What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body, including metabolism and the immune response. It also has a very important role in helping the body respond to stress.
What happens if your Cortisol levels are high?
Under stressful conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose by using into protein and converting it via gluconeogenesis in the liver. This energy can help in a ‘fight or flight’ situation, however, elevated cortisol over the long term can cause a number of health issues including:
- Suppressed immunity.
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) followed by low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia)
- Insulin resistance.
- Carbohydrate cravings.
- Metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
- Weight increase.
Endurance athletes and cortisol
Exercise in moderation is great at reducing levels of adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
However if you over train and don’t recover adequately, cortisol levels can become chronically elevated. In addition to the health issues already listed you can also experience tiredness, sore muscles, weight gain, depression and headaches.
On top of all of this, if your eating habits don’t support your training, your levels of cortisol levels and inflammation will further increase.
How can you lower your cortisol levels?
If you have a stressful job, train hard, eat a poor diet and fail to schedule in recovery time then your cortisol levels will be elevated. What can you do to manage this and decrease your risk of health issues? Here’s a few ideas to help you:
- Make sure that you have rest days in your training plan and stick to them !
- Get plenty of sleep and relax
- Eat well : eliminate refined carbohydrates and refined fats, reduce caffeine consumption, reduce alcohol intake, increase your consumption of whole plant foods to maximise fibre antioxidants, and phytonutrients by eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and pulses, consume enough omega 3 fatty acids and maintain a healthy gut biome.
Finally there is a supplement called Ashwagandha, which is an adaptogen, has been shown to help minimise physical and mental stress as well as cortisol levels. The recommended dose is about 6,000 milligrams a day, split up into three 2,000 milligram doses.
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