Stress looms ominously. We are constantly trying to undo the stress we endure. Then the holidays kick in and everything gets thrown out the window: less exercise, more food, more stress. ‘Tis the season to give yourself a reason to make some changes and kick up your stress reduction techniques.
When we are under high stress (ie: long athletic events), we secrete a hormone called cortisol from our adrenal glands. This, in turn, releases more glucose from storage (glycogen) in our liver or muscles into the blood, to keep up with the energy demands of our muscles and brain.
Normally when glucose is high, insulin is secreted to help move that glucose into the red blood cells or turn excess glucose into glycogen. Furthermore, when we exercise (ie: weight train), GLUT4 receptors on our red blood cells increase their sensitivity and move glucose into the cells more effectively to become energy.
In acute stress, release of glucose is great for healing, but with chronic stress, glucose is constantly floating in the blood, not being shunted into the cells because insulin can’t keep up. This causes the pancreas to ‘tire out,’ leading to major spikes and dips in energy, food cravings, concentration problems or even insulin resistance.
Furthermore, pesky high cortisol inhibits osteoblasts (bone forming cells) and decreases calcium absorption from the small intestine, leading to decreased healing time of bones and possible decreased bone density. Chronic stress causes the body to hold onto stubborn fat and alters electrolyte balance, leading to fluid and weight retention, especially around the mid-section.
So, how do we combat the cortisol, slow the ‘festive weight’ from coming, and get over our injuries faster?
Proper sleep resets our cortisol rhythm. With adequate sleep (7-9 hours), our cortisol is highest in the morning and even signals us to wake up, then slowly drops throughout the day to signal us to go to bed. We need to reset our rhythm each night by establishing a consistent sleep-wake routine and no screen time at least an hour before bed.
It’s hard over the holidays, but doing your best to avoid all the sugary treats is crucial. Ensure that you have protein and healthy fat at each meal, high fibre, low glycemic-index carbohydrates, all of which take longer for your body to digest and therefore cause a slower rise in blood glucose.
3. Reduce Stress
It may be time to finally try yoga, meditation, tai chi, qi gong, journaling, painting, etc. Exercise is great, but if we do too much, too vigorously, then we stress our body and secrete too much cortisol, which is counterproductive to all your efforts! Try doing mild-moderate activity outside in nature!
It may be time to think about supplementing if you’ve been under chronic stress and your performance or recovery are not improving. You might need to get some extra nutrition in the form of vitamins and minerals to replenish your low stores.
We should be getting at least 2 L/day to help flush out the toxins and metabolic waste products formed from exercise and injuries, as well as creating a highway to transport more healing cells to injured areas.
Overworked adrenal glands use vitamin C, vitamin B5 and B6, all of which are key components of collagen formation; collagen makes up many tissues in the body, including tendons, ligaments, and bones.
If we deplete the building blocks of collagen, do not eat enough protein for healing, eat excess sugar and thus overwork our pancreas, we are not creating the environment needed to recover, heal, or perform effectively.
Applying these five tips can assist in minimizing your glucose and daily stress levels.