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Why cortisol inhibits your muscle growth

When you spend your nights in caves and are constantly at risk of encountering a sabre-toothed tiger, high cortisol levels are definitely an advantage. Fortunately, we have left those times behind us. However, our body doesn't care much about this and so every time the brain sends a danger signal, cortisol continues to be diligently released. You can find out how the hormone inhibits your muscle growth and how you can slow down the release of cortisol in our blog post.

Cortisol (also known as hydrocortisone) is often referred to as a stress hormone. It belongs to the group of glucocorticosteroids, is produced in the adrenal cortex and released into the blood from there. The release of cortisol is controlled by two other hormones. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) from the pituitary gland. Cortisol levels can be determined both via the blood and via saliva or urine. They are highest in the morning (4 to 22 µg/dl plasma/serum). They fall towards the evening and reach their lowest point around midnight (0-5 µg/dl plasma/serum).

Table of contents:

  1. How does cortisol work in our body?
  2. Why does cortisol inhibit muscle growth?
  3. How you can lower your cortisol levels

How does cortisol work in our body?

In the past, cortisol was essential for survival and prepared us for a fight or flight in dangerous situations. The hormone has a stimulating effect. It increases heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate and increases alertness in the central nervous system. At the same time, it ensures a rapid supply of energy by increasing blood sugar levels and promoting protein breakdown. However, what originally ensured survival in extreme situations is now a permanent condition for many people. Our bodies do not differentiate between mental and physical stress. Whether it's a traffic jam on the motorway, an argument with your loved one or an intense workout, cortisol levels rise. However, the exercise and rest needed to reduce these levels are usually lacking.

Cortisol has an activating effect and makes us more efficient in the short term, but it damages our health in the long term. The consequences of the constant release of cortisol include high blood pressure, concentration disorders, osteoporosis and obesity. The immune system and reproduction are also put on the back burner. This leads, for example, to delayed wound healing, suppressed inflammation and a drop in testosterone production. At the same time, the hormone also promotes fat storage in the abdomen and stimulates the intake of fatty and sweet foods.

Why does cortisol inhibit muscle growth?

Cortisol has a catabolic (degrading) effect. If you are in fight-or-flight mode, you need all the reserves you can get. This not only attacks the fat and carbohydrate stores, but also the protein stores - i.e. our muscles. The hormone promotes gluconeogenesis - the formation of glucose from proteins - and therefore muscle breakdown. It also inhibits testosterone production. The sex hormone is regarded as the muscle-building booster par excellence.

How you can lower your cortisol levels

It would be ideal if you could simply avoid stress and hectic lifestyles. Unfortunately, this is not so easy to achieve in everyday life. In addition to the typical stressful situations, other factors also lead to an increased release of the stress hormone. We have therefore summarised a few tips here on how you can counteract this.

Get enough sleep and relaxation

Adequate rest and enough sleep are essential to stay healthy and productive. Around eight hours of sleep per night is ideal. The problem with today's constant stress: cortisol levels are still elevated in the evening, which can significantly impair the quality of sleep. How restful our night's sleep is therefore depends on more than just how long it lasts. Regular downtime is just as important - especially in the evening. A massage, for example, can reduce cortisol levels by 31%. Meditation and yoga are also particularly effective. Just 20-30 minutes a day not only helps you to relax, but also to deal with stressful situations more calmly.

Exercise regularly and do sport

Exercise promotes stress reduction and lowers cortisol levels. However, going to the gym every day and pushing yourself to the limit is not a good idea. This creates a new stress situation for the body. The workout should therefore not be too intensive and long. Sufficient recovery phases and at least one rest day per week are essential. It is also important that the body is adequately supplied with nutrients after a workout. A study shows that the intake of carbohydrates or carbohydrates and EAAs (essential amino acids) reduces cortisol levels. The combined intake of carbohydrates and EAAs (as found in our V-Loader) boosted muscle building the most.

Avoid caffeine

Studies show that caffeine increases cortisol levels. Energy drinks and coffee should therefore only be consumed in moderation. Better: get enough sleep! That way you won't need any more energisers. If you don't want to miss out on a hot drink in the morning, you can try green tea. Although this also contains caffeine, the amino acid L-theanine it contains ensures that cortisol levels remain low.

Supplement vitamin D

A study from 2016 showed that daily vitamin D supplementation can lower cortisol levels and improve training performance. It is therefore particularly important to prevent vitamin D deficiency by taking supplements (e.g. our Vitamin D3 + K2), especially in the darker months of the year. From mid-October to mid-March, the sun's rays are no longer intense enough to cover the requirement through the skin's own synthesis.