Recognizing the Signs of High Cortisol

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone since it’s released when the body is under stress.  It can be a sign of overtraining or be caused by outside factors like a busy or stressful time at work, family pressures or emotional stress. It’s a balancing act, your body has a finite amount of energy and high cortisol is an energy zapper.

If cortisol is elevated for a long period of time, it can suppress the immune system. It can also leave you feeling fatigued and irritable and it can make it difficult for you to concentrate, and it takes the body longer to recover from heavier training loads.

Not only are you at a higher risk of getting sick, you’re also at a higher risk of injury as the body becomes weaker.

If your cortisol levels are rising, you’ll start noticing the following symptoms:
  • weight gain, especially around the middle
  • acne
  • slower wound healing
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • high blood pressure
  • headaches
  • elevated resting heart rate (RHR)
  • a lack of progress at the gym or training in general

If you start noticing signs that your cortisol is getting high, it’s time for some self-care. Pushing through symptoms puts you at greater risk of injury and sickness. To reduce your cortisol levels, you need to lower the stress the body is under. Unfortunately, one of the best ways to reduce that stress is to reduce your training load, regardless of where the stress is coming from.

Taking some time off from training or lightening the training load won’t stall your progress and is very beneficial. Training adaptations happen when the body is well rested, and a good recovery plan is essential for training progression.

Other things you can do to help your body recover include the following:
  • Reduce the amount of caffeine and alcohol in your diet.
  • Eat well balanced meals and load up on those fruits and veggies! They have tons of vitamins and minerals that help with recovery.
  • Focus on getting a good, restful sleep every night.
  • Cut back on high intensity exercise! This is the hardest part and something I see all of my athletes struggle with. You can still do low intensity exercise, but you need to reduce the stress your body is under so it’s best to skip those long rides or runs. This also isn’t the best time to go for a new PR at the gym!

When you feel your energy returning, you can gradually increase the training volume again. But if you start feeling the effects of high cortisol, dial it back.

You can also incorporate deload weeks into your training program to keep stress in check.

If you do suspect your cortisol is high, make an appointment with a medical professional. There could be other underlying causes.

And if you need help with a balanced training program, contact us!

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