Cortisol is necessary for bodybuilding, but too much at the wrong time can put the brakes on your gains. Here’s how to take charge of it.
One of the functions of cortisol is to maintain a stable blood sugar level – cortisol increases it when it’s too low. One way of minimizing cortisol is… eating carbs! Or more specifically, maintaining a normal blood sugar level.
That’s why I don’t like very low-carb diets for people who are chronically stressed. It can easily lead to chronic cortisol production. Sure, you can create glucose from amino acids to maintain a stable blood sugar level. Just because you go keto doesn’t mean you’ll be flooded with excess cortisol. But eating next to no carbs, especially if you’re very active, is likely to lead to higher cortisol levels.
A super high-carb diet isn’t better though. It can lead to greater blood sugar swings. But certainly, consuming around 30% of your caloric intake from carbs, ideally low glycemic ones, will help keep cortisol under control.
I especially like having carbs around workouts and in the evening to decrease cortisol (and adrenaline). You want to lower cortisol in the evening to facilitate sleep and recovery.
There are many strategies you can use to keep cortisol at bay. You don’t want to completely kill it; you actually need it to train hard. But you must be able to bring it back down when needed.
- Use workout nutrition. Easily-absorbed carbs during workouts can reduce cortisol by providing fuel. If you have carbs already available, you won’t need to mobilize as much, which will mean there’s less of a need to produce cortisol.This is especially effective when you’re doing a higher volume training plan. Surge Workout Fuel (on Amazon) is your best option here.
- Use vitamin D. This is especially important during periods of high stress. Vitamin D (on Amazon) reduces the impact cortisol has on the conversion of noradrenaline to adrenaline. While it might not directly decrease cortisol, it prevents excessive adrenaline production, which can help prevent CNS fatigue (dopamine or noradrenaline depletion or adrenergic desensitization).
- Take magnesium post-workout and in the evening. Magnesium (on Amazon) decreases the binding of adrenaline to the adrenergic receptors and can help you calm down while protecting your beta-adrenergic receptors (keeping them sensitive).
- Use rhodiola in the morning. Rhodiola helps keep the stimulatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in balance and can lower cortisol.
- I like glycine post-workout and in the evening. Glycine is a neurological inhibitor. It slows the nervous system down when it’s too amped up, which by extension decreases cortisol and adrenaline. Furthermore, glycine increases circulating serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter and the mood balancer) and activates mTOR, which will increase the protein synthesis from the workout.