by Dr. David Minkoff March 25, 2023 7 min read
As we enter Week Three of the Lean Bulk Challenge, our hormones are balancing to allow for maximum muscle building and swifter fat loss.
So this week I want to cover the points that can either prevent muscle gain, or slow it, and the things that allow us to maximize muscle gain and fat loss, and speed recovery from workouts.
So make sure you’re pushing hard in your workouts and lifting heavy, because we want to build as much lean muscle as we can now.
The first thing we’re going to cover is what slows muscle gain, or out-right prevents it, by slowing the protein synthesis necessary for recovery and repair.
If you’ve ever had a shock, and felt the adrenaline surge in your body, then you’ve felt cortisol.
It’s a wake-you-up, get-you–ready-for-action hormone.
It hits its lowest point around midnight, so you can sleep, and then peaks about an hour after you’ve gotten up in the morning, getting you to wake up and get ready for the day.
It’s nick-named the “stress hormone” because it’s released in moments of stress. So in a dangerous situation, or if you get scared suddenly, you’ll feel it.
And it’s important. It’s a hormone we can’t live without… when it’s in balance.
But when it goes out of balance, it can cause us a lot of trouble:
All of this leads to excess fat that is hard to get rid of, and slow or no gains in building muscle, or even muscle loss.
We’re doing a Lean Bulk, building muscle without the excess fat. And high cortisol has no value to us.
So let’s dig into what’s happening here, how cortisol affects muscle building and recovery, and how to prevent high cortisol levels, or lower them when they exist.
Our body mainly uses fats and sugar for energy. It breaks them down, the hormone insulin ushers them to our cells, and our cells make something called ATP from them, the energy source that cells use.
But with protein, or the amino acids that make up protein, our body is supposed to use this for building and maintaining muscle, bone, hair, hormones and more.
It’s not supposed to be used for energy, but for building and maintaining our body’s structure.
Cortisol reverses this.
Cortisol is key in emergencies, both short term and long.
In an emergency, which to the body could be anything from a bad injury to just being tired from overwork or lack of sleep, cortisol works to supply your body with energy so you can get out of this situation and survive.
In a war, if your ankle is broken, cortisol helps you get home. It’s vital in emergency situations.
But it also thinks long term. From cortisol’s view, if you’re tired or hurt, then possibly lean times lay ahead. How can you “catch” food to eat if you’re exhausted or hurt?
You can’t. So it’s time to start saving up energy sources. And body fat is the best future energy source there is.
So cortisol sends instructions to turn sugar already in the blood stream or from food that you eat, into body fat, to save for later when there’s no food.
And for energy… it starts breaking down muscle.
If you know the principles behind PerfectAmino, you know what I’m speaking of. Our muscles are made of protein, which is made of amino acids.
And amino acids can be an energy source.
We know that excess amino acids, that the body can’t use to synthesize new protein, go through a process called gluconeogenesis, which breaks the amino acids down, and converts them, in part, to glucose — sugar.
This glucose can then be used as energy.
But cortisol doesn’t get this from excess amino acids. Instead, it gets it from the amino acids that already form the protein in your muscles.
It starts breaking your muscle cells apart, to release the proteins in them, so it can break these down into their individual amino acids and convert them to energy.
But this causes muscle loss. And if high cortisol levels continue for long, it can lead to muscle wasting, soreness and exhaustion.
But it also prevents muscle building. Why use amino acids to build new muscle when they’re a good energy source?
We can’t use sugar or fat, they have to be saved for the future.
But we can use amino acids.
So high levels of cortisol also prevent the synthesis of amino acids into protein, so the amino acids can be used for energy.
Without protein synthesis, we can’t repair muscles damaged by workouts. So we not only don’t synthesize new protein to build the muscle, we don’t give new protein to repair what’s already there, so we lose muscle when working out, instead of gaining.
Now, this isn’t a black and white process here. Depending on how much cortisol there is, it may just slow muscle building and recovery, not fully prevent it.
But even that we don’t want.
This is one reason it’s not smart to workout when you get little sleep or are sick.
Not only is your awareness of your environment impaired, so you may make a mistake and injure yourself while working out. But also, your cortisol levels are much higher.
Cortisol was released, due to lack of sleep or exhaustion, to give you energy for the day. So it’s in your bloodstream, in part, already breaking down muscle for energy.
If you work out, you speed up this process by damaging your muscle.
Because, as cortisol is present, protein synthesis for muscle recovery is much slower. And if you’re sick, as the amino acids are needed to make immune cells, muscle recovery may be next to zero.
A workout, in these conditions then, may lead not only to no gains, but losses instead.
So let’s look at what raises cortisol, and what we can do to lower it when it’s high.
There are a few main things that raise cortisol levels besides illness, injury, and stress from life. (Yes, life stress also raises cortisol levels.):
Lack of sleep, lack of amino acids to repair muscle damaged in workouts, high sugar levels (which cause inflammation in the blood vessels, causing cortisol to be released), and high omega 6 fatty acids (which raise inflammation levels in the body, thus raising cortisol levels).
As we’ll cover each of these in an article soon, I’m just going to cover them briefly here.
Our processed foods are high in omega 6 fatty acids from corn and soy, the bases of almost all processed foods, and the feed most livestock is fed now.
Omega 6 is used in cells to create pro-inflammatory molecules which raise inflammation and thus cortisol.
To combat this, we need to remove these processed foods from our diets and only eat meats that are naturally grass-fed, which allows for lower Omega 6 levels and higher Omega 3 levels in the meat.
And lastly, we need to take Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 produces the opposite of what Omega 6 does: anti-inflammatory molecules that lower inflammation and thus cortisol.
Next is sugar, especially processed sugars. These raise inflammation in the blood vessels, which releases cortisol. They also raise insulin levels and estrogen levels, which again raise cortisol levels.
And they do us no good, anyways. Our body has no real use for them and does not need them. They only cause us harm. So keep to only natural sugars.
Then there is protein and amino acids. When we work out, we damage our muscles. And we need enough protein to help them recover.
If we don’t have enough, then not only do we lose muscle because it’s damaged and can’t be repaired, but also, as this is an injury, cortisol is released. And this cortisol further pushes muscle break-down.
So make sure you’re getting in enough protein and taking your PerfectAmino. And if you feel extra sore or exhausted one day, take more PerfectAmino — your body needs it.
As high cortisol levels deplete vitamins c, a and e in your body, which are necessary for cellular health and recovery, and as vitamin d helps to lower your cortisol levels, it’s important that you’re taking your vitamins daily.
These are needed for real gains and overall health.
Then there is magnesium. This is one mineral that your body vitally needs. It’s actually processed out of most foods these days, so most of us don’t get it naturally.
But it helps to calm our muscles, help us sleep, remove lactic acid which can cause soreness, and lowers cortisol levels.
So make sure you’re getting in your magnesium.
And lastly, sleep.
We need to get our sleep. We’ll have another article covering this, but if you’re having any trouble sleeping, make sure to take our Sleep product to help with this.
And don’t work out on a day when you got bad sleep. Just skip that day. It will be better for gains in the long run.
Not only does lack of sleep cause cortisol levels to rise, and then later prevent sleep, but sleep is also when most of our fat loss and muscle building occurs.
And it doesn’t occur when we have poor sleep.
And that’s the subject of our next article.
If you’re just seeing this, and want to know more about Leaning Bulking, go here to read What Is Lean Bulking & Is It Possible?
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I hope this helps.
by Dr. David Minkoff
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