Stress vs Recovery


Recovery is highly under-emphasized when it comes to making changes to ones body.

Once your level of stress and specific hormone production (stress hormones) hit a critical level,  your body halts all progress. We work extremely hard adding and creating different stress producing variables (listed below) to stimulate the positive effects (hypertrophy, body fat loss, body comp changes, etc). This type of stress hormone production through extreme adrenal gland stimulation is beneficial, however, if we produce too much, we leave our optimal hormone zone and instead create a detrimental condition called adrenal fatigue.

As we increase the variables of stress, we need to make sure we bring ourselves back down into the recovery zone. We push ourselves through that extremely hard workout to get the benefit from it, so we then need to take the necessary steps to decrease the level of hormone production and let our central nervous system (CNS) recover. If we never let our bodies decompress and recover, we will literally never get back down into the optimal range of hormone production and CNS recovery.

As we workout and diet, we create stress but don’t go over the threshold. We then add in stressors we can control (listed below). For example, If we don’t get optimal sleep, stress level continues to rise rather than decrease, so instead of CNS stimulation dropping back to the recovery base line, it continues to go upward producing even more stress hormones. Then we add in some life stressors – for example, we all have jobs, kids to take care of – simply things we cannot control but need to make sure get done. This adds to why we don’t sleep properly, why we don’t time our nutrients correctly. Now we get back on the scale and no changes happened or even worse, it went up. So now we stress even more, causing zero chance of our body ever getting back to baseline recovery and never getting into the zone of positive body changes.

So now it’s the next day and it’s time to work out again, but our stressor line is still way above the zone of positive body changes let alone back down to baseline recovery. What do we do though? We have to go workout and diet harder because obviously more is better. And it’s been beaten into us – if you do more and eat less you will lose weight! WRONG. We rest. We need to rest and get back down to stress-free (or stress-limited) homeostasis.

How Stress Can Cause Weight Gain

Stressors induced from program:

  • Weight training
  • Cardio
  • Caloric deficit from nutrition intake and energy expenditure

Specific stressors we are in control of:

  • Sleep schedule
  • Optimal nutrition
  • Worrying about why you’re not losing weight

Life, uncontrollable stressors:

  • Previous dieting history and health history (most important)
  • Job
  • Kids
  • Significant other
  • Dog
  • Other variables we just have no control over and have to take care of

To compound the issue – not only does stress inhibit weight loss, but its side effects are directly correlated to weight gain.

So now after days, months – and for most of you women – years of this cycle, you are not anywhere near baseline recovery. We are just adding to the horrible situation of stress hormone production. So how do we fix this? Everyone is different. The longer the dieting history of someone, along with genetics, play a role. Some people can recover quickly by taking a week off from everything and NOT CARING about your diet. Others who have severe long dieting histories, past eating disorders, and poor genetic make up in terms of glucose disposable, insulin sensitivity, and ability to burn body fat can seriously take months or even years. No matter what, when damage is done, it’s done. It’s cumulative and if I have a client who has been in a caloric deficit, running themselves into the ground for years on end we almost have created an irreversible situation. No matter what, it’s going to be a long tough road of dieting to see minimal weight loss, however this is not everyone as most just need a few weeks of eating more food, taking a break from the gym and relaxing.

Let’s look at this in a bit more detail:

Graph 1: Initial phase of working out, dieting and adding in some life stressors.  Hormones and CNS stimulation is on the rise.

Graph 2: Now we decide to not time our nutrients properly or sleep enough because we have work that has to get done by tomorrow and the kids are running wild today. Notice how we barely start to recover and are not even back in the optimal zone for body changes, let alone recovery.

Graph 3: We wake up from our 3 hours of sleep and get on the scale. OMG, it went up! Now we stress even more. Stress hormone production is on the rise again, Now it’s time for our workout because it’s in our program that we have to workout 4 days a week. CNS stimulation and hormones rise even more, creating more stress.

Graph 4: We take our protein post workout, and stimulate a bit of recovery.

Graph 5: We need to rush home after our workout to get the kids ready for school, and get everything together for work. Oh, shit. I forgot I need to prep some meals for the day as well. Stress is back on the rise.

And so on! It’s a VICIOUS cycle that is cumulative. If we never bring it back down, we will NEVER – and I mean NEVER – see results.

The biggest take home is RECOVERY. If you’re not sleeping, cramming in nutrients at random times of the day because “it fits my macros” rather then timing them properly around your workouts, running yourself into the ground, stressing about your progress on top of all the normal life stressors, you will NEVER see progress.

The most important thing to do is NOT go to the gym and take a rest/recovery day. If you feel so beat down and tired, you’re wasting your time and only adding to the problem.

I know how hard it is for some of you to believe – and it’s usually my female clients who are stuck looking at the same numbers on the scale wondering why other people are seeing results when they’re not. When you take a guy and put him in a caloric deficit, he almost always loses weight. WHY? Because half of the time they do not care! I literally call it the “Chill the F out and get Laid” diet. I’m sorry if that comes off rude, but it has worked miracles with my clients. I truly cannot try hard stressing these points (no pun intended): just relaxing and not caring for some of you who have looked in the mirror every day for the last however many years just need to NOT care for a little while. We need to do whatever possible to lower your stress hormone production and facilitate CNS recovery. How?

DIETING AND WORKOUT BREAKS. We need to let our bodies rest. We’re general population people with sub par genetics looking to make dramatic body composition changes. Even pro athletes with the best genetics in the world take breaks and rests. What makes you think that you don’t need one as well.


Articles on stress related hormones:

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