Cortisol and Its Implications

The steroid hormone cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands, has a catabolic effect — it breaks down tissue — the very thing you do not want when you’re building mass.

Cortisol is released during periods of high physical and mental stress (and at high temperatures.) At normal levels, it’s part of the body’s “fight or flight” reaction and as such, is highly beneficial.

When we have cortisol coursing through our blood, protein synthesis is reduced, protein is more easily turned to glucose, and tissue growth halts. The body is put in a greater “on ready” state.

However, if you want to facilitate sustained muscle growth, you have to control the potential for the excess release of cortisol.

Too much cortisol not only leads to lower levels of testosterone, it contributes to osteoporosis, increased abdominal fat, reduced glucose utilization, impaired immunity, and a reduction in memory capacity and learning ability.

Cortisol release can’t and shouldn’t be stopped, but excessive levels of the hormone can be controlled by eating first thing in the morning and immediately after working out. Carbohydrates and proteins are essential at these times, and BCAAs cut one step out of getting the most beneficial aspects of protein into your bloodstream. 

  • Take 5-10 grams of BCAAs at breakfast, and in your pre- and post-workout shakes. 
  • Look for products with a 2:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine and valine.

That means if you take 5 grams of BCAAs, you’ll be getting about 2.5 grams of leucine and 1.25 grams each of isoleucine and valine.

To further control a build-up of cortisol, limit your caffeine intake to the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee (285-300 mg per day) and up your consumption of Vitamin C.