How to Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is a hormone with many negative effects, especially for bodybuilders. Your body is constantly producing low amounts of cortisol and it does have its purpose in low amounts, so Cortisol is not all bad.

Normal Cortisol levels vs. High

When Cortisol is at normal levels it helps mobilize fat while dieting, heal wounds, and it helps remodel muscle tissue when you are building muscle. When it gets too high it eats away at muscle and lowers your testosterone levels, causes inflammation, fatigue, insomnia, loss of strength. It also has negative effects on fat metabolism.

Cortisol levels during excercise

Your body will release large amounts of cortisol during weight training or hard cardio sessions. Studies show that the more intense your weight training or cardio the higher the release of cortisol and testosterone and growth hormone during your workout. This cortisol spike is not a bad thing if you keep your workouts brief. It becomes a problem when someone does marathon training and the cortisol is elevated for hours doing a workout. That's why naturals have always been recommended to do short workouts and not do too much volume per workout.

Causes and cures for high chronic cortisol levels

Cortisol becomes a real problem when you have chronic excessive amounts of high levels of cortisol even during rest. Chronic high levels of cortisol at rest are caused mainly 3 factors based on my research findings. One major factor is Visceral fat. Visceral fat that is covering your organs and that can't be pinched on your outside like subcutaneous fat. A big gut is caused by a lot of visceral fat in men because men tend to carry more visceral fat than women and the belly has the ability to store a lot of visceral fat. That's why men and not women tend to get a pot belly when they get a lot of fat.

There is cortisol receptors on visceral fat that stimulate visceral fat gain. And unfortunately visceral releases a lot of cortisol. The more visceral fat you have the more cortisol you will release. The more cortisol you release the more visceral fat that you gain because its stimulating the visceral fat receptors. As you can see its a perpetual cyclical cycle. The only way to stop it is to stop gaining visceral fat. Which means you have to stop gaining weight to stop the cycle and start losing fat if you want to start reversing it.

The 2nd reason for high chronic levels of Cortisol is mental stress. Your pituitary releases cortisol during mental stress. Thats why people that are very stressed out all the time tend to have insomnia, muscle twitches, fatigue, and other symptoms of high cortisol. High chronic levels of cortisol can give you a burned out feeling that you can't get out of. This leads to a perpetual cycle because as you get stressed out you release cortisol, which then stresses you out more and you continue to release cortisol. You won't stop this cycle unless you do something proactive to break it.

There is ways to get out of excessive long term cortisol levels due to stress. Obviously you need to stop doing whatever is that is causing the stress. You just can't expect the Cortisol to lower because as I said the body responds in a perpetual cycle feedback system, so the only way to stop it is to get rid of the cause. The other way to stop it is with Vitamin C. Taking vitamin C has been shown in countless studies to help prevent the release of cortisol in response to mental stress. Another way you can deal with it is taking some over the counter cortisol blocker supplements that deal with stress. There are some herbal cortisol blocking supplements that help you get relaxed. This can help minimize the stressful mental response so your less likely to release cortisol. How well it works is open to debate, but if you can't stop your stressful job or environment stacking vitamin C together with a natural cortisol blocking supplement might be worth the effort. There is also some scientific evidence that relaxing your mind through music or having sex can reduce stress and cortisol.

The final reason for long term high chronic levels of cortisol is over training. Doing way too many sets per muscle and per week and never taking any rest off will lead to this effect after 2 or 3 months usually. To help avoid this keep your set volume reasonable, take a rest day between each weight training sessions, and take one or 2 weeks of total rest from excercise at least every 3 months. Even when you keep volume low you must take a break once in a while because over time the cortisol will rise and your testosterone levels will lower as your body over trains from week after week of excercise. The breaks allow the body to restore its hormones back to normal and give your mind a break too.

Steroids actually block the action of Cortisol at the cortisol receptor which is why bodybuilders on steroids can train a lot more volume and not worry about muscle loss or over training. This is why as naturals we need to keep our workouts short and take vitamin C pills to blunt the cortisol spike like steroid users do. Some argue that you shouldn't try to blunt the cortisol response during weight training because you need that cortisol spike to help build muscle. I say if we didn't want to blunt it, then steroids wouldn't be helpful in muscle building since they are very effective Cortisol blockers too. Also, we are not blocking it totally, there still will be a cortisol spike during your workout. Cortisol seems to be blunted for up to 24 hours when taking high dose vitamin c preworkout, so its not just during the workout you are reducing cortisol. Therefore, I will continue to take my vitamin C preworkout.

Vitamin C supplementation and Cortisol

As pointed out earlier, Vitamin C helps blunt the release of cortisol to mental stress. What about high levels of cortisol during weight training? Studies have shown taking a gram of vitamin C dramatically reduces cortisol. Here is just one of many studies of vitamin C taking preworkout:

1: J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2008 Jun;48(2):217-24.Links
Effect of vitamin C supplementation on lipid peroxidation, muscle damage and inflammation after 30-min exercise at 75% VO2max.Nakhostin-Roohi B, Babaei P, Rahmani-Nia F, Bohlooli S.
Department of Exercise Physiology, Guilan University, Rasht, Iran bnakhostin_aau@yahoo.com.

AIM: Hypothetically, supplementation with the antioxidant vitamins C could alleviate exercise-induced lipid peroxidation. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of vitamin C supplementation on exercise-induced lipid peroxidation, muscle damage and inflammation. METHODS: Sixteen healthy untrained male volunteers participated in a 30-min exercise at 75% Vo2max. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of two groups: 1) placebo and 2) vitamin C (VC: 1 000 mg vitamin C). Blood samples were obtained prior to supplementation (baseline), 2 h after supplementation (immediately pre-exercise), post-exercise, 2 and 24 h after exercise. Plasma levels of VC, total antioxidant capacity (TAC), creatine kinase (CK), malondealdehyde (MDA), total leukocytes, neutrophils, lymphocytes, interleukin-6 (IL-6) and cortisol were measured. RESULTS: Plasma vitamin C concentrations increased significantly in the VC in response to supplementation and exercise (P<0.05). TAC decreased significantly in Placebo group 24 h after exercise compared to pre-exercise (P<0.05). Although MDA levels were similar between groups at baseline, it increased significantly 2 h after exercise only in the Placebo group (P<0.05). CK increased immediately and 2 h after exercise in both groups and 24 h after exercise only in placebo group compared to pre-exercise (P<0.05). Markers of inflammation (total leukocyte counts, neutrophil counts and IL-6) were increased significantly in response to the exercise (P<0.05). In VC group, there was significant increase in lymphocyte counts immediately after exercise compared with pre-exercise (P<0.05). Serum cortisol concentrations significantly declined after supplementation compared with baseline (P<0.05) as well as declined 2 and 24 h after exercise compared with immediately after exercise in VC group (P<0.05). CONCLUSION: VC supplementation prevented endurance exercise-induced lipid peroxidation and muscle damage but had no effect on inflammatory markers.

I take a gram of Vitamin C pre and post workout. As mentioned earlier cortisol during your workout isn't really a terrible thing as long as your workouts are short. I take the Vitamin C to make sure my cortisol doesn't spike too high. I don't think someone should just let cortisol spike uncontrolled.

Other supplements that block cortisol

The only other supplements I have seen that block Cortisol besides Vitamin C and mind relaxers were the vitamins magnesium and zinc and Vitamin B's. However, these seem to be only effective if the person is deficient. Obviously if someone is getting enough of these vitamins already it won't have an effect. Another was 11-oxo which is off the market now. 11-oxo had steroidal / prohormone qualities though, so it wasn't a safe option. The other is Imodium AD (loperamide) which is an anti-diarrhea product. Obviously it's not something you want to take for that purpose. Carbohydrates lower cortisol too. Thats probably the reason why when you diet the carbs have a muscle sparing effect.

Creatine Non-Responders

The idea of Creatine non-responders is a contreversial topic to some in bodybuilding.  Those who get great results from Creatine can’t understand why some are claiming no results. I want to settle the issue once and for all. 

What is a Creatine nonresponder? 

It's someone who doesn't notice all the usual immediate effects one would expect from using creatine. The effects usually include modest strength and endurance gains, extra lean gains, and fuller muscles and water bloat.  Creatine works at the cellular level to help give short term bursts of energy so it does enhance strength for short duration heavy sets and give you more overall endurance.  Creatine also helps draw in more water into the muscle cells, which is why you have to make sure you drink plenty of water with creatine to avoid cramping.  For some reason some people don't really notice these effects no matter how much and long they supplement.

How to know if you are a true Creatine Non-Responder

I believe there are legitimate cases of Creatine non-responders.  I personally don't respond at all to creatine monohydrate.  Now some suggest you need a better form of creatine like micronized creatine or one of the others that absorb well.  If it was just a matter of getting a better creatine form than monohydrate would work for creatine non-responders. All they would have to do is take a little bit extra each day for a little longer to make up for differences in absorption.   Its not an absorption issue though because even when I took above and longer than the recommended dose of creatine monohydrate I noticed no real effect like others have.  Some bodybuilders notice a dramatic difference in weight and strength gains with creatine, some are more modest, but I don't experience anything that I can attribute to creatine. Creatine non-responders is not just an ancedotal finding among bodybuilders. Its also been showing in many studies that a percentage of the population do not respond to creatine.

I believe there are small amount of cases where people confuse Creatine non-responder to some other issue. For example, if they are using some bad form of creatine like liquid creatine or CEE creatine which has been shown to be scams because they break down in the stomach making it worthless. Obviously, if you use a bad form of creatine like them then you are not going to be a responder.   However, there are many including me that don't respond to the regular monohydrate form of creatine or other acceptable forms.

Sciencentific theories on creatine nonresponders

There are some other theories about what causes creatine nonresponders.  Some have suggested not enough meat in the diet.  Ive never been a big meat eater, but I do eat meat regularly and many other non-responders do.  If your a vegetarian then that may be a legitimate case for being a non-responder, since meat does contain natural amounts of creatine and your body doesn't make all that it needs.

The theory that seems the most acceptable to me is that some people just genetically don't respond well to creatine because they either have high levels of natural creatine that their body makes.  Our body does make small amounts of creatine when it doesn't get it from the diet. Which is why you have to cycle creatine supplements so you don't start shutting off natural production.

Below is a study that suggests my theory on Creatine non-responders is correct. It seems to suggest those with lower type 2 muscle fibers (fast power muscle fibers that are most responsible for muscle size gains and strength) and those with less muscle and other muscle genetic factors are more likely to be creatine nonresponders.

1: J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Aug;18(3):610-7.
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Acute Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation: A Descriptive Physiological Profile of Responders vs. Nonresponders.

Syrotuik DG, Bell GJ.
Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

Syrotuik, D.G., and G.J. Bell. Acute creatine monohydrate supplementation: a descriptive physiological profile of responders vs. nonresponders.

J. Strength Cond. Res. 18(3):610- 617. 2004.-The purpose of this study was to describe the physiological profile of responders (>20 mmol.kg(-1) dry weight [dw] increase in total intramuscular creatine monohydrate [Cr] + phosphorylated creatine [PCr]) versus nonresponders (<10 mmol.kg(-1) dw increase) to a 5-day Cr load (0.3 g.kg(-1).d(-1)) in 11 healthy men (mean age = 22.7 years). Pre-post 5-day cellular measures included total resting Cr content (Cr + PCr), fiber type composition, and fiber type cross-sectional area (CSA) determined from muscle biopsies of the vastus lateralis. Body mass, daily dietary intake, 24-hour urine outputs, urinary Cr and creatinine (CrN), and strength performance measures (1 repetition maximum [1RM] bench and leg press) were also assessed before and after the 5-day loading period. Results indicated that there were 3 levels of response to the 5-day supplementation: responders (R), quasi responders (QR), and nonresponders (NR) with mean changes in resting Cr + PCr of 29.5 mmol.kg(-1) dw (n = 3), 14.9 mmol.kg(-1) dw (n = 5), and 5.1 mmol.kg(-1) dw (n = 3), respectively.

The results support a person-by-treatment interaction to acute Cr supplementation with R possessing a biological profile of lowest initial levels of Cr + PCr, greatest percentage of type II fibers, and greatest preload muscle fiber CSA and fat-free mass. Responders also showed improvement in 1RM leg press scores following the 5-day loading period. NR had higher preload levels of Cr + PCr, less type II muscle fibers, small preload muscle CSA, and lower fat-free mass and displayed no improvements in 1RM strength scores.

The results suggest that to be considered a responder to acute oral supplementation, a favorable preexisting biological profile may determine the final extent to which an individual responds to supplementation. Physiologic profiles of nonresponders appear to be different and may limit their ability to uptake Cr. This may help partially explain the reported equivocal performance findings in the Cr supplementation literature.


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