T Nation

Deload Questions / Low Cortisol + Adrenal Fatigue?


Quick background:
19y/o lifter with 6 years experience. Love lifting and workout intensely every day, taking maybe 1 rest day every 2-3 weeks. I messed around w PEDs age 16-18 and wound up on TRT, fixed many symptoms I had and feel much healthier now, still having problems and I think it could be due to overtraining.

I’d remembered reading this article

a while back and considering I might need to deload. I’ve lifted intensely nearly everyday of the year for the past 4-5 years taking days-off only when I can’t get to the gym or feel like I absolutely need one. In the past, I leaned pretty heavily on steady stimulant usage to maintain workout intensity during this time period, taking PWOs before every training session in excess of 600mg caffeine +other stims in the past. I’ve gotten stimulant usage down to 200mg caffeine for the past year.

EDIT: In case this is relevant to the discussion, I follow a Push/Pull/Legs split, each workout is 3-4 each of 1-2 compounds and then 2-3 super sets of isolation exercises. Core intermittently, very infrequent cardio. Diet is not too strict, but I don’t eat like crap. Very conscious of protein/carb/fat composition of meals and steer towards nutrient dense foods over caloric dense foods. 6’5, 243lbs, ~15-20% BF.

I’ve been experiencing things mentioned in this article, mainly brain fog and fatigue. I noticed a decreased motivation in the gym and raising estrogen as well. My muscles look really flat and empty outside the gym, but I’m not noticing any major decrease in strength or size (when pumped). I feel down after training, whereas I used to feel confident and energized after a good session (this was even after decreasing caffeine, to say that I wasn’t just riding out the stims after a good workout). I spoke to my doc about this, got a blood test for cortisol and its in the dumps. 3.0ug/dL range 6-18.4 in the AM.

I find it hard to believe that only 200mg of caffeine daily could cause such poor adrenal function… My life is not too stressful and alcohol consumption is not too frequent, maybe 5 nights a month. Sleep is mostly good, 7+ hours a night. I don’t know what else could be dragging my adrenal function down… My questions are:

Could I be overtraining? If so, am I right to believe that chronic stress from training everyday burnt out my adrenals, and now my cortisol output is suboptimal? Do I need to take time away from the gym and just not train for some time? Do I need to cut out all stimulants? How can I go about this while maintaining the progress I’ve made?

More isn’t always better . You only need to lift 3/4 times a week. If you feel you must do something 7 days a week , take up another sport/hobby for the other 3/4 days so you can get some active recovery ?

I know you say you enjoy it , so why do you need stimulants before a workout? In my teens i relied heavily on pre workouts , and felt shitty when i forgot to pack one. But when i went cold turkey after a while i realized i could train just as intense without them . . . do you log your workouts? Aiming to beat a 1RM or Rep max or something is some good motivation to train intense without stims.

Also i read somewhere that cortisol can range dramatically over the course of a day so you shouldnt just take one test? but i am no expert

Could you be overtraining?

Dude! You are the perfect example of a training stimulus addict.

You are essentially doing everything wrong. I don’t blame you, I’ve been there myself when I was your age (in fact for a few years after that).

You are essentially:

*Training too often (especially considering how hard you are training)
*Doing too much volume
*Taking stimulants (not as bad now)
*Likely pushing too many sets too hard
*Too many exercises

Seriously, the fact that you are on TRT (medical prescription or you decided yourself to “only” take TRT doses?) at 19 is a very obvious sign that you are doing something wrong. Even if you “dabbled” with steroids at 16, at your age you should have been able to restore natural testosterone production.

If you can’t, that’s because your training is so excessive that it lead to serious hormonal issues.

A deload is not enough in your case. You need to completely overhaul the way you think about training and plan your training weeks.

You need two days off per week for starter.

Dude the Westside guys, who are loaded to the gills, train 4 days a week.

My good friends JF Caron (4th at the last Wordl Strongest Man and strongest man in Canada) and his partner Jimmy Paquet (2nd strongest man in Canada) both train 4 days a week… they both deadlift over 900 and squat over 800.

The vast majority of pro bodybuilders, also loaded to the gills, train 4-5 days a week.

What makes you think that you can train hard every day and properly recover if these guys, who are on tons of drugs (in many cases) only recover from 4-5 workouts per week?

“But I won’t be getting stronger or bigger that way!”


The elite athletes that I train (sport athletes not bodybuilders) lift 3-4 days a week and they are all super strong. Same for the International level powerlifters that I work with (4 days a week).

There really is some truth to “you don’t get stronger in the gym, but when you recover”.

And don’t give me the argument that “Well, I have 3 rest days before hitting a muscle again”.

True. But training has a systemic effect. On your hormones and nervous system. And a workout of any muscle group will affect those. And by training hard, with a high volume, every day you will crash both systems, hence why you feel like shit.

It’s not the 200mg that leads to poor adrenal function. It’s the stupid high amount of cortisol you must be producing day-in and day-out. Cortisol leads to the release of adrenaline. Cortisol increases the enzyme that converts noradrenaline into adrenaline. More cortisol means more adrenaline.

Too much adrenaline leads to a downregulation of the beta-adrenergic receptors which makes you feel like shit.

The fact that strength isn’t going down while everything else is bad, is actually a bad sign. It means that your adrenergic system is in survival/panic mode and dumping even more adrenaline just as a last effort to survive and this is a clear sign that something extremely bad is about to happen.

I’m being blunt and a bit aggressive in my tone because I HAVE BEEN IN YOUR SHOES and didn’t do anything about it because I was scared to lose my gains and it led to SEVERE issues, some of which still plagues me today.

I also know, from having been in your place, that you likely will not make the changes in your training approaches that are needed to fix the issues. You might slow down for a few days or weeks but as soon as you feel better you will go back to your old habits and it kinda frustrates me to help someone who will not help themselves.

The fact that you went the steroids route at 16 (W…T…F?) is also a clear indication that you will go back to that route. Instead of fixing the way you train you will simply take drugs to allow you to survive the abuse.

I seriously hope that you change the way you train though which is why I still took the time to answer your question.



I can’t believe he start TRT at this age thinking that your hormonal profil was the issues…this shit is crazy

Wow. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I think the term you use, “training stimulus addict”, perfectly sums me up. I would always move things around in my schedule so as to be able to hit the gym before, because I would come out feeling better. I don’t like starting my day having not lifted before anything important, but it’s becoming a problem, I feel WORSE after training now, and your explanation of why this is happening makes a lot of sense to me.

I agree that going on TRT (medical, but my doc is pretty NOT useful for anything except writing scripts) at a young age may not have been the best move. I was looking for a easy and fast solution to my problems. Being on TRT doesn’t bother me though.

As much as it might suck, I’m at a point where I feel like I don’t have a choice but to cut my training back. A complete overhaul, like you said. Either way, I feel like shit so there’s no point carrying on lifting everyday.

I’ve read tons of T-Nation articles, some by you, and am not going to link to all of them here, but based off of those and your post in this thread, here’s what I plan on doing moving forward:

  1. Cutting stims. Maybe I’ll get back into them if I start feeling better, but I lifted today w/o any and was fine. Cutting them, at least temporarily, should help with initial recovery.
  2. More rest days. I plan on maybe switching my split to Push/rest/pull/rest/legs/rest. Definetely will dial back training significantly, at least until I start to feel better. Maybe will move up to 4/5 times a week after this, but I’ve already proven to myself that my body cannot sustain 7 days a week training.
  3. Decreasing volume. One TNation article i read talked about pyramiding weight up to get one, maybe two heavy working sets per exercise. My current workouts usually start with 1 warmup set then 3-4 working sets, usually til failure or extreme muscle fatigue (typically 10-20 reps). I would say my perceived rate of exertion (or whatever that term was) is usually 8+/10 every set.

Please let me know what your thoughts are on these steps i plan to take.

Thank you very much for this info. I’ve been considering the possibility that I’m overtraining for a long time, but this is what I needed to hear. I think I kept using my PED experience as reference; because recovery was so much faster on drugs, I never thought that I’d need more recovery time after coming off.

To address those concerns you and some others had, I’m not considering any PED use in the near future. Maybe after I’ve gotten my life together and had kids, but I’ve scared myself away from them after dealing w sexual dysfunction and other problems for almost a whole year.

Thank you again for the info. I will keep checking this thread for any other advice you might have, and will update it with how things go after I’ve made these changes.

you should try a full body routine 3x a week

  • monday
  • wednesday
  • friday

go walk on your days off for 45 mins.

try this for a few months you will feel better than ever

Was debating 3x full body days versus 2x lower/upper days a week w the other 3 days rest days. I don’t think I’ve ever done a full body workout in my entire time lifting, so I’ll have to learn how to train that way effectively. But it sounds like a good way to train muscles more often in the week.

Such a long answer from CT is not common. Take his advice. Damn man, rest. Take off til new year, make a plan that’s workable and then start again.
Look into the Pharma section in the forum. The guys there can help you come off the TRT. Which you need to do if you want to have children.


I wanted to keep this thread updated with how things are so far.

So far, in the past 6 days, I’ve lifted 3 times (1 day on 1 off), the most recent two w/o caffeine. I have noticed drastic improvement from where I was at just a week ago. Getting out of bed in the morning is not as much a pain in the ass. I can go to sleep at a reasonable hour at night, instead of feeling awake through 2 AM. Caffeine withdrawal shit is there, but its getting better with each day. After seeing this progress and noticing my body’s recovery, I’ve decided I’m going to stay out of the gym til the new year, just so that this recovery can go uninterrupted and undisturbed ( @lordgains ) . After then, I’ll ease back into training, slowly working my way up to training 4-5 days a week over the course of a month or two. During this week or so off, I’ll be learning everything I can about proper training volume and intensity so that I don’t end up back where I started.

Thanks again to everyone who’s helped. @Christian_Thibaudeau my favorite thing about your/T-nation’s articles is that you explain the mechanisms through which the body works, instead of just saying shit like “working out too much will burn your body out” like I’ve read elsewhere. I realize now how that post-workout feeling and confidence I used to get was just my body riding out the adrenaline, and your explanation of how an excess of this through overtraining will downregulate receptors leading to the state of hormonal imbalance that I’m in right now. Hearing details like this makes understanding this easier and makes me feel informed in making my decisions of how to move forward.

This is good news and things are moving in the right way. The key thing will be to keep all of that experience in mind when you will get the urge to get back into your bad habits (you will get the urge as soon as you feel better, thrust me).

But so far so good. Congrats.

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Happy to hear that. Relaxing is the right thing to do. You’ll get more progress with 3-4 training days per week than with 6 and overtraining. Remember that training is there to enhance your life and looks, not to trash your body so you’re not able to enjoy the world around you.
Happy holidays


U don’t need to tell me twice. I already really want to be in the gym… I know it’s not true, but I still feel like I’ll be losing gains during my time off. But, what’s keeping me going is knowing that I’ll be healthier at the other end after some days off and will be able to make even better progress and feel better overall. Thanks again for the help. I’ll keep this thread updated.

Happy holidays everyone.

I don’t have time to write as detailed a response as I usually do, but Christian was completely right. I’m back in the gym after a week off, I’m not fully recovered and still get a little “hangover” the day after training (I still think I’m training with too high volume, even after a significant decrease), but since I’ve started training only 4x a day and lowered the volume after a week out the gym, I’m feeling much better, much more sensitized to the adrenaline, much less brain fog after the gym! I’ll write more when I have time. Thank you again.

Wanted to update this thread:

I feel GREAT. I can feel my beta-adrenergic receptors have regained some sensitivity, and I feel really good and energized after my lifts now. My lifts are much more productive as well. My split is now Chest/Back/Rest/Legs/Shoulders+Arms/Rest/Rest. I’m taking more rest days than that as of right now to allow more recovery, but that’s what I aim to end up doing sustainably.

Haven’t gotten new bloodwork, but I don’t think I will need to. I am feeling all symptoms gradually alleviate with time and recovery. Unless anyone speaks up with questions, more advice, or wants me to keep this thread updated, I shouldn’t have to post anymore on this thread. Thank you again Christian and everyone else who chimed in. Taking your advice has really improved my quality of life!

Are you planning on staying on TRT?

That’s awesome. But every time you have the itch to increase your workload again. Think of the hell you went through.

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Until further notice, yes. I’ve just gone through over a year of hormonal imbalances, I’m finally at a point where all my symptoms are lifting. No more erectile dysfunction, no more irritability, the list goes on and on. I at least want to enjoy being stable for a while, rather than trying to come off right now and deal with a whole new hormonal rollercoaster. Injecting has never bothered me, despite having to do it everyday. I’m 19 and want to enjoy my youth while I can.

Yes sir. I’ve already had a lift (heavy legs) where I could tell the next day that I’d pushed too hard. I’ll up the intensity further down the road of my recovery, but literally the day after heavy squats I felt almost like a hangover. I’m trying some new hobbies to fill my rest days up now. But I love being clear headed and am feeling way more productive in the gym anyways, I don’t even feel a need to train in excess of 4 days per week anymore.

I understand. The last sentence is short sighted. If you want children you probably should come off. The longer you stay on the harder it will be. Get a few good months in then fix your body. If you don’t have any underlying conditions you shouldn’t have been on TRT in the first place.

TRT at your age is essentially being “on cycle”. You we not prescribed testosterone because you had an actual problem with making testosterone, simply that you produced so much cortisol that you did not have the raw material left to produce enough testosterone (both are made from pregnenolone, if you overproduce cortisol, you deplete pregnenolone and can’t produce as much testosterone).

Your T was low, but not because your body lost the capacity to produce it, simply that you lacked the raw materials to do so. By doing on TRT (band aid) you might actually hurt your capacity to make your own testosterone forever. And the longer you stay on, the more likely that is too occur. Furthermore, it may mask the early signs of doing too much.

Also, what is the TRT protocole your are on? Even doctors tend to mis-prescribe it because they measure testosterone levels at the wrong time post-injection… They more often give testosterone cypionate (or enanthate) and since it has a duration of action of around 10 days day assume that the release of testosterone in the blood will be even, and that they can measure testosterone at any point in the 10 days after the injection to see if the amount is correct.

Here is the thing: cypionate/enanthate actually give you a big peak of testosterone the first 3 days, after that it tapers off. If you measure testosterone levels on days 4-12 post-injection you could have a low reading, even with a good dose… then the doc will think “I need to give him more” and you end up with something like 200-300mg per week which is NOT TRT, it is a mild cycle.

The normal body produces 7-10mg of testosterone per day. 200mg per week (which is really 150mg of testosterone and roughly 50mg of ester weight) will give you twice the normal level, this is not TRT. It’s a mild cycle. And because it’s twice normal human levels, it will shutdown your testosterone production. And the longer it stays shutdown, the more likely you are not to regain your capacity to produce testosterone.

On a sidenote: What idiot doctor would prescribe TRT to a 19 year old male??? Seriously, unless you were castrated or had testicular cancer your body did not lose the capacity to produce testosterone… but putting you on TRT might. That is incompetence.