Strength Training’s Effect on Cortisol Levels

Strength Training’s Effect on Cortisol Levels

With strength training, you will gain strength, muscle definition, confidence and probably some stalkers because you’re gonna look dang good! 😉

To really achieve results in the gym, you need to have an eclectic and diverse training regimen. Strength training is great, but being cardiovascularly fit is imperative for overall fitness as well. The first few weeks of engaging in a new workout routine will be rough, but don’t give up! After a few weeks your body will begin to adapt and you should start seeing and feeling positive results. Even before you see the results, you should feel the effects of reduced cortisol levels, stress levels and sleep problems. You should feel these internal changes within a week of beginning a consistent workout routine of at least 3 days per week of at least 30-minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise.


Let’s focus on cortisol. Cortisol is an amazing hormone that I have always had a love/hate relationship with. Brief bouts of increased cortisol levels are a good thing, but prolonged or too-frequent bouts can be very harmful.

It is important to distinguish between acute and chronic cortisol release. When muscle glycogen concentrations are low, cortisol is released and fuel-use shifts toward protein or fat so wise use is made of the little glucose that remains. However, in the long-term, excessive cortisol will encourage fat-synthesis and storage, along with increasing appetite.

On the other hand, aerobic endurance training, particularly running, is linked with protein-loss from muscle (partially induced by cortisol). Endurance trained individuals typically have a higher cortisol response, while resistance trained individuals have a higher testosterone response. Secretion of cortisol is elicited at exercise intensities between 80% and 90% of VO2 max, which means in this case, recreational exercise is not necessarily being described, but more so endurance training.

Nutrition and Cortisol: 

Cortisol causes atrophy in muscle (mainly fast-twitch type 2) and bone. The anabolic effects of testosterone and insulin (both boosted during strength training) oppose cortisol’s catabolic effects.
The acute increases in cortisol following exercise also stimulate acute inflammatory response mechanisms involved with tissue remodeling. This is a necessary response that helps with repairing damage produced by training. Only long-term cortisol elevations seem to be responsible for adverse catabolic effects.

Stress (both psychological and physical) can result in the “fight or flight” response. If stress is ongoing, this can cause enlarged adrenal glands and atrophied lymphatic organs. When adrenals enlarge, they can produce excessive cortisol; when lymphatic organs shrink, they create fewer white blood cells. The immunosuppressive effects of intense exercise have been attributed to high plasma cortisol concentrations that remain after prolonged intense exercise.

How to Avoid Adverse Effects of Overtraining:

-Take regular, planned breaks from intense training (de-load periods).
-Consume enough calories from non-processed foods to prevent depletion.
-Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night to decrease stress and cortisol release.
-Consume carbohydrates and protein after exercise sessions.
-Spend quality time with friends and family (that work/life balance ya know?)
-Regularly participate in a stress-relieving activity like mild yoga, meditation or massage.
-Avoid excessive amounts of intense aerobic endurance training (unless training for endurance event).
Source: MJ Fitnatic