How Stress Affects Your Gains

Written by: Club Bunker



Time to read min

Stress affects your body in various ways, causing headaches, muscle tension, chest flutters, and changes in appetite. However, these symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg. Chronic stress can significantly impact every organ and system in your body, including the nervous, circulatory, digestive, and immune systems.

Effects of Stress on the body

When you're stressed, your heart rate and blood pressure increase. Most people can handle these changes. However, even short-term stress can greatly affect your heart if it's severe.

Stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine impact the body in various ways, disrupting sleep and raising the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and anxiety.

Stress triggers inflammation, which is linked to several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, and pain.

Chronic stress is associated with increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, immune cells that usually defend against infections. But when chronically activated, as with stress, these cytokines can harm the heart.

Stress affects the digestive tract, which contains nerve endings and immune cells affected by stress hormones. This can lead to acid reflux, worsen symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, and cause the feeling of butterflies in your stomach.

Stress weakens the immune system, which may explain why people often catch a cold after periods of intense stress at school or work.

Even everyday stress can impact the brain. Brain scans of individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder show increased activity in the amygdala, a region associated with fear and emotion.Everyday stress can also affect how the brain processes information. Chronic stress results in actual changes in brain structure, function, and connectivity, which can affect cognition, attention, and make it challenging to focus and learn.

Stress increases sensitivity to pain and can cause muscular tension, leading to discomfort.

Furthermore, stress disrupts sleep, which is crucial for disease prevention, immune system functioning, and avoiding depression, irritability, and exhaustion.

Effects of Stress on Fat loss

Stress can greatly affect your weight. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol and unhealthy stress-induced behaviors contribute to weight gain. Stress eating, craving high-fat and high-sugar foods, becomes addictive but leads to weight gain and worsens health.

Stress increases cortisol production, promoting body fat accumulation, especially around the abdomen, raising the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Stress disrupts sleep, elevating the hunger hormone ghrelin, causing excessive hunger even when unnecessary. Excessive alcohol consumption during stress also suppresses long-term feel-good chemicals.

Stress disrupts routines, leading to erratic eating patterns and long gaps between meals, which can cause weight gain as the body stores fat for energy.

Stress diminishes the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) function responsible for planning, decision-making, willpower, and emotional regulation. Impulsive behavior, unhealthy food choices, and emotional eating can result.

Managing stress and incorporating healthy habits can counteract the negative impact of stress on weight and overall well-being.


Effects of Stress on Muscle development

Stress can significantly affect muscle development and overall body composition. Anabolic hormones such as growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, and testosterone play a crucial role in protein synthesis, promoting muscle growth and preventing protein breakdown. However, stress hormones can have the opposite effect, leading to the catabolism of muscle proteins and reducing muscle strength. Moreover, stress hormones can induce oxidative damage in skeletal muscles, compromising their quality and function. Studies have demonstrated that acute daily psychological stress can trigger atrophic gene expression and loss of muscle mass.

When stress becomes chronic and prolonged, its impact on muscle growth becomes more pronounced. Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, plays a significant role in inhibiting muscle development. It does so by blocking the release of testosterone, a vital growth hormone for muscle growth. Additionally, cortisol draws on the body's resources for quick energy, breaking down muscle protein through a process called muscle atrophy. This not only prevents energy slumps but also hinders muscle development, leading to stalled or reversed progress.

Furthermore, high cortisol levels can promote fat storage in specific areas of the body, such as the belly, hips, thighs, and buttocks. This alteration in body composition can affect muscle mass and fat tissue distribution, which may not align with one's expectations. Additionally, elevated cortisol levels can disrupt sleep patterns and compromise the immune system. As rest and recovery are crucial for muscle development, these changes further impede muscle growth.

In a culture where chronic stress has become normalized due to its prevalence, it is essential to understand its impact on health. Although the understanding of the brain's workings is still in its early stages, there is a growing realization that our thoughts and mental state can affect our physical well-being.

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To grasp how cortisol affects body composition, we can examine its effects on lean body mass (muscle mass) and fat mass. Research dating back to 1964 has suggested that cortisol hampers protein synthesis, hindering the development of new muscle. Studies involving the introduction of cortisol to healthy individuals found a link between cortisol and inactivity with the loss of lean body mass, muscle loss, and overall negative effects on body composition. While inactivity alone can contribute to muscle loss, the catabolic effects of cortisol play a significant role in this process.

Further studies have explored the relationship between stress and muscular recovery. In a study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research in 2014, researchers measured perceived energy, fatigue, and soreness levels in individuals after strenuous resistance exercise over a four-day period. The study revealed that over time, stress had a statistically significant impact on perceived energy, fatigue, and soreness levels, negatively influencing the recovery of muscular function after exercise.

Cortisol's impact on fat mass has been explored through limited insights from animal studies. A study conducted by the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in 2009 investigated the effects of social stress on a group of female primates. The study found that subordinate individuals, experiencing more stress, displayed greater proportions of body fat, particularly visceral fat, which is associated with detrimental health effects such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Similarly, a study conducted by the University of California's Health Psychology Program in 2000 found that stress-induced cortisol secretion could contribute to an increase in fat mass. Interestingly, leaner subjects were found to be at higher risk than those with greater body fat percentages, suggesting a potential positive feedback loop between stress, cortisol, and fat gain.

The impact of stress extends beyond hindering specific aspects of fitness development; it affects every aspect of overall body composition. Stress makes it harder to build muscle, lose fat, and reap the benefits of exercise. Furthermore, it can disrupt diet and sleep patterns, which are essential for achieving muscle growth.

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Ways to reduce stress

Here are some ways to reduce stress levels and optimize your gains:

  • Practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness.
  • Engage in regular physical exercise, as it helps reduce stress and promotes the release of endorphins, which improve mood.
  • Prioritize sleep and ensure an adequate amount of restful sleep each night.
  • Maintain a balanced and nutritious diet to support overall well-being and reduce inflammation.
  • Incorporate relaxation activities into your routine, such as yoga, stretching, or taking walks in nature.
  • Seek social support from friends, family, or support groups to share your feelings and experiences.
  • Limit exposure to stressors by setting boundaries and managing time effectively.
  • Engage in hobbies or activities that bring joy and relaxation.
  • Consider seeking professional help or counselling if stress levels are persistent or overwhelming.
  • Practice self-care and self-compassion, allowing yourself time for rest, leisure, and self-reflection.

Remember, everyone's response to stress is unique, so finding the most effective strategies for stress reduction may require some experimentation and personalization.