Are muscle soreness and inflammation always dogging you?
Do you find your mind racing when you get into bed at night?
Maybe your power output has dropped off a bit or a nagging pain has turned into a chronic injury?
All of these scenarios are about one thing: Too much cortisol!
Unfortunately, coaches and medical staff rarely take stress management seriously. Big mistake!
The last thing you want is for the rigors of training to turn into high cortisol. After all, high cortisol is linked with fat gain, muscle loss, injury, and decreased strength and power—none of which you need right now… or ever!
Take control of your situation with these 12 simple things you can do to get ahead of the game and lower cortisol once and for all.
#1: Get High-Quality Protein & Veggies At Every Meal
A key symptom of high cortisol is hunger and food cravings. Planning meals around whole protein (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) and vegetables will avoid this by increasing the release of gut hormones that keep you satisfied.
#2: Eat Plenty Of Healthy Fat
The body uses cholesterol from dietary fat to synthesize certain hormones. When the body is pumping out cortisol at high rates, a lack of dietary fat can lead to low hormone levels, such as testosterone, which is essential for performance and recovery. The key is to get a variety of fats from whole sources: Saturated fats from meat and dairy, coconut oil, fish oil, and monounsaturated fat from nuts, seeds, and avocados.
#3: Eat The Most Nutrient–Rich Carbs Possible
There’s a misconception that athletes need simple carbs that are high in sugar. Only elite endurance athletes who must replace glycogen immediately in order to train multiple times a day will benefit from high doses of simple carbs. Strength and power athletes will benefit from high-quality, complex carbs like starchy vegetables, boiled grains, and berries that eradicate inflammation associated with high cortisol. Blueberries, grapes, kiwis, cherries, raspberries, leafy greens, peppers, pomegranates, and sweet potatoes are protective foods to include on a regular basis.
#4: Avoid Skipping Meals Or Fasting
Because athletes have high-energy needs, frequent, regular meals are a must. Anytime blood sugar gets very low because you haven’t eaten in the past few hours, cortisol will begin to rise in order to release fuel stores to be burned for energy. This creates a catabolic, muscle-degrading state and triggers inflammation over time. Therefore, most athletes will benefit from a set meal frequency, such as 4 or 6 meals over the course of 12 hours, in order to avoid hunger and keep blood sugar steady.
#5: Stay Hydrated
Dehydration can elevate cortisol and lead to an unfavorable ratio between cortisol and other metabolic hormones. Of course, water is a key part of staying hydrated, but it does nothing for you if you don’t also have adequate minerals to hold the water in your cells. Sodium is often depleted when your body is pumping out cortisol. Drink up and supplement with a balanced electrolyte formula that supplies sodium and magnesium.
#6: Avoid Caffeine Throughout The Day
There are many athletic benefits from a dose of pre-workout caffeine, however, dosing with coffee throughout the day can be more trouble than it’s worth. Research shows that if you are anxious or mentally stressed, caffeine can increase cortisol levels higher than they would be in the absence of caffeine.
#7: Shut Down Inflammation
Curcumin, omega-3 fats, and vitamin C all have anti-inflammatory effects that help lower cortisol and accelerate repair of damaged tissue and muscle in the body. Eating plenty of fish, citrus fruits and green vegetables, and spicing with turmeric are great ways to include these nutrients in your diet, but it may also be worth it to supplement during the most stressful part of your season.
#8: Get Extra Taurine, Magnesium &Vitamin B
Although not a complete list of nutrients that can protect against high cortisol, taurine, magnesium, and the B vitamins are especially effective. Taurine calms the central nervous system and reduces anxiety. Magnesium soothes the cardiovascular system and fights insomnia. The B vitamins enable the body’s internal detoxification system and are often rapidly depleted during stressful times.
#9: Have A Back-Up Sleep Strategy For High-Stress Times
Getting enough sleep is the holy grail for balancing cortisol and fighting inflammation, but the reality is that every serious athlete is going to have those stretches in life when sleep is limited. In these situations, you need to take full advantage of your recovery time, in which case supplementing with melatonin has been shown to help athletes improve sleep quality and improve circadian function.
#10: Supplement With Creatine When Sleep Deprived
Another trick to counteract the uptick in cortisol that you get from lack of sleep is to supplement with creatine when you’re sleep deprived. Sleep and stress deplete the brain of creatine stores and taking 5 grams a day can significantly improve cognition, reaction time, and strength performance.
#11: Do Meditation/Deep Breathing
Just a few minutes a day of meditation or deep breathing has been shown to help soothe the nervous system and balance cortisol with other hormones involved in athletic performance and body composition such as testosterone, DHEA, and growth hormone.
#12: Have Fun
Having fun is one of the most powerful stress reducers available to you. Research shows laughing with friends, playing with pets, and listening to music will all lower cortisol and can give you a performance boost.