Stress has become the fight of our time. When we face a situation of mental or physical stress, the level of the hormone cortisol will rise to activate certain metabolic pathways.
This allows you to respond effectively to the situation that arises, and it is a natural signal.
However, many people believe that it is necessary at all costs to reduce the level of cortisol for their mental and physical well-being.
For example, high cortisol levels are known to promote weight gain and increased belly fat.
Indeed, when the stress becomes chronic and the cortisol level remains high, in this case, the negative effects on the body appear.
Finally, when we activate effective means of relaxation in the face of these stress peaks, cortisol plays the role to which it is really attached: lipolysis and therefore weight loss.
This is the purpose of this article.
You will know:
- the true balance to be found to have a reasonable cortisol level
- why cortisol can make you fat
- how to relax after sport or any stressful situation
The role of high cortisol levels in weight gain
The hormone cortisol plays a role in weight loss
The elevation of cortisol remains a physiological response of the body to face a stressful situation.
A stressful situation can be mental or physical:
- an unfamiliar environment. The brain does not perceive familiar signals and is activated to find a solution
- subjecting the body to a drastic reduction in calories, in the case of weight loss diets
- a situation of physical exertion: intensive sport such as bodybuilding.
The role of cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands, is to regulate energy in the body.
It is also the hormone that will use stored fats to transform them into energy for stressful situations (and if the fat cells are not enough to respond effectively to this situation, cortisol will transform proteins into energy into last resort).
Cortisol therefore activates lipolysis(1), contrary to what certain myths about this hormone repeat.
So Optimal cortisol production leads to fat burning. It helps to lose fat.
An effective response to stress, when it is measured, increases our immune defences: we become more resistant to germs and our recovery capacity is improved(2)
Stress has a beneficial effect in this situation.
The cortisol production cycle increases during stress peaks.
As soon as the cortisol level does not decrease over time and remains high, then harmful effects appear for our physical and mental health.
The hormonal imbalance of cortisol can, for example, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease(3)
Why does cortisol make you fat?
Studies that are debating the issue of cortisol and weight gain reveal a correlation between the high level of cortisol and a greater increase in abdominal fat.
This does not mean that cortisol is the cause of this weight gain.
The effects of chronic stress on body composition
How a high level of cortisol over time influences the mechanism of weight gain?
The problem comes from exposure over time at a high level.
Elevated cortisol will eventually induce insulin resistance and this will reduce lipolysis(4)
In other words, the more concentrated the cortisol, the more inefficient the body’s fat burning mechanism becomes.
This is why a high level of cortisol limits the use of fat cells for energy: we will gain weight more easily.
Cortisol and abdominal fat
People suffering from chronic stress are more likely to store fat in the abdomen.
This is simply because lipolysis becomes ineffective especially in this part of the body, in the presence of a high level of cortisol(5).
It is for this reason that there is this belief that cortisol makes you gain abdominal fat. In fact, it is the accumulation of cortisol at a high level that provides an easier physiological ground for weight gain.
Here is a video in which I give you some tips to lose belly fat:
Impact of cortisol on the mechanism of hunger, an explanation for weight gain?
First, let’s remember the number 1 principle for losing weight according to science.
Applying a reasonable caloric deficit is enough to lose weight (6).
Hormonal interactions, even if they have impacts on the accumulation or destocking of fat, do not contradict this principle of energy conservation.
- We eat less than our body spends = weight loss
- We eat more than our body needs for its functioning = we store
Weight gain is simply a higher calorie intake that the body burns for energy to function, regardless of cortisol level!
But the interaction of cortisol on ghrelin levels (a hormone that triggers feelings of hunger) may explain why we gain weight with high cortisol levels.
A high level of cortisol induces an increase in ghrelin which accentuates the desire to eat. It is this particular interaction that partly explains the reason for weight gain during times of stress.
In addition, we will often favor comfort foods that are generally higher in fat, higher in carbohydrates and therefore higher in calories when faced with a stressful situation.
To learn how to finally lose weight effectively and quickly, you can watch our Quick and Easy weight loss program by clicking here.
How to keep cortisol levels low and reduce stress?
Many magazines and articles on the internet will give the 5 ways to reduce stress. Some may be interesting, others have not been scientifically verified.
Meditation, relaxation, spending time in nature, it can only do us good
But at AlphaBody, we want concrete, directly applicable advice for lasting results.
We want natural ways to limit chronic stress over time and not just for a moment.
Cortisol limits your muscle gain and fat loss, here are 7 ways to lower it on video.
Doing a sports activity improves the general state of health and has a natural and lasting impact on the level of stress.
Taking your sports shoes and running a little outside to relax is effective in the moment.
But to establish visible results and sustainably reduce stress, it is regular sporting activity that is effective.
During exercise, there is certainly a spike in cortisol, as a result of physical stress.
But high-intensity sports like strength training or high-intensity, short-duration cardio will regulate the spikes through homeostasis mechanisms to bring them back to a steady state(7)
At AlphaBody, we do not recommend low intensity cardio for weight loss goals.
Yes, it burns calories, but cortisol levels will increase with cardio.
Running, which is the most mainstream advice that those around you can give, is not at all the most effective exercise…
In particular because it raises the level of cortisol (8)
Have you ever seen the advice we’re giving you right now? Yes, but that in no way detracts from their effectiveness.
Why lower cortisol levels with quality sleep? There is a strong correlation between sleep and cortisol levels.
How to lose weight even while sleeping? 3 Simple and Effective TIPS here in video:
Researchers have proven that a lack of sleep raises cortisol levels the following day(9).
Sleep deprivation also leads to muscle atrophy through insufficient production of growth hormone and testosterone, necessary for proper muscle development (10)
The high level of cortisol interferes with these anabolic hormones and prevents their optimal functioning.
Research has proven that the ideal average sleep time is at least 7 hours for the majority of people.
Age, physical activity and individual needs can modify this data.
In any case, statistics on sleep deprivation around the world show that the world population globally suffers from a lack of sleep and this has consequences on physical and mental performance, focus(11)
In question, certainly the time of exposure to screens which suppresses the production of melatonin when they are used during the night.
Melatonin is the hormone responsible, among other things, for falling asleep and quality sleep(12)
Finally, having quality restorative sleep (in addition to the number of hours of sleep) will limit cortisol but also allow muscle recovery for those who exercise to lose weight.
Cortisol has a beneficial effect on lipolysis, when production is maintained in a normal proportion.
As soon as the cortisol level is high over the long term, the destocking of fat, especially abdominal fat, is less effective. Cortisol does not directly contribute to fat storage.
It is more the feeling of hunger and a craving for comfort foods that induces weight gain.
Alternating periods of relaxation and sport with everyday stressful situations is the best natural way to reduce cortisol for its optimal use.
Vitamin D and magnesium supplementation allow the body to react better to stressful situations.
The main thing is to combine with this stress so that it is not permanent in our daily lives.
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