I was wondering if you could help me? I’ve been lifting for over 5 years now and I’ve managed to build a considerable amount of muscle. This past few months have been rough, because I’ve been going through a very ugly break up with my girlfriend of 7 years. I won’t get into specifics, but there has been a lot of stress and drama. To add insult to injury, I lost my job and was forced to take a job I really don’t like, that is until I can find something better. Throughout everything, I still go to the gym and train 4 days per week. Since I’ve been dealing with all this stress, I seem to be losing muscle and strength, as the amount of weight I lift keeps going down. I’m also losing muscle definition because of an increase in body fat. It’s been very depressing, considering the fact that seeing good results from my workouts was one of the few things that made me feel good about myself. Do you know if it’s normal to lose muscle and strength during periods of stress? Also, is there anything I can do to remedy this issue? Thanks in advance.
Hi Jason. I’m sorry to hear about the challenges you’ve been facing over the past few months. I won’t go into any personal details either, but let’s just say that I’ve been through similar types of circumstances. I can say with absolute certainty the issues you’re having with your workouts during this trying phase of life are NOT just a random coincidence.
There is an unequivocal interplay between our physical and emotional beings. When we deal with overwhelming circumstances, our resulting emotions manifest as stress. Unfortunately, stress doesn’t just stay in our heads. It has a profound impact on our bodies and our health, particularly when it persists for long periods of time.
In fact, this emotional stress has been linked with a myriad of health problems due to perpetually elevated stress hormones. More specifically, elevated levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
Chronic Stress And Cortisol
For starters, this type of chronic stress results in disrupted cortisol signaling in the body, Excess cortisol causes cell receptors to become muted, including those of our immune cells. In others words, these cells shut down and quit doing their job.
This is one of the reasons why people under stress are twice as likely to catch a cold or flu virus compared to people with comparatively lower stress levels. Even more significant is the existing research that demonstrates how the stress hormones norepinephrine and epinephrine encourage the growth of blood vessels that help tumors metastasize.
Moreover, stress triggers systemic low-grade inflammation in the body. This inflammatory response has a negative effect on every subsystem in your body as your healthy cells become stressed. Your blood pressure increases. You feel more fatigued. You have trouble sleeping. Your body aches more. Any preexisting conditions like asthma, allergies, heart disease, or diabetes become more problematic. This can also plant the seed for developing additional degenerative diseases like various forms of cancer and neurological disorders.
Long-Term Effects Of Stress
Noticeable physical changes manifest as stress hormones remain elevated over the long term. Obvious detriments like weight gain, loss of muscle tone, and signs of aging all become accelerated. The adrenal glands become fatigued as a result of pumping out copious amounts of stress hormones. As the adrenal glands begin to burn out, the thyroid becomes less efficient at producing hormones.
A reduction of thyroid hormone inevitably leads to weight gain, chronic fatigue, depression, and other negative side effects. For example, healthy tissue breaks down faster than it can be repaired. This is especially significant when it comes to the building and repair of muscle tissue.
When the body experiences a loss of muscle tissue, there will be a corresponding reduction of metabolic efficiency; meaning that the metabolism slows down. Of course, a reduced metabolism makes people more susceptible to weight gain.
Stress Management Through Diet
My intent here is not to freak you out, but to emphasize the importance of managing your stress levels. You must get them under control before they result in serious consequences.
The good news is there is actually a lot of steps you can take to manage your stress and significantly reduce the impact on your mind and body.
The first, step that you should take is to analyze your diet. Often times, we tend to consume certain foods and beverages that actually magnify the negative effects stress has on us. For example, refined sugars.
The elevated cortisol levels from this overstressed condition can result in incomplete protein turnover in the body. Also, fats found in fast and processed foods increase systemic inflammation, making the body more resistant to insulin.
Consuming significant amounts of alcohol and caffeine increase cortisol levels, working against the body’s immune and endocrine systems.
Take a look at your diet. Are you putting any of these irritants in your body? If so, make a conscious effort to cut back on them.
Focus on eating more whole, unprocessed foods. Your best choices will be fresh, lean meats, vegetables, fresh fruits, minimally processed whole grains, yams, potatoes, and healthier sources of fats found in almonds, walnuts, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and extra virgin coconut oil.
Stress Management With Supplements
There is a class of supplements known as ‘adaptogens’ that help minimize the physiological effects of stress on the body. I’ve read many studies that demonstrate their effectiveness in reducing levels of stress hormones. They also help optimize the level of important the hormones such as testosterone and thyroid.
There are numerous substances that are considered adaptogens. However, among the ones with the best reputations are ashwaganda, cordceps, eleuthero, and rhodiola. These herbs are best taken on a 5 day on, two day off cycle so your body doesn’t get so used to them that they become less effective.
The point I want to make about stress management is this. You need an outlet to vent your stress and express your concerns. Going to the gym is great for this.
Even so, an equally valuable outlet is having someone to talk to. That someone could be a therapist, a counselor, or just a good friend.
When I was experiencing turbulent periods of my life in the past, I was blessed to have a couple of great friends to lean on. I also have a very wise and understanding father who’d always listen and help me organize my thoughts. This really gave me some valuable direction and hope.
I hope you’ve found this information useful. I wish you all the best of success in getting through this wearisome time period.
Above all, stay positive and remind yourself that what you’re experiencing is only temporary. You can and SHOULD look forward to brighter days ahead!
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