Training with high cortisol

Training with high cortisol

by Pamela Ng 24 Apr 2018

Hormones have a significant effect on our everyday lives – some obvious, others not so. One good example of the former is how cortisol can affect performance during a workout. High stress levels would increase the cortisol amounts in the body, and this can have a negative impact on your training. For one, chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to the catabolism of muscle mass which in turn lead to loss of strength. Furthermore, insulin sensitivity decreases, and the body is less able to utilise fat efficiently as an energy source.


If your lifestyle is naturally high-stress or you happen to be less sensitive to cortisol in general, you might have to make the best out of a less than ideal situation. Here is how you can continue training effectively with high cortisol:


1. Find a comfortable amount of strength training

Cortisol levels are heightened by stress. Exercising beyond your abilities will only increase your body’s stress and cortisol levels, and you would be doing a disservice for your body. Instead of going all out, lower training volume and extend your rest periods. Adaptation is about finding the balance between stimulation and recovery.


2. Condition your body

Finding ways to balance stress levels and the affected hormones is highly effective in the long-run. By conditioning your body with the proper training, there is a lower chance of cortisol levels skyrocketing when stress levels increase. For those who want to condition their bodies for a start, try walking or even hiking. Research has shown that these two activities can be effective in helping to balance cortisol, as well as boosting mood and well-being. Start at a low intensity before slowly working your way upwards.


3. Try mind-body exercises

Mind-body exercises help to reduce stress levels to control cortisol levels. Examples of such exercises include yoga and tai chi. They are low-impact, calm the mind, help control fatigue and reduce inflammation markers. With so many benefits, there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to partake in them.


4. Eat healthily and properly

Aside from making adjustments to your training, having proper meals at proper mealtimes can help to regulate your body’s hormonal cascade. As a result, your cortisol levels are less likely to fluctuate drastically. Fill your diet with sensible amounts of wholegrain carbohydrates, high-quality animal protein, dietary fat as well as leafy vegetables. Also remember to keep yourself hydrated, even when you’re not doing anything strenuous. Nailing your nutrition means there’s one less thing to worry about when it comes to fitting your training to your hormonal profile.


Training is only as effective as our bodies can take it. Taking note of cortisol levels and learning to control them can help to optimise the benefits of the exercise. Hormones may only be a small part of our bodies but their impact is huge, so neglect them at your own peril.