Feeling unusually fatigued? Having issues with falling asleep or staying awake? Maybe you’re finding yourself reaching for the pre-workout or coffee more often than you used to, or your significant other is noticing you’re more confrontational in the morning.
If any of these apply to use, you could have an issue with the hormone cortisol.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is commonly referred to as the stress hormone and is produced by the adrenal glands, which sit right behind the kidneys. Cortisol influences other crucial hormones like estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormones. When functioning properly, it raises blood pressure when appropriate and increases blood sugar levels. This could save your life if you were responding to a life threatening situation by providing your body with the energy needed to fight or take flight.
The pituitary gland tells the adrenals how much hormone to produce. Today, when performance is demanded in all aspects of your life, the fight or flight stress response system can be taxed beyond its limit. This may leave you with insomnia, extreme fatigue, excess belly fat, and/or anxiety. Though you may not exhibit these symptoms with cortisol dysfunction, one thing is for sure: your training sessions and progress will suffer.
In a healthy person, cortisol levels are highest shortly after waking in the morning and taper throughout the day. When dysfunction starts to set in, cortisol levels are higher during the day. High cortisol levels have been linked to low levels of serotonin, a happy hormone in the brain. The havoc that chronically high levels of cortisol cause is linked to depression and food addiction. If nothing changes and cortisol dysfunction persists, then you may experience low cortisol levels throughout the day.
This is known as adrenal exhaustion because the adrenal glands become overworked and shut down. Some physical indicators of this include exhaustion despite adequate rest, needing large amounts of caffeine or intense exercise to wake you up, and falling asleep during the day. If you’re reading through this and thinking, “that sounds like me,” then I have good news for you.
With time and effort, you can reverse cortisol dysfunction before it turns into adrenal exhaustion.
Though a low carb diet can be great to lose some body fat, carb cycling can help support your adrenals, and healthy adrenal glands means better weight maintenance.
Presence of carbohydrates in a meal decreases cortisol production. This happens because the increased blood sugar and subsequent insulin production stunting the secretion of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Therefore, in order to correct cortisol dysfunction, carbs should be avoided in the morning when you want your cortisol levels to be at their highest, and starchy carbs would be best saved for the evening, when you want cortisol levels to be lower.
There is no magic bullet when it comes to regaining balance with your hormones; however, it is advised to support your body with the basics. These include:
✓ Omega-3 fatty acids
There is research that suggests supplementation of these can help control hypersecretion of cortisol.
Take Time To Relax
Your adrenal glands respond to both mental and physical stress, which means engaging in relaxing behaviors can aid in controlling cortisol. There is even evidence to suggest that mental relaxation techniques can help to control fat accumulation in the mid section because fat cells in the abdomen have twice the cortisol receptors as elsewhere in the body. Make time to relax everyday.
Stress can make you dehydrated because you’re less likely to reach for the water. Increased heart rates and breathing rates can also dehydrate you more quickly. So keep a water bottle with you. It may even be worth it to add a little lemon juice or your favorite fruit so you’ll be enticed to drink more water.
The best way to make sure you’re drinking enough water is to use a bottle each day and carry it around with you. You can then make sure you’re constantly drinking water and keep track of how much you’ve drunk. The Myprotein Half Gallon Hydrator is a great way to make sure you’re drinking enough water during the day.
Exercise can be a great way to de-stress if you time it correctly. Unfortunately, a high intensity circuit training session at 8 pm could cause a surge in your cortisol in the evening. Paying attention to how different workouts make your body feel at different times of the day may be the key to rewiring your hormones. Most of us would probably benefit from having our high intensity sessions in the morning, while saving a relaxing yoga session for the evening.
Take Home Message
After reading this article you now know the changes you can make in your life to manage your cortisol levels and prevent chronic fatigue. This is particularly important during winter time where we naturally feel more tired and worn out.