One of the most underestimated factors in achieving fitness results, which can actually be the biggest thing holding you back, is hormonal balances.
Our hormones literally run our body. They have an effect on pretty much every single system in our body and if we don’t treat them right they can wreak havoc on our bodies.
But before you freak out wondering what’s wrong with your hormones or if they’re functioning right, I will tell you that if you are alive, pain-free and not in a hospital bed… You’re most likely ok! So don’t panic!
But, I will say that I am sure you could be benefiting from your hormones much more than you currently are and if you are not seeing results then this could be the very reason why!
So how can you benefit from them? Well it can be a lot simpler than you’re probably imagining. Train properly and frequently, get good sleep, eat nutrient dense foods and hydrate properly.
But today what I will be explaining to you in detail is how NUTRITION can play a HUGE factor in receiving the most hormonal benefits and how your DIET can help you achieve optimal hormone function leading to outstanding physique results!
Insulin may be one of the most talked about hormone when it comes to the effect a diet can play on hormones and it makes sense why it is. When we eat carbs, the glucose from those carbs travels into the bloodstream, which triggers your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin then attaches to the glucose molecules and carries them to the cells, where they are used for energy. Glucagon is another pancreatic hormone, but it has almost the opposite effect of insulin. When we go without eating carbs for an extended period of time, the pancreas releases glucagon, which then signals the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose. Then the glucose will be transferred into the bloodstream so that it can be used as an energy source until we consume more food/carbs.
So what does this mean for you? This gives you an outline of how we can control blood sugar levels and insulin to get the most out of our workouts. This could mean consuming carbs before workouts or more often to ensure you have the proper fuel to perform at your best during an intense training session. It could also mean that if you’re looking to lose more fat, drop carbs a bit and only consume them post workout. This will ensure that we use STORED glucose/glycogen (carbs) as our fuel to train, which is exactly how you will burn STORED fat.
The biggest thing we need to remember is that keeping insulin at a low and steady level throughout the day is going to lead to better fat loss, but that doesn’t mean we should NEVER consume carbs or ALWAYS keep insulin low. Doing this will only lead to horrible workout performance, which will never give us good results.
So what to do? Keep carbs in our post workout window and as you get leaner SLOWLY add more carbs in throughout the day because the leaner we get the more carb tolerant we will be. Eventually you’ll be able to eat more, have a faster metabolism, and recover quicker for better workouts ultimately leading to a leaner, stronger and more muscular you!
Leptin is made of adipose tissue (fat) and it gets secreted in the circulatory system. It then travels to the hypothalamus to tell it “Hey, we have plenty of fat… stop eating”. Leptin also can help increase metabolism according to some studies.
In easy terms the more fat you have, the more leptin you produce and the less fat you have, the less leptin you will produce. But because leptin tells us to stop eating or eat less and it can help raise the metabolic rate, higher leptin can lead to higher fat loss. So this is where “Cheat Meals” or “Refeeds” came about. Because eating a calorie surplus can tell our leptin hormones that we need to stop eating and raise metabolism. So when we do this and jump right back to a low-calorie diet, we burn more fat!
But wait… so I eat a big ol’ greasy meal and I will burn more fat?! Not exactly, so don’t get to excited. If we get to carried away with eating then we can become leptin resistant. This is where we are producing too much leptin, which turns the signal off and stops the brain from fully listening to the leptin response. So no increase in metabolism and in some cases your brain can even think you’re entering starvation mode because as far as it can tell your not producing enough leptin, since the signal stopped working. This will only cause increased fat storage and more hunger.
So how do we solve this vicious cycle? Simple. Eat a clean, macronutrient balanced diet that will allow you to slowly lose weight the healthy way. Every once in a while, timing will be different for everyone depending on many factors, have a cheat meal. Notice I said MEAL and not DAY! Everyone deserves to enjoy a nice burger or slice of pizza every once in a while and for some that can be once a week and for others once a month. To master this system a little better, check out my in-depth article on Cheat Meals/Refeeds Here!
Cortisol is a hormone that the adrenal gland will secrete in the response of stress. It is technically considered a glucocorticoid (a hormone that will increase blood sugar levels). Cortisol is raised in any high stress situation or “life-threatening” situation. This is the body’s way of entering sympathetic or parasympathetic mode, or more well-known as a fight or flight response depending on the type stress or threat happening.
Now just because this is the hormonal response of a threatening and/or a stressful situation does not mean it will ALWAYS happen upon stress. But it can occur from types of physical, mental, emotional or exercise/diet induced stress placed on the body. Exercise/diet induced stress can be simply too intense of training or extremely low-calorie diets.
Cortisol can be related to weight gain by elevating blood pressure, causing imbalances in blood sugar, decreasing immune response, and can be linked to increasing abdominal fat. Now because of the last side effect listed (abdominal fat) people have claimed that high levels of cortisol is the reason they’ve gained weight or can’t lose fat, well unfortunately this is not completely true.
Cortisol can be raised from vigorous high intensity training, which we all very well know burns a great amount of fat. Cortisol has even been shown to help burn a little extra fat by allowing you to get some extra energy from entering into that fight or flight mode, A.K.A. escape from death mode!
So what causes the weight gain? In most cases it is as simple as an overly stressed lifestyle, which causes the cortisol hormone to be raised for long periods of times, and/or stress induced eating. Most people get very stressed out and go eat junk food rather than running sprints when they’re stressed out.
So the solution is simple, first off avoid any stress induced eating because that is going to be your largest contributing factor to weight gain. Secondly, set some time aside for you each and every day! Everyone should have at least one full hour to do something they enjoy, relax, go to yoga, or simply get away so that they can not worry about anything but being happy.
Estrogen is an easy one, for us guys we just want to keep it as LOW as possible and for you ladies out there you just want to keep it at a good balance.
So how do we do that?
Well we know that flax and soy foods are estrogenic producing foods, therefore if you’re a guy I would typically recommend staying away from those foods. Does that mean you cannot have them? No, just moderate them and don’t over consume them. I use Braggs Liquid Aminos almost every single day, which is a soy product. But I don’t over use it and I don’t really eat any other soy products so I’m not too worried about the little bit I consume.
A study was done on a man who drank soy milk every single day as a typical beverage and consumed a large amount when doing so, over time his testosterone levels dropped so much that he was receiving what seemed to be ball-shaped things under his nipples, no sexual arousal or drive, face/body hair loss, mood swings, and more. They later found that it was predominantly from the over consumption of soy.
So my suggestion is for guys to get their protein from other sources like meats and whey and keep soy intake low. For women, I still suggest consuming their protein from other sources because of the amino acid (BCAA) profiles but I do give the ok to eat/drink soy products without worries.
This one can be detrimental to your results if you’re a male, but isn’t a huge concern for women. Although the same nutrients that aid in good testosterone production for men also have big fat loss benefits for women, so either way this is an important nutrient to pay attention too…. And it’s FAT!
The specific type of fat is Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. If you don’t consume enough or have a deficiency in either one it can cause a big decrease in your testosterone, which can cause a negative effect on your metabolism. Testosterone is also our main anabolic (muscle-building) hormone, so without high levels of testosterone we decrease are ability to not only build muscle but also our ability to preserve or maintain it. Foods high in these fats are fish oil, flax, nuts, and seeds.
Well that’s it guys! Thanks for sticking with me on this one and I promise you if you abide by these hormonal guidelines you will benefit much more than those readers who didn’t stick with reading the entire article!
Apply it and watch your training, recovery, mood and body composition improve!