In this article we will delve deeper into the world of carbohydrates and their effects on hormones. We will be discussing another hormone and its relationship with carbohydrates; Cortisol. We will be looking at how carbohydrate intake and timing effect the release of cortisol and its effects on sleep, carbohydrate storage and fat gain.
The hormone cortisol like many other hormones has many uses, the function we will be focusing on today is the extraction of glycogen (stored carbohydrates) from the muscles into the blood stream to be used for energy. When the body needs energy its will take it from various sources depending on the level of energy required, If we are exercising we use energy stored in the muscle and liver along with protein from the muscle and small amounts of fat this also occurs when our blood sugars are low such as after a period of sleep. If we are at rest just going by day to day tasks we are burning through blood sugar from carbohydrates, small amounts of fat and if blood sugar drops to an unsafe level or we engage in exercise we use some of the glycogen stored in the muscle. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for taking carbohydrates out of the muscle just like insulin is in charge of putting it in. (or in the fat depending on your ability to store the excess in the carb tank).
There is a natural release of cortisol from the adrenal glands that has been well documented and researched. Cortisol is released in ever growing amounts from around midnight to around 6am where it reaches its peak. Cortisol wakes us up in the morning naturally it then begins to reduce down in quantity as the day progresses and is usually completely shut off by 5pm. As mentioned earlier, one of cortisol's jobs is to keep the body's blood sugar at an optimal level by pulling glycogen out of the muscle, it knows exactly how much glycogen (carbohydrates) to remove from the muscles to keep our blood sugar at a healthy level. As you may recall from the article on insulin, whenever sugars such as glycogen are in the blood stream the body must release insulin to shuttle that sugar around the body to where it is needed. Basically cortisol's effect on insulin is much the same as carbohydrates is in the sense that they both increase the amount of insulin in the blood due to their effects on blood sugar. Cortisol and carbohydrates both effect the levels of insulin based on their effect on blood sugar, one comes from external foods coming into the body (carbohydrates) the other is increasing blood sugar by bringing carbohydrates that are already stored in the body (glycogen) into the blood steam and in doing so affecting the body's insulin levels. If we avoid carbohydrates all together or have a very low carb diet it will result in excessively high cortisol levels which will lead to very poor sleep and the breaking down of muscle tissue which results in a lower metabolism.
When we eat carbohydrates our body releases insulin to transport the digested sugars into various areas in the body. When the body detects that carbohydrates are causing the insulin to be secreted due to the elevated blood sugar it shuts off cortisol which stops us from taking carbohydrates from the muscle (carb tank). When we exercise, specifically high intensity cardio or resistance training our body requires energy stored in the muscle, cortisol switches back on and pulls the glycogen out of the muscle. In doing so it reduces the stores of the carb tank which will be refilled with the next serving of carbohydrates instead of being stored as fat. The same thing is happening from around midnight where cortisol begins to increase to a peak at around 6am reducing in its release as it approaches 12pm until it is completely shut off at around 5pm. In essence the body empties the carb tank at night and in the mornings, this means we burn most stored glycogen at night and in the hours leading up to midday. We should strive to promote this natural cortisol curve and burning of the carb tank stores so that when we do eat carbohydrates at the time that corresponds with the reduced excretion of cortisol later in the day these carbs will give us energy and replenish the stores in the carb tank instead of going overboard and being stored as fat.
The body understand that there may not be food available immediately upon rising so what it does is reach into its reserves (muscle) using cortisol as the tool to extract sugars to keep the body's blood sugar at a safe level. In doing so the body uses energy stored in the muscle (carb tank) for energy until carbohydrates are eaten. If we eat large quantities of carbohydrates immediately upon rising the body shuts off the cortisol and reverts straight to burning off the carbohydrates that are ingested instead of the ones stored in the carb tank. When we shut off the cortisol by eating carbohydrates it stays shut off so we remain reliant upon carbohydrates as our primary source of fuel. This often leads to a sluggish afternoon and a surplus of carbohydrates which cannot be stored into the carb tank because it has not been emptied by the morning cortisol resulting in fat gain.
More on this topic in the next article. #leocares
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