Life can be stressful. Just when you think that every possible thing that could go wrong, has…. the car won’t start, the boiler packs up and the dog eats the TV controls. At times like this, it’s easy to go completely off the rails. You might swear and shout, and possibly even launch your phone down the garden, along with the dog. People try to calm you with the old adage “Shouting and swearing won’t fix anything”, before they too end up down the garden. Now, above is an extreme example, but many of us are guilty of allowing things to get on top of us. The tension creeps in, the worries pile up, sleep suffers, and we get cranky. What should people be saying to us to really calm us down?
“Stressing and worrying will affect your health and diminish those hard earned gains”
Yes people, it’s true, walking around like a coiled spring can have a drastically negative effect on your health, fitness and bodybuilding goals. While hitting the gym, in itself can be a great stress reliever, it is generally only a short lived respite from life’s woes. As we all know, it is during the rest time between our training sessions that we repair and grow, and this is the time that stress can dish out its negative effects.
Cortisol is a catabolic steroid hormone, released by the adrenal gland in response to stress and other situations, such as low blood sugar. It is essentially the start point of the bodies fight-or-flight response, raises blood sugar in readiness of instant energy, and plays a part in elevating blood pressure. How does it raise blood sugar? It does this by putting the body into a catabolic state, breaking down stored carbs, fats, and proteins for fuel. Yep, you guessed it, these proteins will predominantly come from your muscle tissue.
In a healthy, stress-free person, cortisol levels are at their peak upon waking. This is why it is important to get good sleep and eat a quality breakfast. Every time you wake up, your cortisol levels spike, so avoid that tempting snooze button!
Cortisol is also produced during exercise. This is unavoidable, and is in fact the process by which our muscles gain energy during training. It is for this reason that it is vital you engage in short, intense weight sessions, ideally of no more than 45 minutes, for optimum growth.
Put very simply, cortisol has the opposite effects of the much strived after hormones, testosterone and HGH, therefore must be avoided wherever possible.
Eat lots of small meals to avoid a drop in blood sugar.
Avoid excess caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that elevates cortisol.
Glutamine has received some negative press in the last few years, but it may help to reduce the negative effects of cortisol by preventing muscle breakdown.
Vitamin C has been shown to reduce cortisol levels.
A diet rich in fibre, fruit, especially citrus and bananas, as well as vegetables, particularly the green leafy kind, can help lower cortisol. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, also help.
Alcohol and saturated fatty-acids raise dreaded cortisol levels, so keep the boozy, kebab filled nights to a minimum.
Although the endorphins released during exercise counteract many of the negative effects of cortisol, as previously mentioned, weight sessions should be kept under 45 minutes to avoid excess exposure. Aerobic sessions should be between 30 and 45 minutes.
Most importantly, chill out!
You can’t expect to grow to your peak potential if you’re running around all the time, filled with stress and cortisol. When you feel the levels rising, take 5! Calm your mind, make lists, ask for help, breathe, and relax.
Breathing exercises can be learned, that help calm you and reduce that dreaded cortisol. They can also increase lung capacity.
Massage- Treat yourself to a weekly, relaxing, massage. Not only will this relieve stress, it will keep your muscles supple and help avoid injury.
Meditation isn’t just some crackpot idea that’s only done by hippies. Learning to meditate teaches you to be able to withdraw from life’s stresses and be in the present moment. No, you don’t have to sit in awkward positions, chanting. Meditation techniques can be applied virtually anywhere. You can even meditate as you take a relaxing walk to the gym
Yoga is great for relaxation. Again, it’s not just something done by women and hippies, it’s a brilliant way to release tension and get a good stretch. Throw out them preconceptions and give it a go. Yoga lengthens muscles, such as the back and hamstrings, and can seriously up your lifting, particularly squats and deadlifts.