Over the years some people have come to train with me who really struggle to add muscle. These people have low muscle mass, and even with a good training program, they find it hard to add muscle. Some of these people come back from a relaxing holiday stronger than when they left. Of course, that really isn’t a good sign.
One common reason for this is the stress hormone, cortisol, being out of balance in their bodies. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands which controls our bodies’ reaction to stress. The hormone also regulates blood pressure, fat distribution, glucose levels, muscle building, protein synthesis, immune function, and hormone balance.
If we experience intense or long term stress, your body’s production of cortisol can easily become imbalanced. When this happens, we have what is referred to as adrenal fatigue. Around 80% of people will suffer from adrenal fatigue at some point in their lives, but it is a condition that is misdiagnosed and misunderstood.
One of the main symptoms of adrenal fatigue is suffering from constant fatigue that is not relieved by rest and sleep. People experiencing adrenal fatigue often have to use coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.
If you have been trying to build muscle for a while, and are feeling a bit let down by your results, it could be because your cortisol levels are simply too high. While testosterone helps build muscle, cortisol breaks down muscle. I would recommend at the outset to get your cortisol levels measured, this can save a lot of wasted time in the gym.
Get your hormones tested. Contact a functional diagnostic nutritionist for an adrenal stress test. The test measures the amount of cortisol in your saliva at four regular points over a single day. The test is relatively inexpensive and pinpoints what the best route is to restore your health. The results will also highlight the extent to which your adrenals are exhausted.
Exercise sensibly. Exercise is important for people with adrenal fatigue, but you need to pick the right type of exercise depending on how exhausted your adrenals are. Ultimately you want to exercise until you feel slightly fatigued, not exhausted. Learn to listen to what is comfortable for your body. Completely avoid intense aerobic exercise. If your adrenals are extremely exhausted it is better to practice relaxation exercises rather than gym training, as it will probably be too draining for your body. If you are not sure how to train sensibly, find a personal trainer to work with you.
Get more sleep. The ideal time to go to sleep is 10pm as the body deals with its physical repair from 10pm to 2am. From 2am to 6am the body is dealing with psychological repair. Therefore, I would suggest going to bed at 10pm and getting up after 6am. If this feels an impossible task right now, you can go to sleep 15 minutes early every week until you get to 10pm. On days when you are not working aim to sleep until at least 9am.
Learn to relax. Most people I work with have to learn how to relax. We live in a society where we have to be seen to be achieving and succeeding. This places people under a lot of pressure. However, you also need rest and relaxation time to recharge. Everyone has five minutes a day to practice relaxation. Good exercises include qi gong, tai chi, and meditation. Over time it will be easier to relax as you become able to switch off for periods of the day.