Mother nature equipped us with this hormone to assist us in situations where we had to "fight-or-flight" such as running from a lion or other predator. Its job is to quickly convert stored energy sources in the body into usable energy to save your life. This is one of its good points. In the old days, there weren't too many situations in which we were triggered into a fight-or-flight situation. Today, however, stress responses are everywhere. We as a society are constantly stressing out over bills, going to work, relationships, poor food choices, dehydration, overtraining with exercise, lack of adequate sleep, and those are just for starters! Every time the body becomes stressed, cortisol is released from the adrenal glands to combat the stressors on the chemical side.
This chronic elevation in cortisol is extremely detrimental to your health. It has been linked to, but not limited to, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, excessive blood sugar levels, elevated cholesterol, and pretty much anything else you can think of that stress can create in the human body.
Other unwanted side effects of chronically elevated cortisol levels include excess bodyfat, particularly around the midsection, and depressed sex hormone levels, which kills the sex drive in both men and women. It also breaks down muscle tissue, which can really put a hold on your results in the gym.
Cortisol is naturally secreted in the body on a pretty set schedule throughout the day. It peaks at about 8am to get you out of bed and ready to start your day. Throughout the day, cortisol levels begin to drop off and reach their lowest at about 8-10 pm so that you can fall asleep. A cortisol rhythm that is disrupted by chronic stress, both mentally and physically, can impair your ability to fall asleep or even stay asleep.
I have been able to assist many of my clients improve their sleep consistency and quality simply by cutting their stress levels down, and using the tips that I am about to give you. The following tips will assist you in decreasing your cortisol levels and allow you to improve your health and achieve your ideal body.
Ways to Reduce your Cortisol:
1. Use cortisol reduction supplements: I use a variety of herbs in my clinic to reduce cortisol at peak times. Some of my favorites include: ashwaghanda, phosphatidylserine, and rhodiola rosea.
2. Eat at regular intervals throughout the day: Avoid skipping meals, as this will create a cortisol release.
3. Eat right for your Metabolic Type: Excessive carbohydrate intake creates cortisol release in response to constantly elevated insulin levels. Find out your metabolic type and eat consistently with it.
4. Utilize stress reduction techniques at peak cortisol times: Neuro-linguistic Programming, meditation, self-hypnosis, or simply lying on the floor doing belly breathing for 10-15 minutes can work wonders at reducing stress and thus cortisol levels.
5. Get to bed on time: Get to bed by 10:30 pm at the latest.
6. Avoid stimulants: Stay away from energy drinks that contain ephedra-like compounds and caffeine. Stimulants shift the body into sympathetic dominance, ie. "fight or flight". Stimulants can also disrupt your sleeping patterns. If you must have your daily coffee, be sure that you do not drink any after 12 noon.
7. Keep your workouts under 1 hour: At the 1 hour mark, your testosterone levels begin to decline and cortisol levels rise. Forty-five minute workouts are even better.
8. Do not overtrain: Strength coach Charles Poliquin recommends not training more than 2 days in a row. Doing so will simply overtax the hormonal system and therefore increase cortisol levels. Listen to your body. If you do not feel recovered from your previous workout, simply take an extra day off or reduce the number of sets you perform in your workout.