You can almost consider cortisol to be your alarm. When you are subjected to certain stressors (physical and mental), your adrenal glands produce and release cortisol into your blood stream and this creates certain responses, such as the ‘fight or flight’ reflex that you are probably most familiar with. This is what would have kept us safe when we lived in caves (sort of safe!).
From a more practical (and modern!) sense, cortisol is responsible for many other day-to-day functions, such as managing how your body uses carbohydrate, protein and fat, controlling inflammation, regulating blood pressure, increasing blood sugar, controlling your sleep and wake cycle, and boosting energy.
From an athletic perspective, cortisol is incredibly important to performance and recovery. You need cortisol to be present to benefit you. The problems arise when cortisol levels are high for too long, this can raise some health concerns, such as rapid weight gain, skin that bruises easily, muscle weakness and diabetes – to name a few.
From a genetic perspective, how you can optimise your cortisol levels will fall into one of four categories depending on your sensitivity to it; low, average, medium and high. Once you know what band you fall into, it is fairly easy for a coach to be able to tailor your training to help optimise your levels. More information on this can be found on this blog on the FitnessGenes website.
Personally, my FitnessGenes DNA results suggests I have a “moderately decreased cortisol sensitivity”, which could indicate that I might respond less to life’s stressful events – maybe ask my wife about that…
Of course, this doesn’t actually mean I don’t get stressed, when I race, speak in public or have to deal with my mother-in-law, I certainly do. My body just might not be efficient in how it utilises cortisol.
How I can raise this includes caffeine prior to a workout, grapefruit juice, frequent high intensity exercise, intermittent fasting, fast tempo music and creatine supplementation. All easy for my coach and nutritionist to include in my plan – yet not obvious. Even as all my years as a coach, it would be very hard for me to determine this, without a DNA test…
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