Do you find yourself incessantly tossing and turning at night, struggling to find some way to shut off your mind and get some sleep?
Have you experienced (or are you currently experienced) low motivation and desire to attack your workouts?
Does your physique seem “softer” when looking in the mirror or at weekly progress photos?
If you answered yes to any (or all) of these questions, then there’s a good chance that you’re feeling rather stressed.
And, while stress is an inherent (and necessary) part of life, the sad reality is that too much stress can actually impair your progress and lead to plateaus in your training and fat loss.
Today, we examine why stress might be holding back progression in your training program or transformation challenge.
Let’s begin with an overview of what stress is and why it’s necessary (to a certain degree).
When discussing stress, there are a few important things to keep in mind.
- Stress is the body’s response to any perceived threat -- emotional, psychological, or physical
- When we perceive, our adrenal glands secrete cortisol (the primary “stress” hormone)
- Stress is necessary in order for the body to adapt and become stronger, more resilient (i.e. resistance training)
- There is a baseline “threshold” of stress that must be reached in order to force the body to adapt
- Too small of a stress and there won’t be much of a need to adapt
- However, imposing too much stress to the point where the body cannot cope with it mentally or physically can decrease the rate of adaptation
- The body does NOT differentiate between different types of stress (mental vs physical) to a certain degree. But, there are specific adaptations depending on what type of stress the body encounters (resistance training vs deadlines at work, for example). Still the flood of hormones and catecholamines that accompany a stress exposure are more or less the same.
- Chronic stress can lead to many deleterious consequences leading to various endocrine disorders and countless other adverse effects
What this means is that all the stressors the body is exposed to compound over time, and the body only has so many reserves for dealing with and recovering from stress.
Tax the body’s adaptive reserves too much and you begin to impede recovery and blunt adaptation, meaning the body spends most of its time just trying to get back to baseline and won’t necessarily become stronger or more resilient.
Furthermore, chronic stress has been known to lead to numerous undesirable consequences, including[2,3,4]:
- Disrupted energy utilization and storage (i.e. increased fat gain and stunted fat burning)
- Impaired sleep
- Increased feelings of hunger and decreased feelings of satiety
- Insulin resistance
- Muscle wasting
- Decreased cognitive function
Therefore, it’s important to consider all manner of stressors when laying out a training program.
Someone who is working an 80-hour work week with a family and little children typically has more psychological and emotional stress to deal with than the single 20-something working a 9-to-5.
What this means is that these two individuals have drastically different “adaptive reserves” that can be allocated to recovering from training.
The single 20-something will typically be able to endure more frequent and higher intensity workouts due to having less demands placed on their adaptive reserves than the individual working 80 hours per week with toddlers at home.
As such, the two will have different training regimens and recovery protocols.
However, that doesn’t mean both individuals can’t get amazing results.
It just necessitates an individualized approach to diet, training, recovery, and stress management.
Speaking of stress management, let’s now review some ways you can help mitigate stress in your life and limit the chance for plateaus in your training and physique goals!
How to Manage Stress
This may seem a bit odd, considering the fact that intense exercise is a form of stress to the body.
But, research has shown that exercise is an effective way to reduce stress.
More specifically, exercise has been shown to lower cortisol levels and boost levels of “happy” hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
Regular physical activity also improves sleep quality, which can be impaired by stress.
As we mentioned above, the trick with exercise is to find the right dose for you. Too much intense exercise can actually lead to chronically elevated cortisol, symptoms of overtraining, and plateaus.
Therefore, as with all things is life, some is good (and necessary), but more is not always better.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Chronic stress is associated with poorer diet choices (high-calorie foods that offer little in the way of micronutrients).
Maintaining a healthy diet may help keep stress in check.
This starts with creating a weekly meal plan and meal prepping.
When you know what you’re going to eat throughout the week it eliminates the mental stress and anxiety of what to eat, when you’re going to eat, and will that meal be in line with your performance and physique goals.
Consuming more whole foods and less processed foods also supports steadier blood sugar and energy levels throughout the day, which helps you avoid highs and lows and maintain a more even keel.
Go for a Walk in Nature
When you’re feeling stressed at work or at home, or lacking the motivation to train in your normal gym, take things outside.
Being outdoors, even as little as a 20-minute walk, has been found to help significantly help reduce stress levels.
Reduce Caffeine Intake
Caffeine is fantastic for many things.
It boosts energy, arousal, alertness, and performance -- both physically and mentally by delaying the onset of fatigue.
But, not everyone responds well to high doses of caffeine. In fact, for some individuals, consuming caffeine (even moderate amounts) can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress.
While research has shown that caffeine is safe and effective, if you find yourself getting jittery or on edge when using it, consider reducing or flat-out eliminating it from your diet.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is crucial to health, wellness, performance, and even stress management.
The reason for this is that sleep deprivation comes with a cavalcade of nasty side effects, including:
- Altered hunger and satiety signaling
- Insulin resistance
- Low energy
- Lack of motivation
- Reduced performance
- Imparied energy utilization
- Increased cortisol levels
Basically, everything works the opposite way it should when you’re sleep deprived.
This is because sleep deprivation is a tremendous stress to the body. One of the simplest things you can do to keep stress in check is by establishing a nighttime ritual and getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each and every night.
Now, many individuals have trouble sleeping due to other sources of stress in their life, you can check out some of the supplements discussed next, or look into a premium-quality sleep aid, such as 1UP Recharge PM Burner or Beauty Dream.
It can also be helpful to reduce or eliminate exposure to sources of stress in the 2-3 hours before bed, including (but not limited to) work emails, social media, and news outlets.
Science has uncovered several all-natural ingredients that can help reduce stress and decrease cortisol, including:
- KSM-66 Ashwagandha -- centuries old adaptogen that improves the body’s stress response
- L-Theanine -- amino acid naturally occurring in green tea noted to help reduce stress and anxiety (and improve sleep quality) by increasing GABA levels in the brain
- 5-HTP -- direct precursor to the “happy neurotransmitter” serotonin which has been noted to improve mood and reduce feelings of anxiety
As an added bonus, each of these ingredients can be found in 1UP Nutrition Hormone Support Plus.
Stress is a necessary part of life. Without it, you’d never be able to grow or become stronger.
At the same time, too much stress is counterproductive and can actually harm your progress.
The key is to find out the right “dose” of stress (especially in regard to training) that is right for you.
Beyond that, if you’re dealing with other sources of stress in your life, try some of the stress management tips outlined above to keep calm, cool, and collected when life throws you a curve ball.
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- Yan YX, Xiao HB, Wang SS, et al. Investigation of the Relationship Between Chronic Stress and Insulin Resistance in a Chinese Population. J Epidemiol. 2016;26(7):355‐360. doi:10.2188/jea.JE20150183
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- Shaw, K., Turner, J., & Del Mar, C. (2002). Tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan for depression. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1), CD003198.https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD003198
- A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). Indian journal of psychological medicine, 34(3), 255.
- Mary Carol R. Hunter, Brenda W. Gillespie, Sophie Yu-Pu Chen. Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Frontiers in Psychology, 2019; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722
- Widaman, A. M., Witbracht, M. G., Forester, S. M., Laugero, K. D., & Keim, N. L. (2016). Chronic Stress Is Associated with Indicators of Diet Quality in Habitual Breakfast Skippers. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(11), 1776–1784. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.03.016
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