Understanding Cortisol by Justin Mihaly

By Justin Mihaly 2.5 Min Read

Having trouble understanding cortisol? You're not the only one!

Cortisol tends to get a bad rep, however, it has numerous key functions for your body and is necessary. The key functions of cortisol are:

  1. Increasing energy, focus, and drive, which is done by raising adrenaline
  2. Increases heart contraction strength and heart rate, which assist with oxygen transport to the muscle
  3. Increase muscle contraction strength
  4. Mobilizes stored energy to keep you from running out of energy. Fatty acids from body fat, amino acids from muscle tissue, and muscle/liver glycogen are all broken down
  5. Help you maintain blood sugar levels by increasing it when it is too low
  6. Inhibits the immune system

(Guest post by "THE intensity guy", 2019 Mr. Ohio, exercise physiologist, and @teammihaly Head Coach based in Austin, TX... Justin Mihaly, IG @jmihalyfit)

You cannot dissociate cortisol from one of its functions. When one occurs, all six will occur.

However, if cortisol is elevated for an extended period, it can bring some negative effects and affect muscle growth, recovery, fat loss, and just your overall well being. 

If cortisol is elevated too long, it directly increases muscle breakdown and decreases nutrient breakdown to the muscle. The amount of muscle you breakdown depends on the difference between protein breakdown and protein synthesis. Cortisol increases protein breakdown, which makes it harder to be balanced, as well as, making it harder for amino acids to be shuttled to the muscle to build new muscle tissue and restore glycogen stores. It can, also, decrease test levels and slow muscle tissue repair.

Cortisol may also inhibit fat loss if elevated too long by slowing down the process of converting T4 to T3.

T3 is a thyroid hormone that has the biggest impact on your metabolic rate. Your body produces T4 and converts it into T3 at a safe level for your body. When you are low on energy or have increased cortisol due to numerous stressors, your body stops the T4 to T3 conversion, this impacting fat loss.

It may also lead to insulin resistance by increasing blood sugar levels. If blood sugar increases and we are sedentary, hyperglycemia occurs and your body needs to release insulin to bring it down. All good, right? Not necessarily. If cortisol is increased, it consistently increases blood sugar, forcing frequent releases of insulin, which impact fat loss by making it harder to mobilize stored fat.

Now that we have an understanding of cortisol, how can we control it?

Training - Volume, effort, and stress all play factors here. The more volume you do, the more work you need to do. The higher you go on the RPE scale, the more effort you need to give. If a set or a rep of an exercise seems stressful...all these factors cause cortisol to be released.

Nutrition - Eat carbs and maintain a stable blood sugar level. Do not just eat carbs though since this can cause huge blood sugar swings, but keeping carbs around your working, intra workout, and post-workout is what I recommend.

Supplements - The reformulated version of calm is the perfect cocktail to keep cortisol negative effects at bay which will allow you to enhance your physique progress but more importantly, mental progressions and recovery as well.

Want to learn more about CALM? Click Here

Have any questions? Please feel free to reach out to me on Instagram at @jmihalyfit.

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