Cortisol, Insulin and Fat Burning
Burning fat is more than just balancing your calories, it is arguably more important to balance your hormones, namely metabolic hormones. You can decrease your calorie intake to lose weight, but if your hormones are not in check, you will not be burning any fat.
My top 5 Methods to balance metabolic hormones to fat burn:
1. Strength Train! Lift heavy weights! The stress hormone cortisol is not all bad. That why you just need to balance your hormones not necessarily reduce your cortisol. Strength training will increase your cortisol and lower insulin. Low insulin will mean the fat burning enzyme HSL (hormone sensitive lipase) will be active, allowing you to tap into fat stores for energy. If you have high insulin, your fat storing enzyme LPL (lipoprotein lipase) will be active, blocking the bodies ability to burn fat for fuel. Your hypothalamus, and gland in your brain controls the cortisol secreted by the adrenals. Therefore the more you strength train the more responsive it is so the stress and hormone balance improves. If you are sedentary, the hypothalamus is less responsive, meaning it wont have the ability to balance your hormones. Hormone balance is vital for fat burning.
2. Avoid Hunger Cravings:
A typical sign of high cortisol levels is hunger and the carving for junk food. Cortisol increases your desire for palatable foods i.e cakes, sugary foods, carbs etc. When you are so busy and forget or 'don't have time' to eat your blood sugar drops. Cortisol levels will rise to release energy stores and raise blood sugar again. This is not so bad in the short term, but day after day, if your cortisol is raised to balance blood sugar, this will cause chronic issues with hormone imbalance leading to insulin resistance and leptin resistance (your body will not know when it is hungry, or just thinks it is hungry - leading to unnecessary snacking).
Solution: always make time for meals, eat 3-4 big meals a day, because every time you eat, it will reset your hormone balance. Post meal your cortisol is reduced and so is your hunger causing hormone ghrelin. If you need to snack due to hunger, snack on proteins and fats, this will stabalise blood sugar, not spike it massively.
3. Don't train for too long:
Anything over an hour is too long. This will only further increase your cortisol levels and your body will start to utilise amino acids for fuel, which means breaking down muscle tissues and protein. This is extremely counter-productive. If you have energy left after an hour you simply have not trained hard enough. Your CNS and muscles should be fatigued in under an hour if your programme is designed properly.
4. COFFEE Lovers. Caffeine is the most used drug on a day to day basis. However people abuse it on a big scale. Coffee is a stimulant that spike cortisol, so drinking this all day will have a negative effect on hormonal balance. Ideally you just want to have one in the morning and certainly not after 2pm. Prolonged elevated cortisol throughout the day will just un-do any previous corrections to hormonal imbalances.
5. SLEEP! Sleep is essential to any goal set my a health and fitness individual. Lack of sleep will result in agitation, impatience and certainly bad food choices and again the need for a fake stimulant like coffee. This makes the hormones spiral out of control. Furthermore, the main process that happens when you sleep is called detoxification. This is a natural cleansing process undertaken by the body to rid of any unwanted toxins or foreign bodies in the system. If too many toxins are in the body is will cause inflammation, and to counteract this inflammation cortisol is secreted. And i'm sure you know by now, unwanted spikes of hormones will only cause further issues.
Conclusion: It all comes back to my simple guidelines; Eat well, consistently and make sensible choices. Lift heavy weights and focus on quality sleep. Repeat this process as part of a lifestyle routine, not a short term fix.