Cortisol – everything you need to know

Cortisol is a natural steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex. It has a very big impact on the human body. It is also commonly called a stress hormone on an equal footing with adrenaline. It is very important for people, especially for athletes, because it has a wide impact on carbohydrate-protein metabolism.


Cortisol – basic information

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is secreted in situations when we are under pressure. Its excess can be very harmful to the body, which is why people who are exposed to stress are unfortunately also exposed to its side effects. Usually, cortisol has a “daily break”, that is, the body produces it much more in the morning, and during the day the level stabilizes. People who are exposed to stress in a long time may be significantly elevated throughout the day.


The main functions of cortisol

– regulates carbohydrate-protein metabolism

– determines the level of sodium in the blood

– releases glucose and fatty acids from the blood

– regulates the immune response of the body


– affects the strength of the connective tissues of the body


When there is too much cortisol there are a number of negative consequences for our body. We are exposed to

– an increase in the level of glucose in the blood and a drop in insulin sensitivity, which usually results in the deposition of fat throughout the body and the inhibition of the possibility of its burning, eg during the reduction cycle

– excessive amount of sodium in the blood and increased blood volume. The result is increased pressure, overload for the heart or vascular system. Excess sodium in the body also causes the retention of larger subcutaneous water, which affects the quality of the silhouette

– weakened body’s resistance to diseases and infections

– weight gain, increased blood sugar, slower metabolic rate and reduced leptin use. A decrease in insulin sensitivity causes insulin resistance, which in turn leads to fat accumulation. Leptin – a satiety hormone that is blocked at high levels of cortisol will cause a constant feeling of hunger

– weakened connective tissue in the skin and muscles – which can result in faster and more appearing wrinkles or aging

– insomnia, bad mood – the highest burst of cortisol level occurs in the morning when we wake up. If the level is high all day, especially in the evening, there will be problems falling asleep. To make matters worse, we will not be rested at all, because there will not be adequate regeneration. Weakness will result in malaise and unwillingness to act

– decrease in libido in men, and in women may even cause infertility and more noticeable symptoms of premenstrual syndrome

– muscle weakness and osteoporosis. High cortisol results in reduced protein absorption, increased catabolism and reduced nitrogen balance

– poor tolerance to stress – the ability to cope with stress decreases and a vicious circle is created


Cortisol – what raises its level?

Cortisol is an extremely important hormone in our body. Its production will always take place regardless of the lifestyle and care for the body and mind. However, there are some key values that particularly affect the increase in cortisol levels

– excessive physical exertion, especially heavy load exercises. According to the research, exercises with loads of about 90% of the maximum weight have the greatest impact on the nervous system. It is exhausting for our nervous system and in case of poor regeneration it is reflected in the increase in cortisol levels

– a long and troublesome reduction period, especially for a diet based on a low supply of carbohydrates (the so-called Low Carb diet). Very low carbohydrate levels in the diet cause weak or no insulin regurgitation, promote the secretion of endogenous steroid hormones and initiate the process of gluconeogenesis due to a shortage of calories. All the above effects translate into the discharge of cortisol and maintaining its high level

chronic stress caused by random problem situations in life. The main source of stress for many people is work. When we are unable to relax and recover from problems that overwhelm us, cortisol remains at an elevated level

– insufficient and poor sleep quality. Lack of proper regeneration causes exhaustion, disturbance of the clock’s rhythm and organizational disruption.

– steroid hormones, especially glucocorticoids and catabolic hormones, i.e. adrenaline


How cortisol affects people training

Looking at the above consequences of the elevated level of cortisol, it can be concluded that it can be very problematic for people who train. Maintaining the correct level of cortisol is important and allows you to maintain the balance of the athlete’s development.

Cortisol in sport is used as doping in the form of hydrocortisone. It may seem strange, but given at the right time mobilizes our body to fight for a short time, usually increasing efficiency, strength and resistance to pain. The body is able to overlook microdamages by focusing on “fighting”. The body can break down its own tissues in a very short time, turning them into glucose, and at the same time reduces the overall consumption of glucose in the absence of a decrease in performance. As a result, this effect is obviously destructive.

In the case of people practicing recreationally or “long-term”, maintaining a low level of cortisol is crucial to achieve constant progress, feel good and keep motivation.


How to lower cortisol levels?

There are many relatively simple ways to help control cortisol levels

– rest and adequate sleep – usually a person should sleep continuously for 6 to 8 hours. It is best that the number of hours of sleep is constant every day, even the same hours of bedding and waking up will have a positive effect on our recovery and thus the concentration and memory

– relaxation exercises, periods of practicing – even the most avid athletes sometimes have to tone down and let their body become weaned from the constant training tension

– maximum reduction of stress – avoiding stressful situations and even people who can cause it

– massage, stretching, sauna, relaxation treatments

– regular eating, avoiding excessive consumption of simple sugars

– use of balanced diets and avoidance of low-energy diets

– consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids, products rich in vitamin C

– use of sedative herbs and antioxidant supplementation

– eating a lot of vegetables and fruits, and avoiding processed products


Cortisol – summary

At the level of cortisol certainly should pay attention to athletes and all training at the gym. It is a key hormone that responds not only to the physical condition of our body, but also to emotional balance. Each of us should take care of rest, proper nutrition and relaxation.

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