Welcome back again everyone!
I want to reintroduce you to my friend Dan Garner. Dan is a popular strength coach and nutrition expert out of London, Ontario. You can learn more about his training philosophies and receive a free gift (64+ Muscle Building and Training Tips) at www.QuickMuscleFormula.com.
At this point now you understand how serious of an effect cortisol can have on your body. It is easily one of the biggest issues in the population today and almost everybody in one way or another is affected by cortisol unless they are properly managing it.
One thing we know about cortisol is that it is triggered by stress, and one thing we know about stress is that it cannot be controlled. Take insulin for example, that is an anabolic hormone that is mainly triggered by simple carbohydrates (although, whey protein powders are insulin producing as well) and promotes either fat storage or muscle building. But insulin, can be very easily controlled because it is entirely managed by what you eat. If you don’t eat high insulin producing foods, you won’t create a lot of insulin. Conversely, if you eat lots of sugary foods and junk food, you will produce a lot of insulin. My main point here is that insulin is easily controlled because you are the one who ultimately controls what you put in your mouth.
Whereas stress, that’s something that can happen out of the blue:
- Heavy traffic
- Your kid is in trouble at school
- The IRS is after you
- Your company is having lay-offs
The list goes on and on about things you cannot control, and that list was just life scenarios. Cortisol can also be produced by toxicity, environmental pollution, unhealthy food, over training, too much caffeine, etc.
How to best manage your cortisol is by really nailing down 4 things:
- Supplemental adaptogens
- Quality of sleep
- Organization of your day
- Positive outlook on life
1. Supplemental adaptogens
An adaptogen is a product that goes in to a specific area or system in the body and adapts itself to it to make it run more efficiently. An adaptogen will go in, and bring things down that are too high, and bring things up that are too low. For example, an amazing adaptogen for cortisol regulation is rhodiola rosea.
Rhodiola is such a perfect example of what I was explaining above on how it is impossible to block incoming stress, but we can manage it. There is such a thing as an “alarm phase” of stress where your body sky rockets cortisol and then slowly it comes down after several hours, depending on the level of stress. An example of this would be a minor car accident:
“HOLY CRAP I JUST HIT A CAR!!!!” – This is alarm phase, where you freak out internally.
“Aw man now I have to report this, my insurance is going to go up, and this is going to cost me so much money. I hope this guy isn’t going to be a dick about this” – This is the part where stress is still high, but is beginning to taper down.
What rhodiola rosea can do is dampen the “alarm phase” of stress, so even in the initial “holy crap!” mind set, rhodiola will dampen your cortisol so that you aren’t producing as many stress hormones. Having said that, since alarm phase is dampened, so will be the post-alarm phase stress response. So overall much lower cortisol in the long run. Another good way to put this is if you had an exact biological twin, and I subjected you both to the same amount of stress and one of you was taking rhodiola and the other was not. The one taking the rhodiola would be producing much less cortisol and overall be a healthier person. It is also worth noting that rhodiola is the ONLY herb that is effective within 30mins of digestion and lasts up to 4-6hrs. Very impressive for a natural herb.
Another fantastic adaptogen for cortisol regulation is Relora. Relora has so many positive functions that I will have to keep this relatively brief so that this doesn’t turn into a book
Relora very efficiently promotes anti-anxiety in the body. Anxiety causes stress which causes increases in cortisol. Relora very effectively reduces anxiety but it does so WITHOUT being a sedative, so you stay high energy while lowering anxiety. Relora also effectively helps to normalize cortisol to DHEA ratios in the body. I know we haven’t discussed this in full length yet but this goes back to reason #6 Cortisol shrinks your brain. Research shows that healthy DHEA pools in the body protect your brain from the harmful effects of cortisol. Get this, it does so regardless of how high cortisol gets. So to put it short, if you’re DHEA pools are steady, you’re protecting your brain from cortisol, and for you muscle builders out there, you NEED DHEA to make testosterone! There’s a one two punch combo for Relora if I’ve ever seen one.
Best cortisol regulating stack:
Rhodiola rosea (5% rosavins) at a dose around 576mg a day. I personally recommend separating these doses throughout the day as it has a 4-6hrs effective time. So three doses daily separating evenly would be best to give you full day coverage.
Relora at a dose around 500mg a day. Relora I would more recommend after 4pm taken in 2, even doses. Relora also helps to control appetite, combine that with its anti-anxiety effects and you have a night time appetite control agent that will also help improve your sleep quality. What I love about adaptogens is that they can have a huge positive impact on you, regardless of where you’re at in your current stress levels because they work to balance you out and dampen your overall cortisol responses.
2. Quality of sleep
Sleep is one of the main priorities that needs to be addressed whenever somebody is trying to make a change for the better in their life. This entire series (plus many others) could have just been on sleep alone. There are so many different categories to discuss in depth when it comes to sleep and all of those categories have their own sub-categories. I will get right to the point for you guys and let you know that if you improve your quality (not quantity) of sleep you will be:
- Improving your fat loss capability
- Improving your muscle building capability
- Allow your body to go through physical and psychological repair phases
- Let’s your body balance out its neurotransmitter pools to go through the “prepare” process that it needs to go through to safely be able to handle the day to day stressors
- Improve your mental sharpness, attention span and retention of new skills learned
- Improve appetite control and blood sugar control
This is just scratching the surface. But for the purpose of this article, getting a good quality sleep very effectively decreases cortisol and stress levels. It must also be noted that if you’re one of these guys who says “I’m fine getting little to no sleep, I function fine on 4-5hrs a night”. That’s all good and well until your adrenal glands burnout. The only reason you have energy during those days is BECAUSE you’re producing too much cortisol. Cortisol drives energy levels up and your brain is tired and stressed out so your body is operating off of stress hormones. This will only take you so far until (refer back to reason #2 decreasing your testosterone) you run out of pregnenolone. At this point you won’t be producing testosterone or cortisol. So you will be adrenally fatigued and have little to no testosterone production.
Tips to improve sleep:
- Sleep in a room with no light and no noise
- Do not use your phone as an alarm clock, use a clock or watch. Having a phone near your head prolongs your exposure to phone related radiation (iPhone creates 2.5x for radiation then blackberry’s, on top of this, the more apps you have, the more radiation your phone is emitting) which effects sleep quality and neurotransmitter balance
- Ensure proper hydration throughout the day
- Dampen cortisol throughout the day and night which adaptogens, healthy eating, exercise and deep breathing techniques
- 7-9hrs uninterrupted sleep is optimal
- Going to sleep before midnight is widely known by sleep experts to allow for a deeper more restful sleep. It is estimated that for every 1hrs you sleep before midnight, it is equivalent to 2hrs of sleep after midnight. Also on this, going to sleep before midnight correlates more accurately with your biological clock in which the way your body wants to be making hormones. This is called pulsatile hormone secretion.
- Taking evening nutraceuticals: Melatonin, magnesium and phosphatidyl-Serine are all great compounds that can be run in addition to your cortisol dampening system and allow you to get a better night’s sleep.
3. Organization of your day
Organizing your day is one of the best things you can do for your mindset, cortisol management, overall productivity and your career. Creating To-do lists drastically decreases overall stressors because you don’t have things lingering around in your mind. My main tip here goes hand-in-hand with improving your sleep quality, and that is to create a To-do list with at least 6 things on it that you want to have completed tomorrow. Your To-do list should not look like a survival list, it should look like a Success list meaning the items drive your life forward. If 6 things feels like too many than narrow it down to 2 or 3 maximum. Again, these should be items that move your live forward and not stuff like paying-the bills, taking the kids to school or shopping for groceries. These are not success items, these are simply every day errands that having nothing to do with the degree of success in your life.
To-do lists and success lists will improve your sleep quality because it eliminates before bed thinking. When you get into bed you don’t want to be thinking “Okay I can’t forget to do that (insert task) tomorrow”. It will bring pre-bed anxiety, which will increase cortisol, delay the time at which it takes for you to fall asleep and begin the whole adrenally fatigued cycle. Having it already wrote out, you know you aren’t going to forget it because it’s already on a piece of paper where you know you will see it, so you can let the entire thought leave your mind as you begin to relax and fall asleep with no worries.
Studies show people are far more effective and productive if they have a list to follow. Creating lists was one of the best things I ever did for my productivity, stress levels and sleep quality. I’m not sure if any of you guys are like me, but one of the things that stressed me out most in life was scheduling. Before I made lists, I would always forget that something was coming up and be like “Oh man I have to be at the gym in less than an hour!” (Kick start alarm phase, haha!). But with scheduling and lists I am much calmer and stress free throughout the day and can attack all of my To-do’s with no anxiety.
4. Positive outlook on life
I have met a lot of people in my life. The one connection I find between the most successful people I know, is that they are positive. This does not just go for muscle building, this goes for doctors, businessmen, trainers, coaches, anybody who has found success and happiness, is extremely positive about life.
I try to live my life this way and I’m sure many of you would echo this statement: Being positive is one of the best things you can do for your mind and your body.
In this article series you have learned some of the detrimental impacts stress can have on your state of health, body composition, productivity, sleep quality and mind set. Being positive about life will bring down stress, bring down cortisol and allow you to be a much happier person.
Yes I do understand that this is an online fitness blog about body composition and optimal health measures, which is why I am discussing mindset. Having a positive outlook on life TRUMPS any type of stress that comes your way. Very few things in life that we allow to stress ourselves out actually have little to no consequential status. Who actually cares if there heavy traffic? It’s not going to change, so there is no sense in getting mad about it. Who cares if your internet is down? Literally nothing bad is going to happen.
I hope you guys have enjoyed my series on cortisol’s effects on the human body and practical tips on how you can manage and correct it.
Vince Del Monte & Dan Garner
To find out more about Dan Garner, strength coach and nutrition expert click the link below and receive a free gift (64+ Muscle Building and Training Tips) at www.QuickMuscleFormula.com.
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