Archive for the tag - cortisol

Want A Small Waist? Lift Weights.

47a7be52257afIn an effort to lose weight, people tend to emphasize cardiovascular exercise over strength training. You’ll see this all the time at the gym; well-intentioned individuals will spend upward of 45 minutes or an hour jogging on the treadmill.

Can you blame them? It seems logical, right? If you run longer, you burn more calories. And if you burn more calories, you increase your calorie deficit and shed excess fat.

The problem is, things are a bit more complicated than that. By skipping strength training, excessive cardio tends to shed both fat and muscle. Losing hard-earned muscle isn’t a good thing. In addition, excessive cardio can boost levels of a stress hormone called cortisol; a side effect of cortisol is increased fat in the midsection.

Today, I came across a great study by Harvard School of Public Health that examined 10,500 healthy men, aged 40 and over during a 12-year period. Rather than just measuring body weight (which can be misleading), researchers measured waistlines and compared them to participants’ activity levels and exercise type.

According to the data, healthy men who did 20 minutes of strength training per day had a smaller increase in age-related abdominal fat when compared to men who spent the same time doing cardiovascular activities (like jogging on the treadmill). For optimal results, researchers recommend a combination of strength training and cardiovascular activities.

If losing belly fat and decreasing your waist size is one of your fitness goals, take this research to heart and ditch those endless treadmill workouts. Instead, spend 15 or 20 minutes with a high intensity interval training cardio session and then head to the weight room.

Why You Should Exercise Less.

Never thought you’d hear a trainer suggest that you should actually exercise less? Well hell must have frozen over because today is that day. Of course, there’s a catch.

A blog buddy recently linked me to a study by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. They sought to compare weight loss in overweight, sedentary young men by dividing them into three groups. The first group stuck to their typical routine. The second group exercised for 30 minutes per day. And the third group exercised for an hour each day. The exercises included running, rowing and cycling. Diets were held constant among the three groups.

While both exercise groups lost weight, the 30-minute group had better results and lost 8 pounds (compared to an average of 6 pounds in the 60-minute group). The control group didn’t experience weight loss.

So why did exercising less mean losing more weight? There are a few theories.

Each participant wore a motion sensor, and researchers discovered that the 60-minute exercise group moved less during non-exercise activities. It’s possible that the hour of exercise exhausted these individuals, thereby causing them to be particularly sedentary for the remainder of the day. Or it could be that those who worked out longer were more complacent, whereas the 30-minute group sought to be more active for enhanced results.

Cortisol could also be a factor. Cortisol is an anabolic hormone that is released as a response to bodily stress. It reduces protein synthesis, converts protein to glucose and stops tissue growth. Chronic high levels of cortisol have even been shown to increase abdominal fat. Cortisol levels rise as a response to your body’s stress, so strength training sessions and cardio sessions should be kept to 45 - 60 minutes and 30 - 45 minutes respectively. Because the participants in this study experienced 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, it’s possible that cortisol hampered their results.

Moreover, numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of short but intense workout sessions - like high intensity interval training. These very short workouts have huge results - and they’re much more effective than typical cardio.

The takeaway is clear: Exercise helps facilitate weight loss. But less is sometimes more.



Does Running Burn Muscle?

Dear Davey,

You mentioned that longer runs can have a negative effect on muscle growth. Can you elaborate? I’m an avid runner and I typically run for long amount of time.


Dear Chris,

Though many people mistakenly believe otherwise, cardiovascular exercises like swimming, running or biking - when done in moderation - will not cannibalize your strength training results. The keyword being moderation.

In fact, a study done at West Virginia University and published in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition” demonstrated that people who strength train regularly don’t lose muscle mass while performing cardio - even while on calorie restricting diets. That’s great news!

In general, your body won’t use your muscles as a source for fuel. The only exception would be during periods of extreme endurance cardio training. In other words, if you run or swim or bike for a long period of time, and if your glycogen or carbohydrate stores become depleted, your body will turn to the amino acid proteins in my muscles as a last resort - and it will turn those proteins into glucose for fuel.

To avoid this, it’s obviously important to keep your body fueled with plenty of complex carbohydrates. Or, even better, eliminate the risk altogether by keeping your cardio sessions short, intense and efficient.

The other issue is cortisol. As I’ve mentioned before, cortisol is hormone that your body releases when it is under stress. The effect of cortisol on muscle mass isn’t pretty. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that reduces protein synthesis and may prevent muscle growth. In addition to stunting your results, cortisol has also been linked to increased fat retention in your body’s midsection.

Many things can stress your body, and a long cardio session is certainly one of them. For this reason, many trainers will encourage clients to limit cardio sessions to less than 45 minutes. It’s worth noting that long strength training sessions can also lead to the release of cortisol. In other words, more time at the gym isn’t always better.

To get a short but powerful workout, I recommend high intensity interval training. It can be used for both cardio and strength training, and it’s the basis for my Get Ripped Workout program. Most of my cardio sessions, thanks to high intensity interval training, are only 15 minutes long. It’s an intense 15 minutes, but it gives me the results that I want.

If you really love long runs, then it’s fine to run long distances as an occasional treat - but it certainly shouldn’t be the backbone of your cardio workout. And a few hours prior to your long run, fuel your body with plenty of complex carbs. I hope that helps!


Hugs Are Good For You! [Video]

As I’ve mentioned before, hugs are actually good for your health. After doing a free hugs event in Provincetown, MA, I’m now living proof and have first-hand experience! Check out the video below!

Weight Gain After Cardio: What You Can Do About It.

Hey Davey,

I have been doing a lot of cardio recently but have found that in the past four days I weigh four pounds more than usual? Is it water weight? Is it new muscle? What’s going on!


Hey Jerry,

First things first, four pounds is nothing to fret about. I think I’ve taken shits that are bigger than that (too much information?) - so keep in mind your body’s own internal biological workings. Ensure that you are weighing yourself at the same time of day and at the same point in your routine for more accurate results; some people report body weight fluctuations of as much as six pounds during the course of a single day.

If the four pounds aren’t the result of normal flucuations - and instead, indicative of a true trend (i.e., you gain another four pounds next week) - it’s impossible for me to say whether it’s water, fat or muscle. But in actuality, it could be any or all of the three.

While people generally associate cardiovascular exercise with weight loss - it’s not always the case. Long cardio sessions can result in the breakdown of muscle - which slows the metabolism and often results in unwanted weight gain. For the best results, limit your cardio exercise to 45 minutes or less. Many of my cardio sessions are only 15 minutes long (but very intense). It’s a matter of quality - not quantity!

If, in addition to your cardio workouts, you are engaged in strength training (i.e., lifting weights, weight machines, etc.), then it’s possible that your additional mass is muscle. Muscle is very dense and heavy. If you are looking to release extra body fat, adding muscle is one of the best ways to do it. To know if your gains are muscle, you’ll have to look beyond the scale. Instead, try alternative ways to quantify your progress - such as measuring your waist. If you lose inches off of your waist and yet gain pounds, it’s a good clue that your gain is the result of muscle. And that would be a very good thing!

Lastly, your weight could be the result of water retention. To eliminate water weight, eat a healthy, balanced diet that is low in sodium. Moreover, you need to drink water to lose water - so stay hydrated. If you are not drinking enough water, your body will go into “drought mode” and retain any and all water like a camel. Not drinking enough water, by the way, also slows down your body’s metabolism and can result in unwanted weight gains.

Bottom line: Ensure that you are limiting your cardio workouts to 45 minutes (or less), are participating in strength training workouts and are staying hydrated.

I hope that helps!


Cortisol And Lifting: Limit Your Workout Time.

Think you need to spend 10 hours a day in the gym to look like this? Think again. Longer workouts may have the opposite effect.

When you exercise, your body releases hormones. We generally think of hormones like testosterone, growth hormone and insulin. These three hormones are anabolic because they help build tissue.

But there is another hormone that the body releases during exercise. It’s called cortisol. Unlike the previously mentioned anabolic hormones, cortisol is catabolic - meaning it breaks tissue down. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand cortisol and the role it plays in your workout.

The hormone cortisol has the following effects:

  • Reduces protein synthesis.
  • Facilitates the conversion of protein to glucose.
  • Stops tissue growth.

In other words, the effects of cortisol on anyone looking to build muscle are very much undesirable. So, here are some tips you can use to control cortisol:

  1. Shorter training sessions. While we might think more is more when it comes to hitting the gym, keeping workouts short is one of the best ways to control cortisol. Cortisol is released by the body in response to stress, and strength training sessions shorter than 45 - 60 minutes have been demonstrated to minimize this. Similarly, cortisol is best controlled by cardio sessions shorter than 30 - 45 minutes. Going to the gym should be part of your day - not the whole day.
  2. Eat carbs when it counts. When it comes to nutrition, it’s important to recognize the inverse relationship between glycogen and cortisol. As glycogen levels go down, cortisol goes up. When your body runs out of glycogen - which it uses for energy - the increase in cortisol triggers a breakdown of protein (stored as muscle) to be converted to fuel. It’s not a good thing for people trying to build muscle, but it can be avoided by eating first thing in the morning and consuming carbs immediately after a workout. When taking your post-workout protein shake, ensure that you are also getting some simple carbohydrates that can be absorbed quickly.
  3. Manage stress. Since cortisol is released in response to stress, managing your stress levels outside of the gym will be helpful. This may mean setting aside time for meditation, bubble baths or even a massage.
  4. Get enough sleep. Cortisol levels are lowest (and growth hormone levels are highest) in the deepest phase of sleep. Get your required 7 - 8 hours, and do your best to ensure that it’s uninterrupted (i.e., put your phone on silent).
  5. Supplement. A 2001 study by Peters, Anderson & Theron concluded that getting 3 grams of Vitamin C a day helps lower cortisol levels. It’s also believed that supplementing with glutamine may help. If you’re concerned, you may wish to consider these options.

The biggest takeaway is the importance of quality vs. quantity when it comes to your gym time. Spending more time at the gym may actually have the opposite effect that you intend, so keep your workouts shorter, efficient and effective.

Are You Skinny Fat?

I know a lot of people that are relatively skinny - but that do not exercise in any way shape or form. Some of these people follow strict diets, while others eat whatever they want. But alas, there is a difference between looking thin and being healthy - and that difference is body composition.

Thin people that do not exercise are often considered “skinny fat” - a recently coined term referring to people that look thin on the outside, but that have a disproportionate amount of fatty tissue on the inside. They look healthy on the outside - but the inside tells a very different story. My mom always said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and the skinny fat epidemic is proving her correct.

The number on the scale is not an accurate measure of your body’s health. Period. A scale can be massively misleading - true health isn’t measured by weight alone, but rather by a number of factors like body fat testing, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and so on.

Fortunately, skinny fat is very treatable. It just takes a little energy, effort and dedication. Here are some of my best tips for breaking out of the skinny fat syndrome:

  1. Do cardiovascular and strength training exercises. Cardio means hitting the treadmill, bike or swimming. Do an exercise that you enjoy - but that makes you sweat. Strength training means lifting weights or using weighted machines. Cardio incinerates fat and boosts you metabolism; it will build needed muscle and help to improve your fat to muscle ratio.
  2. Don’t eat whatever you want. You know what’s healthy and what is not - stick to a reasonable nutrition plan. I recommend using the 80/20 rule.
  3. Manage your stress. With stress comes cortisol and with cortisol comes abdominal fat and muscle breakdown. Managing stress will not just improve your life - but it will improve your health.

Bottom line: Don’t gauge your healthy but a scale alone - and wherever you’re at on your health and wellness journey, exercise and nutrition are necessary components.