Reach Maximum Anabolic Potential During Exercise

In theory, stress hormones inhibit muscle gain. However, in life, things appear quite different. In fact, stress and muscle gain go hand in hand, such as during exercise. The level of the stress hormone cortisol rises and falls in a wavelike manner during exercise. Taking advantage of the cortisol wave via special exercise intervals may help induce a peak anabolic potential.

This is how it works: Cortisol production is stimulated by the hypothalamic stress-related hormone adrenocorticoscopic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is a stimulating hormone that is secreted during stress or fasting. ACTH plays a major role in regulating a negative feedback loop that controls circulating levels of cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol would decrease circulating levels of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (the hormone that regulates ACTH), thus decreasing ACTH and cortisol level. That negative control loop is probably what keeps the cortisol level from skyrocketing during physical stress and gives it a wavelike characteristic.

Both cortisol and androgen levels are elevated during exercise. Nonetheless, the adrenal gland is not a main source of androgen production. In fact, overall androgen levels can increase, probably because of an increase in both gonadals and adrenal androgens. For maximum anabolic impact, it's important to keep androgen levels high and cortisol levels low.

Undereating coupled with exercise increases levels of both androgens and cortisol. However, because of the cortisol wave, there is a threshold

time by which cortisol levels decrease. This temporary decrease in cortisol level may create a hormonal balance that favors androgen to cortisol and thereby helps increase anabolic potential. Therefore, duration of exercise intervals is most important in defining whether the exercise-related stress will induce an anabolic or a catabolic state.

To take advantage of the cortisol wave, try to incorporate a few minutes of intense preworkout sets (either resistance exercise or sprint intervals). These intense warmup sets may help activate the cortisol wave, inducing a sharp rise and fall in cortisol levels, thereby giving the body the threshold time it needs to induce a temporary low cortisol level and to establish maximum anabolic potential for the upcoming workout set.

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