle cortisol metabolism.4

Cortisol can inhibit growth hormone levels by stimulating the release of somatostatin - a growth hormone antagonist. It may also reduce IGF-1 expression - one of the most anabolic agents in the body and is the substance that is responsible for most of growth hormone's positive effects because GH converts into IGF-1 in the liver.

Cortisol has other hormone modifying effects. Cortisol can directly inhibit pituitary gonadotropin and TSH.5 By doing so it can make the target tissues of sex steroids and growth factors resistant to these substances. It may also suppress 5'deiodinase enzyme activity which converts inactive T4 into active T3 hormone. This can decrease metabolic rate and make it harder to lose body

During a specific stage of sleep, cortisol levels are elevated because protein is being re-cycled. This is one reason that iStressedOutâ„¢ should be taken before bedtime to help minimize excess cortisol production during sleep.

Prolonged high levels of cortisol can throw the immune system into chaos and increase body fat.

Cortisol reduction/suppression may be an essential part in the recovery process for athletes involved in rigorous training programs. One of the signs of over training is elevated cortisol levels. Moderating but not completely diminishing cortisol levels is an essential factor in allowing weight training athletes to completely recover from their exercise session and maximize results.

Controlling Cortisol Levels 

  1. SUPPLEMENT WITH iStressedOutâ„¢ phosphatides have been know mainly for their cognitive effects, also have cortisol-suppressive properties. Recent studies have shown that Phosphatidyl serine given in 2 divided oral doses helps suppress cortisol secondary to intense weight training.6 This study also showed athletes who used PS experienced less muscle soreness as well.
  2. DIET: Make sure you are supplying your body with all the essential nutrients you need to prevent deficiencies and for optimal function. This includes plenty of high-quality protein, complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals. Try not to restrict calories continuously as some research suggests that restricting normal caloric intake by 50% can lead to a subsequent increase in cortisol levels by 38%. 7
  3. DO NOT OVERTRAIN: Try not to workout 3 or more days in a row without taking a day off. Keep workouts to under an hour at the most and train efficiently and intensely.  Take enough rest days between workouts - if you are really sore, then wait an extra day to train until your body fully recovers from your previous workout. Remember, less may be more in this case.
  4. MONITOR/LISTEN TO YOUR BODY:  You must monitor your workouts and your body's response to training in order to prevent over training. This can be achieved in several ways.
  5. RELAX AND TRY NOT TO GET STRESSED OUT EASILY: Take an evening walk with a loved one, listen to you favorite music album, read your favorite book or take a nap when you get a chance.
  6. TRY TO GET AT LEAST 8 HOURS SLEEP PER NIGHT: Sleep is crucial to the recovery and recuperation process.

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