How to rebuild your metabolic rate by reducing stress
Eating too little and exercising too much can result in disastrous consequences for your metabolism's ability to process food. Here, Stephanie Osfield explores how you can rebuild your metabolic rate by reducing stress levels.
Training benefits may not necessarily require you being drenched in sweat with wobbling legs – at least not all the time. Intense, exhausting exercise routines, back-to-back gym workouts and hours of cardio can be detrimental to your body composition goals, according to hormone and nutrition expert Magdalena Wszelaki.
“I constantly hear from women who can’t lose any weight no matter how many squats, sprints and burpees, circuits or aerobics classes they do,” says Wszelaki. “These fitness conscious women complain that they don’t have great muscle tone and can’t shift their wobbly bits or cellulite even though they spend hours every week at the gym – jogging, pumping weights, sprinting on treadmills and in spin and pump classes.”
In desperation, women often increase their training from one hour to several, hoping that with excess will come results – only damaging their metabolism further. The common ‘carb-phobia’ means workouts are simultaneously under-fuelled, decreasing motivation as you feel depleted, lacking energy and display poor performance during your session.
Blame it all (or at least most of it) on cortisol. Mild, moderate and high-intensity exercise all raise your stress-hormone levels – and the more taxing the workout, the higher the cortisol release.
“Cortisol is also a stress hormone you release as part of your ‘fight or flight’ stress response,” says Wszelaki.
“In a healthy, well functioning body, that rise is only temporary. But if you have health, hormonal or stress issues, or if your cortisol is chronically elevated, then exercise can push your cortisol even higher.”
The upshot? You will find it very difficult to develop a lean physique, despite all your best efforts. In fact, too much exercise may end up contributing to a muffin top because excess cortisol encourages mid-section fat storage.
“Cortisol’s job is to pull blood sugars, fats and protein from where they are stored and get them into your bloodstream fast to give you energy to get through the emergency,” Wszelaki explains. “So cortisol also encourages you to store more fat, particularly unhealthy visceral fat, at your belly. If you are constantly stressed and you are doing lots of intense exercise, the double whammy of cortisol may actually be a major roadblock to becoming more lean, and building more muscle.”
To repair the damage:
Strike a pose: slow-moving forms of exercise such as a scenic walk, yoga and tai chi naturally counter stress hormones because they have calming effects on mind and body, which lower cortisol levels.
Avoid marathons: or back-to-back high-intensity workouts.
Engage in regular weight training: exercising with kettlebells, bar bells and handweights can help your body build more muscle.
Exercise smarter, not longer: “Just as you can hit a plateau with weight loss after weeks on a low kilojoule diet, the same adaptation effect can happen with exercise,” says Kate Pumpa, Associate Professor in Nutrition, Dietetics and Exercise Physiology at the University of Canberra. “As your fitness improves, your heart rate increases less during a workout so you utilise less energy and burn less kilojoules.”
The best fightback? “Instead of increasing the volume of your workout, increase the variety,” Pumpa advises. During the week, mix up high-intensity training sessions which elevate your heart rate with lower-intensity walking, yoga, swimming or cycling. Meanwhile, increase the challenge of each and every session so your body is pushed to adapt.
Grab the May 2017 edition of Women's Health and Fitness magazine for the full article.