STRESS, HORMONES, SLEEP AND RECOVERY
Stress is an essential part of thriving and surviving the demands of life. Some stress is good. This is called Eustress. Eustress should be short in duration, infrequent, cause a positive life experience, inspire action and help build you up. Think of Eustress as training hard, or competing in a race or speaking at a symposium in your field of expertise. There is also bad stress or Distress. This is long in duration, chronic and ongoing, negative, depressing and demoralizing. It de-motivates or even paralyzes you and consistently breaks you down. Think of distress as illness, a crappy job or a relationship that should have been over long ago.
There are several factors that will play into and affect the stress that you feel but many of them are completely controlled by YOU! This includes your perception and perspective, attitude and outlook, life experience, genetic make-up, perception of control, personality type and confidence, your surrounding support system, ability to deal with emotions, environment and your allostatic load.
Your allostatic load is the cumulative total of stuff that causes you physical, emotional and mental stress in your life. The catch is, that most of this is perceived.
There are two main types of brain functions that occur in the body:
SYMPATHETIC: “Fight or Flight” Essential, immediate survival functions
PARASYMPATHETIC: “Rest and Digest” functions that re-build, not immediately essentially for survival.
Sympathetic brain function will circulate cortisol and adrenaline in times of stress. These hormones inhibit those non-critical functions in times where survival is necessary. This means that systems like metabolism, detoxification, cell repair, immune system functions and reproductive hormones take a back seat until the chaos is over.
Over time and with a largely perceived allostatic load these essential but not immediate survival systems have been turned off and become faulty. This will lead to issues such as poor blood sugar management and insulin resistance, depression, sleep disruption, carbohydrate carvings, decrease thyroid conversion, reduced metabolism, altered sex hormone activity ad amino acid loss from skeletal muscle.
This happens mostly because of cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine and a few other hormonal cascades that occur during stress. We will talk mostly about cortisol for our purposes of understanding today.
In a normal functioning body the chain of events that lead to the resolution of dealing with stress are as follows:
-Individual is faced with a stressor
-Complex hormonal cascade then ensues causing the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol.
-Cortisol prepares the body for fight or flight by flooding it with glucose, supplying an immediate source of energy to the large muscles.
-Cortisol inhibits insulin production in an attempt to prevent glucose for being stored. Making glucose ready for immediate use by keeping glucose levels high.
-Cortisol narrows the arteries and epinephrine speeds up the heart rate; both forcing the blood and heart to pump harder and faster for glucose circulation.
-Individuals feel increased sense of alertness and rush to deal with a situation until it resolves and hormone levels return to normal.
However, a chronic perception of being under stress causes some real rifts in the function of the human body. This is due to the fact that it stays drowned in cortisol and other necessary functions remain in the, “off or stand-by” position. One of the whole body effects from chronically elevated cortisol are blood sugar imbalances/diabetes. Cortisol suppresses insulin by tapping into protein stores in the liver. But this constant glucose supply means elevated blood sugar levels. This leads to cells that become insulin resistant (a body that becomes insulin resistant). The pancreas most then secrete more insulin to try and deal with all the blood sugar floating around but can’t catch up leading to cells that need glucose for functioning but are never receiving it.
In the meantime, cortisol will also mobilize triglycerides from storage and relocate it to visceral/organ fat cells for easier use later. Starving cells not receiving glucose for their functions then send hunger signals to the brain saying, “send more energy!” Overeating occurs and eventually when the crisis is assumed over by the person the unused (large amount of consumed glucose) is stored as body fat.
EXERCISE AS STRESS: Lifting weights or HIIT/Metabolic Conditioning (besides breaking down tissue for rebuilding) causes stress to the body. During this “stress” 4 main hormones are released. These are Growth Hormone, Insulin, Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF), testosterone and cortisol.
Cortisol as discussed breaks down carbohydrate for fuel.
Growth Hormone, Insulin and IGF work together to inhibit the breakdown o muscles by increasing the nutrient flow to the muscle.
Testosterone stimulates the nervous system to send stronger signals and signals the muscles to rebuild after trauma. With a resting period the muscles then rebuild.
Testosterone signals protein synthesis and reduces the impact of catabolic hormones. Testosterone is anabolic (building) and can make others anabolic with its presence. Testosterone occurs in response to large muscle, compound movements like Olympic Lifts, Deadlifts, Jump Squats.
Growth Hormone promotes tissue anabolism (building). If you want muscle cell growth then GH is key. Lactate or hypertrophy training is what promotes GH to come to the table. This is your high intensity, high volume, large of amount of muscle mass used, short rest training. Think HITT, Burpees, Thrusters, Airdyne. Fran. It is also most commonly released at night during sleep which makes SLEEP CRITICAL FOR RECOVERY!!!
Insulin Like Growth Factor mediates much of GH’s actions. It aids in protein synthesis during strength training and enhances hypertrophy.
Cortisol is CATABOLIC. It breaks tissue down. Cortisol will spike during metabolically demanding training. It stimulates lypolyisis (adipose/fat tissue breakdown) but if you over do the metabolic conditioning it will also start breaking down muscle tissue to supply the body with glucose.
BODY AS A BANK ACCOUNT:
You must make deposits, not just withdrawals. Poor eating, sleeping, stress all cause a deficit within the body. You must do parasympathetic activities to rebuild!
This is SLEEP, mobility, yoga, self reflection, napping, rest days, massage, hot springs, hot tub, epsom salt baths, icing, hydrating, eating clean, taking a walk outside. Turning electronics off, sharing time with loved ones. Being filled physically, emotionally and spiritually by your support system. You should strive for at least 30 minutes of parasympathetic activity/day
Practice good sleep hygiene: Sleep is the most important time to recover. Adequate amounts provide mental health, hormonal balance and muscle recovery.
Attempt to sleep 7-9 hours.
Don’t consume stimulants past noon. Coffee, tobacco, etc
Don’t drink alcohol.
Regular sleep schedule. To bed and awake at the same time everyday
Exercise regularly but not too close to bed if it affects you.
Take short naps, frequently. Try for earlier in the day so as not to disrupt sleep
Actively address relaxation
electronics or blue light 60 minutes before bed
Get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time
Take a warm bath before bed.
Keep your room/sleeping environment cool 60-62 degrees.
Keep your room/sleeping environment dar. Make use of black out curtains and keep cellphones out of your room, alarm clocks covered..
Hydrate! This is critical to health, energy, recovery and performance. The body is aqueous and water consumption aids with nutrient uptake and lowers the levels of stress on the heart by increasing blood volume. Be sure to supplement with salt or a multi-vitamin if h20 consumption is a new thing for you.
Nutrition. Food will either heal and fuel you or poison you.
Posture. Practice good posture. Chronically poor posture will lead to poor body position and risk of injury performing remedial tasks.
Stretching. Flexibility is essential to remaining pain free. This can include Myo-Facial release (mobility/foam rolling/lacrosse ball), heat, ice, compression and yoga.
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