What is Cortisol?
Produced by the Adrenal Gland (located just above your kidneys) Cortisol is a hormone that your body naturally releases in response to stress, among other things. It's purpose in the body is multifaceted and necessary as it plays a role in just about every function in the body. You body releases higher levels of Cortisol during intense exercise, heightened mental states like anger, trauma, and even in extreme temperatures. Basically, when the body or mind is experiencing stress or duress, you will have elevated Cortisol levels.
Weightlifting, Crossfit or any sort of rigorous exercise stimulates the body to produce more Cortisol. In fact, weight training itself is catabolic to muscle tissue which means it's not the actual bicep curls, squats or shoulder presses that are building muscle, it's the recovery process that does so. It is the recovery process that makes Cortisol anabolic to the body.
Anabolic Workouts vs Catabolic Workouts
In an anabolic state, on a cellular level, your body is "building," whereas in a catabolic state on a cellular level your body is deconstructing. During the Catabolic state the cells are focused on releasing energy in response to the intense demands being placed upon them.
Effects of Cortisol On Muscle Building
Anabolism is a biochemical process that builds molecules the body requires, and Catabolism is the opposite, where the process breaks down large molecules into smaller ones to use for energy.
Anabolic = Requires energy
Catabolic = Releases energy.
The effects of Cortisol on Muscle Building should be coming into focus now. With heightened levels of Cortisol in the body, say during a Crossfit WOD your body is in a catabolic state. It's programmed to release adrenaline and glucagon (hormone that regulates low blood sugar). These HIIT workouts may be more likely to burn fat faster, but at the expense of building muscle bulk. If your goal is to build muscle, keep focus on slow, steady and measured workouts. In response, your body will be releases more testosterone, insulin, and growth hormone.
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