You’ve heard that having high cortisol all the time can make it impossible to lose body fat and build muscle. But summer’s coming and it’s pretty much shut up or make it happen time if you want a beach-ready physique.
This article will give you five real-life ways to balance your cortisol, reduce chronic stress, and finally get the body you’ve been working for.
#1: Do strength training and interval workouts. Don’t do chronic cardio.
Keep workouts to under an hour and always do your lifting and intervals on different days because this will allow you to maximize recovery and apply just the right amount of physical stress for favorable adaptations.
For example, do four 1-hour weight workouts a week and two short interval sessions of 25 minutes max.
Why do workouts need to be less than an hour?
First, if you have energy left after an hour of training, you’re not working hard enough. A properly designed workout will fatigue your central nervous system and your muscles in 60 minutes.
Second, when workouts extend beyond an hour, cortisol is unnecessarily elevated. Doing this regularly will overly stress the body so that it’s unable to recover effectively.
How it balances cortisol:
When you start working out, cortisol and energizing hormones like the catecholamines and growth hormone (GH) are released in order to free fat stores so the body can use them for energy. Insulin, a storage hormone, will be lower at this time.
Any time insulin is elevated, an enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase (HSL), which mobilizes fat so the body can use it for energy, will be blocked, but lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which stores fat will be elevated.
During training, when you have a hormonal environment of increased cortisol, GH, and the catecholamines, but low insulin, is the perfect fat burning environment because LPL is blocked, but HSL is up.
#2: Use a meal frequency that allows you to avoid hunger and cravings.
If you’re just starting to fix your eating habits, or you’ve been living on high-carb processed foods for a while, try eating 5 to 6 meals a day for more stable blood sugar management and improved insulin sensitivity.
If you’ve got your nutrition dialed in and don’t get crazy hungry from a low meal frequency, 1 or 2 meals with intermittent fasting may work well for you. The vital point is to eat in a way that allows you to avoid cravings and hunger.
How it balances cortisol:
Eating resets your entire hormonal cascade and improves the body’s biological circadian rhythm. After you eat, cortisol is reduced, as is the hunger-causing hormone ghrelin, which allows for an increase in leptin, blunting hunger.
How does fasting affect this?
When you don’t eat frequently, blood sugar (glucose) will be go down, and once it gets too low, the body will secrete cortisol to convert energy stores into glucose to keep you going.
This is problematic for people who already have an elevated cortisol curve, or who have poor insulin health. The adrenal glands can get worn out from pumping out cortisol all the time, which is the opposite of what we’re going for here.
Consider the following questions:
- Are you new to exercise and/or smart eating habits?
- Do you have a history of unsuccessful dieting and calorie counting?
- Are you under a lot of stress and anxiety?
- Do you have a lot of trouble sleeping? Are you tired all the time?
- Are you hungry a lot? Do you have intense food cravings, especially for high-carb, junky foods?
Chances are you’ll benefit from more frequent meals (3 to 6) if you answer yes to any of these questions. Spend some time chilling out before getting creative with meal frequency.
#3: Eat a nutrient-rich lower carb, higher protein diet.
At every meal, eat nutrient-rich food in the following categories: Protein, fat, and a vegetable. This will help you avoid hunger and cravings.
Opt for a lower-carb diet and remove ALL the processed junk because this will radically improve you cortisol balance, making fat loss easy.
Newbies to lower carb often benefit from cycling high-glycemic carbs or having cheat meals in order to improve serotonin (a brain messenger that makes you feel good but gets reduced when you have high cortisol).
How it balances cortisol: Every time you get stressed, cortisol goes up, which causes cravings for high-fat, high-sugar junk foods. At the same time, cortisol shuts off the goal-oriented, rationale parts of the brain.
This means when your cortisol is up, you eat more, and you’re more likely to choose low-quality foods that are high in sugar, which the body will readily store as fat.
A lower carb, higher protein diet is useful because it manages blood sugar so even if you’re stressed, cortisol doesn’t go as sky high. Insulin response to meals is lower, and insulin sensitivity improves.
#4: Do meditation and pleasurable activities.
Start meditating. Even for just 2 or 3 minutes every few days. Or just focus on deep breathing any time you feel a little stressed out.
Do activities that make you happy: Laughing with friends, playing with pets, and listening to music have all been found to balance cortisol.
Chances are, you just ignored the recommendation to do meditation and went right to the part where we told you to do fun stuff like hanging out with friends and playing with your dog.
Big mistake—if you’re not doing some form of meditation, you’re missing out on this incredibly powerful tool that can lead to profound changes in your life.
Because “mindfulness” has been found to balance cortisol with hormones involved in body composition such as testosterone, DHEA, and growth hormone. It also enhances release of the hormone melatonin and can improve sleep. Plus, it improves brain function and makes you “steadier” in your choices.
In addition, the part of the brain, the hypothalamus, that is involved in releasing stress hormones from the adrenal glands is soothed by meditation and activities that we find pleasurable. The parasympathetic nervous system relaxes, having a calming effect on the body.
#5: Be cautious with caffeine.
If you suffer anxiety, or an elevated cortisol curve, avoid caffeine.
Now, we love coffee because it’s packed with antioxidants and provides abundant health benefits. However, in people who suffer anxiety, caffeine needlessly spikes cortisol and can be harmful.
How it balances cortisol: Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that can boost exercise performance by an enormous 25 percent. But cortisol is also a stimulant, and when the two are combined chronically, you can have a problem.
The scientific evidence shows it really depends on the situation:
- New caffeine users experience a large spike in cortisol that lasts throughout the day. The same thing happens if you don’t drink caffeine for 5 days and then use it.
- Once your body gets used to caffeine in the morning, the cortisol spike is abolished.
- But, if you drink caffeine in the morning and then consume additional caffeine in the afternoon, cortisol will be elevated, indicating that chronic use throughout the day is problematic for stress hormone regulation.
- Worst of all, in people who are anxious or mentally stressed, caffeine raises cortisol levels higher than they would be in the absence of caffeine.
- Having hormone imbalances or adrenal fatigue reduces your ability to metabolize caffeine. Certain genotypes have the same problem.
If you want to learn more about balancing cortisol with diet read this article that gives you ten nutrition rules for fighting stress.