Here’s our final post in this blog series on stress and adrenal insufficiency, where we’ll cover the optimal way to exercise for the stressed individual trying to lose body fat and get in shape
1. The Time of Day
First off, let’s talk about when you exercise, because with less than optimal adrenal health and a skewed cortisol rhythm, the time of day makes a big difference.
It’s also worth mentioning (again) that stress comes in many forms, both psychological and physiological. For instance – you may not feel stressed per se, but be in fact have major physiological stressors e.g. from food sensitivities, toxic load, blood sugar regulation.
A good indication of poor stress/cortisol management is body fat storage around the abdominal region (stomach), which can be addressed through optimal training, optimal nutrition and BioSignature Modulation when necessary.
Ideally, you should train in the morning. This is when the adrenal glands are at their most active and the hormone cortisol (stress hormone) is supposed to be at its highest.
A good strategy is for your training to be placed at some point between 8am and 12am (for the person that wakes at 6am). If you don’t wake up at 6am, then consider your optimal window to be 2-5 hours after waking. Sometimes 9-to-5ers feel like they can only train later in the day. And this is fine. The most important thing is that you actually do get to exercise at some point. Timing of exercise is of secondary importance, and if you can only work out in evenings, then so be it. But if possible, try to train before work or around lunch time.
Training in the evening isn’t the best thing, as this is the time of day your cortisol levels should theoretically be declining, and you are progressively getting more ready for the end of the day (sleep). Hard exercise too near to bed-time will stimulate the adrenal glands and throw off their natural rhythm, which will elevate cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine at the time of day you should be focusing on their reduction and focusing instead on increasing inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin.
2. The Type of Exercise: Shorter, Sharper, More Frequent
What you should be focusing on is the quality of exercise … not the quantity. More is not always better. And certainly not in the case of the someone with poor stress management trying to lose fat.
In fact, if you take the chronic-cardio approach, as do the people who endlessly jog away on their treadmills every day, you will not lose body fat.
Your body will recognise, over time, that it needs to support a horrible, wasteful and exhausting process of excessive energy expenditure on a daily basis. And regardless of whether you think you’re burning fat by putting your heart rate in the ‘fat burning zone’, the net effect will be pretty abysmal.
In fact, your body is quite good at going into survival mode (having become quite smart over thousands of years of evolution)! If this happens, it will do everything and anything it can to actually hold onto the fat, storing it and saving it for emergency. This can even lead to increased fat storage, especially around the stomach, a mechanism that exists to ‘protect’ our vital organs which aren’t protected by bone from a perceived threat.
We see this in BioSig assessments when people with poor stress management increase their training volume more than their physiology can handle: their abdomen skinfold increases!
So in our training systems, we’re always careful not to overload the body with more than it can handle: avoiding ‘overtraining’ / ‘under-recovering’.
Instead, you should make your training slightly more intense, but for shorter durations – elevating your heart rate significantly, by using a combination of both resistance training techniques and cardio in the form of intervals.
As a rule of thumb too, the training session for the average person should not exceed 45 minutes. You can even get in a highly effective session in 15 minutes! Check this out.
Make no mistake though. True HIIT training is very demanding on the body. And if you’re suffering from adrenal dysfunction and/or high levels of stress on your body, you just cannot afford to train with full intensity all the time, no matter how hard you want to. This brings us onto the next point.
3. The Aim: Stimulate, not Destroy!
A lot of avid gym-goers get themselves into a rut: a chronically overtrained / overreached state… or even under-recovered.
Whatever terminology we want to use, what we’re referring to is a state where you’re body cannot deal with the recovery from your hard training sessions.
It’s not uncommon for really committed guys / girls who push themselves to their physical limits and continuously eat a clean diet to have:
- persistent tiredness
- higher body fat
- lower muscle mass
- inflamed joints, aches and pains
- poor sex drive.
Over enough time in this type of rut, symptoms of adrenal fatigue and even hypothyroid can start to get stronger and stronger.
This is bad news.
If you have issues with stress management and cortisol, you CAN still lose weight, increase muscle mass and control body fat.
But you have to be patient and strategic with the methods. Simply training more and eating less won’t cut it. It will only make matters worse.
What you need to do is focus on reducing the stress based load on the body, by cutting back on your intense all-out workouts, and instead participating in a more parasympathetic type of activity, such as yoga, swimming, sauna, stretching, mobility, moderate intensity cardio.
Although you can ‘exercise’ as often as you want, aim to ‘train’ no more than 3-4 times a week, for 30 minutes.
During your ‘training’ keep things at a moderate level, but not a high level of intensity. For instance, DO NOT go to failure on anything!
Getting into this mindset is tough, especially for people who love to train hard. But you’ve got to think about the bigger picture. Once your adrenals are on their pathway to recovery, you can begin to increase exercise intensity again. Not only that, but in this case you will actually be able to recover and reap the benefit, which was near impossible before in an adrenally fatigued over-trained gym goer.
Avoid these pitfalls:
- Dieting too hard… Just stop! Focus on good food choices and combinations, but not caloric restriction.
- Lack of sleep … Get at least 8 hours, no excuses! The importance of sleep cannot be emphasised enough.
- Acid load … Being acidic is a huge stress on the body, and just asking for muscle breakdown. You can offset this by ensuring alkalinity: balance out the protein you eat with enough fruits and vegetables, especially deep greens.
- Excessive training volume and duration
- Taking life too seriously … Enjoy yourself. Have fun. Embrace the power of increasing your mood. Happiness is an often overlooked factor in ‘health’, especially when we’re considering stress reduction!