10 Cortisol Management Strategies
What is Cortisol and Why Should I Care?
Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands. Most famous for being released as part of our flight or fight response (hence described as the “stress” hormone), cortisol is a vital hormone and has import well beyond just the fight or flight response.
Cortisol has important impacts on the following, to name a few:
Proper glucose metabolism
Metabolism of protein, fats and carbohydrates
Regulation of blood pressure
Regulation of cardiovascular function
The problem kicks in when we have chronic (long term) elevated cortisol levels, for which we are absolutely NOT designed. Some typical symptoms of chronically elevated cortisol levels:
Fat around the mid section
Tend to have trouble falling asleep and sleep poorly
Waking up to pee
Suppressed testosterone levels (cortisol and testosterone compete for the same resources)
Difficulty retaining or increasing muscle mass
Stalled progress in athletic performance
Black shadows under the eyes
Poor skin quality (cortisol effects collagen)
Generally not feeling superhuman
Frequent upper respiratory tract infections
The “I need coffee” syndrome
And…very sluggish feelings in the morning, frequently waking up feeling more tired than when you went to sleep
Here are some strategies to curtail this phenomena:
Tip #1: Sip some black tea: “When volunteers were given a stressful task, the cortisol levels of those who were regular black-tea drinkers fell by 47 percent within an hour of completing the assignment, while others who drank fake tea experienced only a 27 percent drop
Tip #2: Get the full 8 hours sleep or grab a power nap. What’s the difference between getting 6 hours of sleep instead of the suggested 8? “Fifty percent more cortisol in the bloodstream,” Talbott says. When a group of pilots slept 6 hours or less for 7 nights while on duty, their cortisol levels increased significantly and stayed elevated for 2 days, found a study at Germany’s Institute for Aerospace Medicine
Tip #3: Avoid all NSAIDs (like Advil). Dallas explains that these anti-inflammatories not only negatively affect cortisol, but they decrease protein synthesis rates. This means that your body’s acute response to the stress of high-intensity exercise is diminished, which potentially could slow recovery/adaptation. Stick to fish oils for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Tip #4: Endurance exercise dramatically elevates cortisol levels. Unless you are in love with a sport associated with intense endurance exercise, skip it. If you are trying to get leaner, put on muscle mass, or reduce cortisol levels… skip it completely.
Tip #5: The sun – there are a lot of posts coming up on the sun. Suffice to say that whether you look at it from vitamin d levels, neurotransmitter activity, or simply the feeling of well-being and relaxation we get from sun exposure, go get some, all will help reduce cortisol levels
Tip #6: Alcohol suppresses testosterone and causes a spike in cortisol levels. Keep to 3/4 or LESS of a glass of wine only
Tip #7: Underfeeding, or going long periods of time without eating, are stressors. They are not massive stressors and if you don’t have any cortisol issues, go for it. If you do (or suspect you do) have cortisol issues, AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE until you are running on all cylinders.
Tip #8: IF you are not eating completely cleanly, YOU ARE DREAMING. I suggest you either get on the clean eating program, or forget about it and go enjoy your fat roll. Food is first for a reason, with sleep and cortisol management only fractionally behind in terms of importance in my opinion.
Tip #9: NO Caffeine after noon…period. This throws off your sleep pattern and messes with your complete sleep cycles. I don’t want hear “I can drink a Mountain Dew and go straight to bed!”. That just means you got really crappy long nap at best – no quality deep REM (the main restorative sleep) sleep
Tip #10: Sleeping in a room with NO electrical lights and devices (known as “dirty” electricity) and try to unplug what you can. You may sleep in a room with a little red LED light on your DVD player that stays on even when not powered up; but your brain DOES know it’s on, studies show, and its not happy about it.