No pain, no gain
If there is an expression that represents the people of body building, the most popular is the phrase coined years ago by Jane Fonda "no pain, no gain".
Per better or for worse, at the scream of this sentence, we try to move forward without physical and moral subsidence, sometimes thinking that we can maintain a constant training intensity of 100% at each session, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.
Any fall or sign of failure is considered an inadmissible failure, we are morbidly tied to the results obtained or that we are obtaining, we are too afraid of returning to the bad conditions of weeks before, or alas in the case of competitions in sight, it is "normal" often come to terms with marked fatigue, where recovery becomes deficient both at a muscular but also at a systemic level, but "we must" (in this case) try somehow to move forward.
So our passionate passion pushes us to train even if our body, "the perfect machine", sends signals of failure in progress or we train with aches, injuries or we go on simply not "listening" DOMS too marked and / or prolonged, symptom of an excessive inflammatory state.
The degree of fatigue
It is true that you will not get anywhere without effort, the spirit of sacrifice is a key assumption and without which the body builder will not have the push for the desired results, but beware that the degree of fatigue can gradually become more and more serious and more difficult to recover. Fatigue can go from local / muscular to neural (the affected nervous system takes longer to recover) to the most severe state of neuroendocrine involvement, the "real" overtraining.
Fortunately, if the body's resilience is well supported by a substantial diet and intelligent integration, it is difficult to get to really serious states of fatigue.
Overtraining in the true sense of the word as I understand it (and science) should not be considered easy to achieve (so train!) But ignoring certain signals of the organism in the long term, adrenergic fatigue can silently get to "bog down" the organism at a metabolic, endocrine and even nervous level.
Reversible situation but which, based on its extent, can take quite a long time to return to a physiological function and therefore to return to having positive responses to food maneuvers.
Beware of Cortisol: Just a Bad Deal?
When we hear the word "cortisol", the bodybuilder trembles with the nightmare of losing muscle and accumulating fat, especially in the abdominal area.
But remember that even too low levels are not positive at all, as they are associated with chronic fatigue and therefore adrenal malfunction.
Neither situation is better than the other, our feared one ormone dello stress he must be able to "work" in a balanced way for the organism to be healthy (hey, let's remember first of all that without him ... you wouldn't be alive!).
What is Cortisol
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid also known as hydrocortisone, and is produced by the adrenal cortex in response to physical and emotional stress, and its production tends to follow circadian rhythms.
It finds its peak around 8.00 am and during the day it tends to drop towards its lowest levels around 3-4.00 am.
It is derived from cholesterol (like all steroid hormones) and its synthesis and release is controlled by adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).
As already mentioned, its main role is that of the rapid modulation of the stress response in various aspects.
- It stimulates gluconeogenesis in the liver, using amino acids, lactate and glycerol.
- It is also involved in glycogenolysis, therefore in the breakdown of glycogen in the liver and muscle cells.
- It inhibits the action of insulin transporting glucose to cells by decreasing the translocation of glucose transporters to the cell surface.
All this creates great availability of glucose in the bloodstream, but it is absolutely positive if we have to escape from a wild boar chasing us, but not much if it is the effect of stress due to a sentimental crisis for example, or due to stress from exams for the students.
The effects of high cortisol levels
High levels of cortisol (I know something!) Have significant negative effects on the immune system, interfering with the production and function of T helper cells, making us susceptible to invasion or growth of pathogens.
Sometimes it also happens to athletes that in certain phases of particular emotional stress, where nutrition is deficient in spite of exhausting workouts and perhaps with hours of cardiovascular exercise (which has a great effect on the rise in cortisol), they find themselves with seasonal ailments or various infections.
Immune collapse occurs even more frequently as soon as the stressors are eliminated.
Sooner or later the body always presents the bill for any "abuse" or forcing. Speaking of competitive athletes or body builders, as I said before, the impact of a high blood level that most frightens is the one on the muscles.
Elevated cortisol inhibits the uptake of amino acids from muscle cells, making it virtually impossible to replenish them.
Blood pressure is affected by the presence of elevated cortisol levels due to different mechanisms.
The body becomes more sensitive to the effects of adrenaline and norepinephrine, causing vasoconstriction or reduced blood circulation in many parts of the body. In addition, to the "joy" of women in particular, it acts as an antidiuretic, causing sodium retention, ergo fluid retention.
It is no coincidence that a lot of cardiovascular exercise creates a certain water retention on the legs and that this then tends to subside after eliminating it ...
From a health point of view, however, if we are in certain conditions of particular stress, high blood pressure, decreased blood flow to certain organs and sodium and fluid retention, are not particularly positive signs.
The activities of cortisol do not end there, and aesthetic speeches aside, a tendency to high cortisolemia for a long time can lead to further negative effects:
- Faults of conversion of T4 to T3
- increased gastric acid production which, if chronic, can lead to reflux problems or other intestinal problems. Simply the decrease of blood to the gastrointestinal tract will lead to easy digestive problems
- reproductive problems due to high cortisol levels should not be underestimated
- obviously testosterone will be negatively affected by high cortisol levels for a long time. Cortisol and testosterone are two hormones that balance each other: if cortisol rises, testosterone drops and it is often difficult to understand if some signals, if not when an increase in water retention is visible compared to a decrease in muscle tone .... or of the muscles themselves if we entered a true catabolism.
Beware, depression can be due to high cortisol levels that interfere with serotonin and other neurotransmitters but also to low testosterone.
What we do know is that even for women the level of testosterone is significant in depression and that they are very sensitive to changes in this hormone in terms of mood swings.
In any case, testosterone and cortisol regulate each other and training plays an important role in bringing the reciprocal levels of these two hormones back into balance. This is true the more we get older and the tendency to have less muscle tissue
- cortisol (which is partially converted into cortisone) has (more or less) known anti-inflammatory effects.
To roughly explain this very important role, allow me a little science.
Glucocorticoids modulate the inflammatory response by reducing the synthesis of prostaglandins and leukotrienes, also inhibited by the increase in concentration of some membrane phospholipids. They cause an increase in the concentration of "Lipocortins", Protein that reduce the availability of phospholipid substrates for Phospholipase A2, and reduce the expression of COX, with a decrease in the enzyme that synthesizes prostaglandins, hence the clear "modulating" action.
By invoking the action of certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), glucocorticoids in particular inhibit the expression of COX-2, responsible for the inflammatory effects of Eicosanoids.
That's why cortisol has been called a kind of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde to be kept at bay due to its importance. They also cause vasoconstriction when applied directly to blood vessels, and of capillary permeability, inhibiting the activity of bacterial kinins and endotoxins and histamine released by Basophils. Sports note: fractures or stress trauma under cortisone therapy are no coincidence ...
- "last but not least" the chronically high cortisol levels can create intense hunger due to the metabolic alterations that are created, but the meaning of this very frequent effect is curious, so I would like to pause for a moment.
Cortisol is a significant signal of the feeling of hunger and increases our desire for foods high in calories "craving", that is, increases the desire for those "comfort foods", such as sweets for example or carbohydrates in general, which involve a feeling of relief.
The reason arises precisely from the fact that, being the stress hormone and therefore a danger, the reaction leads to introduce calories quickly. From an evolutionary point of view this function was important because in ancient times our stress was due to dangers that required greater physical effort, a real life-saving hormone. Today it is different, we are talking about other stressful situations but which find the organism to behave as if the danger were always serious and at the risk of life. Cortisol also communicates with fat cells, in particular those of the abdominal area, also here for "evolutionary" reasons: having more fat in the abdomen meant protecting an area where there are many vital organs, let's think about it ... To increase the '
This brief digression of bioenergetics, however, is also reflected in situations in which one finds oneself for prolonged periods with low-calorie diets in which the organism will tend to resist, even adapting the metabolism, to protect it from the famine in which it is being brought.
On the athlete's side
Being athletes, maybe agonists with a competition or a series on the way, one is subject to levels of psychophysical stress much higher than the "average" man.
Everything starts from the adrenal glands, our stress control centers, where adrenaline and noradrenaline are secreted from their internal part in response to stimuli from the nervous system, while the external part of the cortex secretes cortisol, DHEA, a small part of testosterone. , estrogen, progesterone and aldosterone.
But coming to the topic of the article, now it is cortisol that interests us in all its roles that not only concern the mediation of inflammation, also modulating the immune and allergic response, but influencing the metabolism of carbohydrates, Protein and fats, with therefore impact on blood sugar and cellular energy production.
The stress response
But how is the stress response going? The processes involving cortisol and other hormonal factors can be divided into three stages:
1 ) the competition is getting closer and closer, the anxiety rises because we see ourselves not in the desired condition (a classic), the diet, weeks after weeks, becomes more and more restrictive, while the workouts are more and more full-bodied and exhausting.
Maybe with hours of boring cardiovascular activity on the back ... and moreover the partner who does not make things easier for us because she feels neglected, or pressures at work ... a picture that often does not go far from reality.
It will happen that the body will have to increase the production of cortisol to cope with the many stressors until the various stressful elements cease. Oh good story ... in theory ... but the fact is that for many the conditions of environmental stress are already in everyday life and we know that competitive commitments cost a lot of effort, so the adrenals will pump even more cortisol ... maybe there it will also feel "good" and also energetic in this overdrive condition.
2 ) the situation continues over the weeks, the stress becomes chronic, maybe the weight does not drop or there is still fat to be removed, so maybe the cardiovascular activity is still increased.
Stress now becomes chronic. The elevated cortisol levels have been high for weeks or months, and the adrenals become tired. Situation seen dozens of times especially in women who, for example, believe in particular that cardiovascular activity is the pedal of the thermogenic accelerator.
But as I said, other stressors could be creeping in. At this point, cortisol levels can drop significantly to normal (or lower) levels.
Wow no? Wait.
At some point the cortisol goes down and the DHEA goes down too. So? DHEA is produced by the adrenals like cortisol and these two are even interdependent. DHEA acts as an anti-catabolic against the effects of cortisol, so if it also decreases, a protective mechanism is lacking so for example, the risk of affecting the muscles is imminent.
3 ) now here we are, cortisol levels are very low and so are those of DHEA. Fatigue becomes chronic, heavy and self-limiting, the muscles recover badly from training, the inflammation of the muscles becomes a systemic state, and the body, in addition to moving towards a catabolic state, becomes susceptible to various trauma and infections.
Cystitis finds frequent victims in this period. At this point of adrenal exhaustion, one should act on modifying training programs, nutrition and integration in order to promote recovery and maximum physical fitness for training (first anti-catabolic stimulus if well supported and thermogenic) until can carry out an effective detoxifying regeneration period, which if not conditioned by competitive commitments, would be advisable before reaching certain avoidable extremes.
How to help the adrenals?
There are many factors and lifestyles that can address the adreneric fatigue situation and support the adrenal glands.
In terms of nutrition, stabilizing a fluctuating blood sugar is the key, so pay attention to the frequency and composition of meals , bearing in mind that the carbohydrates added in a targeted manner (did I talk about periworkout nutrition? We refer to a future article for reasons of space) are a very good help in certain situations.
Caffeine is a rather controversial element, where one could speak of insulin sensitivity or thermogenic Energy (refer to the reading of my previous article) but now let's consider it simply a "disturbing" element in the production of cortisol.
Physical rest and reparation occurs between 10 pm and 2 am, psychic regeneration between 2 and 5 am. Staying up late deprives you of these vital rejuvenating hours.
The athlete should sleep the fateful 7-8 hours a night (often utopian in precontest) to ensure a good recovery and better nervous reactivity. Not only that, but the immune system is active at night so sleep deprivation can contribute to the impairment of sleep efficiency in the long run. High cortisol levels can disrupt nighttime sleep.
Training of a certain degree of intensity and volume always remains the greatest stressor for the athlete, but obviously it is practically impossible to avoid. Phases of a few weeks with intensity or especially reduced volumes, are advisable, as well as targeted stops, so difficult to implement for the ego of "us mortals" but very used by professional athletes.
The tensions of the psyche
Yoga, meditation, autogenic training and self-hypnosis are all very effective tools for relieving tensions in the psyche.
Help from nature
There are several micronutrients that can support health.
Vitamins B and C
The B complex has always been recommended as a tonic for the nervous system in periods of high stress, as well as vitamin C, which in addition to being the best known antioxidant, is absolutely essential for the adrenergic functions, as it is required for the synthesis of catecholamines. , cortisol and aldosterone.
Studies in hand, have shown that vitamin C helps to lower the levels of cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline in cases of great stress, if taken at high doses around 1500 mg / day).
Chromium is also an aid to the adrenals indirectly, as a regulator of blood sugar.
Essential fatty acids
Do not underestimate the famous essential fatty acids (see omega 3) which counteract the excess inflammation that can result from an adrenergic imbalance.
Herbal medicine can also be of great help here. Licorice is an adrenal stimulant so it can only be used when cortisol is very low and not for long periods or by people with high blood pressure or by women with a high risk of estrogen dependent cancer.
Ginseng can support adrenal health and energy levels. The Korean type is more stimulating and energizing while the Siberian type is more modulating the levels of stress.
Ashwaghanda and Rhodiola
Ashwaghanda and Rhodiola are herbs that can help in situations of high stress and high cortisol levels. Compared to a more well-known Rhodiola, I got to know Ashwaghanda thoroughly for work and to analyze its real support capacity for the adrenal glands with an improvement in anxious states, the immune system and sleep. A modulating stress effect with a beneficial calming effect, but also with the concrete possibility of decreasing cortisol levels. A real adaptogen with all the trimmings, so much so that it has a good basis of literature to support it. The recommended dose is 500mg / day.
The article was long I admit, but it needed space to be able to embrace the many notions about these two glands which are of fundamental importance for health, not just for results in the gym.
Their role, their efficiency is crucial to ensure that the athlete can keep up with the pace of certain preparation periods.
If you are constantly tired, your ability to recover from training is easily compromised and you are at risk of trauma and injuries, situations that can then be a real hindrance to the goals we set ourselves, so it is essential to listen to the signals and eventually run to the repair as far as possible.
Let's remember, we are not machines (they break too) but we are men, we try to intervene as far as possible (I'm talking about the agonists) but for everyone, when we can ... relaxation is welcome!