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How to Manage Your High Cortisol Levels to Lose Weight

Stress is killing us. You’ve heard this before, it’s not a new statement. But do you understand why? And did you know harnessing stress to work for you positively will significantly improve your health and way of living? Or let you lift just a little heavier… Dr. Sybille Buchwald-Werner, a scientist/pharmacist working with leading sports nutrition brand Body Science fills us in on everything to do with the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol gets a bad rap – but what are the good things it does for us?
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and it is essential for your ‘fight or flight’ response, so for example if you’re getting chased by a wild animal your cortisol will kick in to help you run away, or if you are under pressure with a impending deadline, your cortisol will kick in too if you are under stress. It also kicks in with certain types of exercise, such as high intensity training or if you are lifting a very heavy load. While it’s natural to have cortisol in your body, an excessively high amount of cortisol can cause some issues including irritability, depression, weight gain and more.

And what are the bad things cortisol does when our levels stay high for too long?
Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands as a response to stress. Elevated cortisol levels disrupt the bodies blood glucose control by stimulating glucose secretion from stores in the liver and limiting the release of the hormone responsible for removing excess glucose from the blood stream, insulin. This results in high blood sugar levels. Eventually, more insulin is secreted to remove the excess glucose once cortisol levels have dropped, but this cycle results in poor glucose control which also makes losing weight very difficult as the excess glucose can be stored as fat. Therefore, managing cortisol and insulin levels are both important when trying to lose weight. Excess cortisol can also cause irritability, depression, poor sleep quality, it may make it easy to catch a cold or flu, gut issues and more

How long does it typically take for elevated cortisol levels to start showing up via adverse effects?
This is on a case by case basis as everyone is different however if you are working long hours, often stressed at work, drinking a lot of coffee ands alcohol, completing 2 x HIIT session per day for an extended period of time and you are feeling the above side effects you may want to consider dialing this back a bit

Can high cortisol cause weight gain?
It certainly can for some people, especially around the abdomen area

Conversely can lowering your cortisol levels help you achieve your weight loss goals?
Absolutely. Especially if you are following a low inflammation diet

Can training too hard/often contribute to high cortisol?
Absolutely, but again its on a case by case basis. I think what a lot of people do is they are stressed in another area of their life (work for example) and then they go and do a hard training session before of after work so they can cram some exercise into their day. Then you have the people who get good results from HIIT so they decide that they need to do it in excess.
While you should move your body everyday, you don’t need to make every session a hard one. Walking, yoga, Pilates, light weights are all sufficient ways to exercise and you need a break between the intensity sessions to allow your body to recover

Can it be a reason why you are not seeing results from your workouts?
For some people, yes
If you have a high stress/busy life – should you be doing HIIT – or choosing a workout that is more soothing to your nervous system?
If you don’t have cortisol issues, completing 1-2 HIIT sessions should be fine, however if you are under a lot of stress and you have the above symptoms then keep it to low intensity exercise. HIIT training in moderation is good for people who don’t have cortisol issues, but no so great for people who do.


Regulate Your Cortisol: A Leading Researchers How-To Guide
By: Moodi Dennaoui / Trainer

Everything you need to know about the (not so) evil catabolic hormone!

Training is my outlet. It’s my escape from Physical and Cognitive stress.

I train intensely and give it 100% when I’m in the gym irrespective of what is going on in my life.

I work out six-seven days a week, up to three times a day using both a combination of aerobic and anaerobic activity which also means that my Cortisol has to be regulated REGULARLY!!!

Not just because I want to be muscly and ripped, but also because I want to perform when i am doing my favourite workout of the day…Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

However, my love for training creates an adverse reaction (the release of Cortisol) which results in catabolism and even water retention.