HOW STRESS AFFECTS YOUR GOALS?
The loss of fat is a multi-faceted process, which is all too often reduced to two claims. Firstly, we say that things are clear, as it is necessary either to eat less or to train more. Second, things are even easier - if we train and eat less, success is guaranteed. And although in theory this is an indisputable fact, in practice it often happens that after the initial loss of kilograms things slow down or even stop. It still seems that we experience calorie deficit, but fat and especially water begins to accumulate in strange places - what's more, the muscle mass begins to decline. Wherein lies the cause?
We need to perceive our body as a system that tends toward homeostasis. This means that the body maintains physiological processes rather unchanged, regardless of the external environment factors. This consistency namely brings safety, since it allows all organs, tissues and cells to function smoothly, regardless of whether they find themselves at different energy levels. A larger amount of carbon dioxide begins to emerge, body temperature increases, the hormone balance changes - but gaining and losing weight is a phenomenon that lies just outside that physiological process. In terms of evolution, gaining fat is a positive process for the body, because it signals to the brain to save the strategic reserves for when we will need them. A quick loss of fat, on the other hand, is a school example of a negative feedback loop, because the body wants to stop something that might harm us in the future. And because we have quickly moved from a hunting-gathering community into a society of pre-prepared, industrially processed food, there is often a lot of confusion in our bodies. Due to day-to-day stress, our signalling pathways are overloaded - if we add too little sleep, skipping meals, a large amount of caffeine and a physical burden, we get an organism in a state of constant adrenaline arousal. In the state called " fight-or-flight response", something that is supposed to be reserved for a parachute jump is happening on a daily basis. Blood vessels are swamped by false hormones, overwhelmed by the cytokines, therefore body does (not) try to extinguish all micro-inflammations and losing fat is the last in the list of physiological processes. No matter how we try.
We will not preach you about the mistakes we make too often ourselves. The above-mentioned things (plenty of sleep, regulated diet, stress management) are a prerequisite for successful fat loss, but more importantly, an investment in a healthy and vital life. At this point, however, we can say something more about losing fat during an endurance activity. Long-term activity lasting for several hours is by definition burning of fat, but it is necessary to know that even then the body strives toward homeostasis. In other words, long-term activity will later lead to an increased desire for food (we may even consume more calories). Unfortunately, long-term physical activity does something else too. To a considerable extent, our stress hormone, called cortisol, is released. All too often we see it as an enemy - but it has a protective role. When the body has been under stress for too long, cortisol signals to the brain that something is wrong, that we are either escaping or preparing for a fight. In doing so, the immune function is switched off (as it is not needed at the given moment), it limits the sexual function, and from our muscles all the substances that the organism needs to successfully overcome the situation are starting to be released. The sad fact is that the body does not touch the fat - it rather burns the huge calf muscles, since the latter are less crucial for the (evolutionary) survival than the strategic supply of the subcutaneous fat.
In doing so, endurance athletes like to help themselves with fatburners and other caffeine preparations. These quickly provide the body with the desired energy, with the release of noradrenaline also bringing an increased desire for movement, but the successes are short-lived. The problem is not in one or two cups of coffee per day - problems start because most of the preparations contain enormous amounts of stimulants. Let us take caffeine, for example - caffeine in small quantities is a relatively healthy and effective ingredient for a short-term increase in alertness. But it is necessary to know that this is just a simulation of alertness and that our body is not really awake. Caffeine is structurally remarkably similar to the nucleoside which slows down the nervous system in our body and triggers drowsiness. Because of its physical similarity, it acts as an antagonist - i.e., it is similar to the natural key for fatigue and it occupies the place of the previous inside the lock. In other words, the lock is occupied with the wrong key, and it can not accept anything else for a couple of hours. Not even fatigue.
Photo credit: Michael Setzer
But something is also going on. Caffeine is namely also similar to noradrenaline. Insofar as we begin to count on the latter for our sports ventures, our organism reacts in the same way. The surge of adrenaline is something that makes us feel good, but it is always followed by the boomerang effect. The body stops with its own production of noradrenaline, since it is accustomed to having something similar on a daily basis and in a high dose coming from the outside. Consequently, during the day we are tired, volatile, while our capacity during training is diminished.
This is followed by a complete hormonal response. We mentioned an increase in cortisol - it drastically rises with each "strong" fatburner which leads to unwanted body responses. Our blood is raised in the blood, the arteries become constricted, and inflammation is triggered for faster healing of injuries (which do not actually exist). Since the immune system works only by half, and at the same time constantly signals the presence of inflammation, this can lead to various autoimmune and chronic diseases in the long run. Weight loss is affected not so much from the point of view of metabolic processes as such, but through our sex hormones that also regulate the relationship between muscle mass and fat tissue. Both key hormones - the already mentioned stress hormone and the sex hormone testosterone (in women progesterone, although the first is also key) are produced in the same initial stage. The more of its stores are turned into a stress response, the less there will remain for testosterone and progesterone. And the less of these hormones we have, the more the body will accumulate fat, the more it will hold the water, and the smaller the amount of functional muscle mass. With fatburners which are designed to "burn" fat through various popular marketing terms (thermogenesis), we do exactly the opposite - we additionally strain the body with stress hormones and destroy our hormonal balance in the direction of accumulating fat.
The loss of fat, of course, is possible if we approach this process indirectly. In so far as we focus on increasing the capacity of the body itself, the metabolic and hormonal responses are a logical consequence of the homeostasis mentioned at the beginning of the article. Increasing physical capacity - at least that in the final stage - is to some extent coinciding with a reduction in stress. The first to use this mechanism were the Russian cosmonauts led by dr. Valerij Pojakov, specialist in aeronautics medicine. He has begun to prescribe adaptogens for the astronauts - plants that grow in harsh conditions (cold, altitude, lack of sunlight) and produce substances that produce an integrated, "non-specific response to stress" in the human body. Shortly thereafter, the characteristics of adaptogens began to be exploited by athletes, as they found that in the anaerobic phase of endurance training they have lower quantities of stress hormone, cortisol, and consequently higher lung capacity (VO2max). Lowering cortisol at all costs is definitely not recommended, but in adaptogens it is about eliminating the cause and not the effects of cortisol. Scientists conclude that they optimize the functioning of the HPA axis which extends from the hypothalamus to the pituitary gland and, of course, regulates the adrenal gland. These are three glands that, through stressful response, regulate everything from feeling, the immune system, sexuality to energy conversion. During intense physical activity, adaptogens act multidimensionally - alleviate inflammation, modulate stress and sex hormones, and consequently increase VO2max. Another good characteristic of adaptogens is that they all have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, so with their regular intake we do a lot of good for our future.
In the world of today, we often accept fast, instant solutions. Here, we have to remember why we started to train endurance sports - whether it's cycling, running, triathlon, swimming or something completely exotic. The prize is never immediate - most often, the reward is the path itself rather than the goal. However, we need certain basic knowledge to make sure that in all the enthusiasm we would not be unwittingly committing too many mistakes that would destroy our progress.