With cortisol igniting our response, our muscles get tense and ready to fight. Prolonged stress will cause prolonged muscle contractions that cause tension headaches, migraines, joint pains, back spasms, eyestrain and a bunch of other muscle joint conditions.
If you're lifting weights and lots of them, cortisol may be literally eating away at your muscle building potential. Recent research has shown that high cortisol levels also increased protein breakdown by 5% to 20%-27%. An excess of cortisol can lead to a progressive loss of protein, muscle mass weakness and shrinking. Also the loss of bone mass through increased calcium excretion and less calcium absorption. With the amount of stress that athletes' place on their bodies, they generate high levels of free radicals as well as cortisol. Excess cortisol can also adversely affect tendon health, and causes a redistribution of body fat to occur. Basically, the extremities lose fat and muscle while the trunk and face become fatter.
One of the signs of over-training is higher cortisol levels, which may cause depression-type effects. Cortisol excess can also lead to hypertension because it causes sodium retention, which makes you appear bloated. It also causes excess potassium excretion. A major undesirable effect of elevated cortisol is, it causes insulin resistance by decreasing the rate at which insulin activates the glucose absorption. This is the next step towards Diabetes.28
Stress to the body can include trauma, anxiety, infections, surgery, and even resistance training and aerobics. Recent research has shown that high cortisol levels also increased protein breakdown by 5% to 20%.29 A mild increase in cortisol can increase glucose concentration and protein destruction within a few hours in healthy individuals.30 Cortisol increases with increasing time of intense exercise. In over-trained individuals, cortisol levels increase while testosterone levels decrease. A great way to measure the possible damage of over-training is a low or decrease in the testosterone to cortisol ratio.
Over-training is defined as an increase in training volume and/or intensity of exercise leading to a decrease in performance. Excess cortisol can increase body fat levels especially when it's increased dramatically in the body. Increased cortisol levels lower testosterone levels. One of the primary negative effects of testosterone and other steroids is the direct adverse effect on muscle cortisol metabolism.31
Elevated cortisol can inhibit growth hormone levels – the direct impact is that you age faster! Cortisol has other harmful effects on several hormones. Cortisol can directly slow sex and thyroid hormones. 32 When it does this the sex organs and growth hormones become resistant to the thing that they need the most. It may also suppress an
enzyme that creates the active thyroid hormone. This can decrease metabolic rate and make it harder to lose body fat.
During a specific stage of sleep, cortisol levels are elevated because protein is being re-cycled. This is one reason that iStressedOut™ should be taken before bedtime to help minimize excess cortisol production during sleep.
Prolonged high levels of cortisol can throw the immune system into chaos and increase body fat. When athletes get high levels of stress they can get a runny nose, a little cough and feel like they are getting a cold or the flu.
Cortisol reduction/suppression may be an essential part in the recovery process for athletes involved in rigorous training programs. A major and destructive sign of over training is elevated cortisol levels. Moderating but not completely diminishing cortisol levels is an essential factor in allowing weight training athletes to completely recover from their exercise session and maximize results.
Cliff Atwell, B.S., D.C.