Published on November 30, 2012
Christopher Walker has a crazy story.
When Christopher (a very good triathlete, runner and all-around extremely active guy who I interview in today's audio episode), was in his mid-20's, he discovered he had a brain tumor that was pressing up against his pituitary gland and stopping his body from making testosterone.
As a result, Christopher ballooned up to 221lbs and began to experience all the very unpleasant effects of a significant hormone balance.
You're going to hear Christopher's fascinating story in today's audio, but in the article below, Christopher is also going to give you 10 steps that he has discovered which will help you balance your hormones, even while training hard.
10 Steps To Balance Your Hormones While Training Hard
The endocrine system, and its interplay with your brain, are inherently complicated.
Undertaking the task of optimizing your hormonal balance may seem like a daunting task, full of complicated science and unorthodox training techniques.
In fact, many of you may be surprised, and possibly even a bit disappointed, at how simple it really is. No magic pills. No secret tricks. No voodoo onion soup.
And to be honest, I wish I could say that I used some special formula or crazy secret technique to beat my brain tumor without medication or surgery, but in reality, all I did was take things back to the basics: I got in touch with my body at its basic level and gave it what it really needed at the time.
Your body is inherently intelligent, and when given the opportunity to facilitate its own healing, will undergo some absolutely unreal improvements in a very short amount of time. It just needs the go ahead, the green light so to speak.
Give Your Body The Green Light
The podcast attached to this article goes into depth about my personal struggle with an out-of-whack endocrine system and how I brought my body back to its basics to overcome some very serious issues. You’ll get a small taste of my background and hear a little bit about what I am doing right now to try and help as many people I can to overcome their problems through natural means.
In this article, however, I would like to focus our attention on a more specific group of athletes – multisport athletes – and the best steps you can take in your training and day-to-day lives to optimize your hormonal balance.
As a former serious triathlete & duathlete, I know exactly what most multisport athletes deal with every day. From the chronic fatigue, muscle soreness, low libido, low muscle mass, and bone density issues, to adrenal fatigue, overtraining, blood sugar swings, sleep issues, and ravenous hunger, the everyday life of a devoted endurance athlete can be quite the grind.
The reality is this: those problems are all either caused or influenced, in some way, shape, or form, by your endocrine system. Several key hormones play roles in these processes but the biggest culprit, in terms of endurance training, is cortisol.
The nature of multisport training has athletes out on the road or in the pool between 1-6 hours a day. Now, don’t be mistaken, cortisol is not an inherently “bad” hormone; balanced levels are responsible for baseline vital functions in the body.
However, an excess or dearth of cortisol both indicate an unbalanced system: too high or too low. They are both bad in their own ways. As an athlete, you must take care to mitigate prolonged, or chronic, exposure to stressors, lest your endocrine system, particularly your adrenal glands, become overworked.
The following are my recommendations for steps you can take in your training, right now – they are simple to implement – that will, over time, lead a more balanced endocrine system: which will keep you strong, lean, and happy.
1. Train Your Mind:
Before we get into the physical steps, let’s talk about thought processes. This is where it all begins. If you approach your training with patience and your nutrition with balance you will:
a. Be able to sustain the positive improvements easily.
b. Drastically lower your mental stress levels, which can have a significant effect on your cortisol levels & wellbeing in general.
2. Create A Marked Dichotomy Between Going Hard And Recovering
In your training you will want to really focus on recovery when you are recovering and on going hard when you do your interval work. People say it all the time but it’s still very common to overlook and most of us tend to continue slogging away as a one-speed athlete somewhere in the middle.
There is no shame in going easy on your rest days. Race during the race. Train intelligently so you will have a good race.
3. Train Explosiveness
My 16 year old brother, a high school runner, is looking to get his times into the mid-15’s for 5km and 4:12-18 for the mile this year. He has great inherent talent and speed, however, as we look toward bringing him to the next level (i.e. sub-15 and low-4 min), we are placing a large emphasis on training his explosive power in his entire body (including upper body).
Beyond the fact that the training we are undertaking is going to increase both his stride rate and length (which equals increased speed), and deeply strengthen the muscles in his core (back & front) and quads, we are also looking to create a noticeable increase in circulating testosterone & growth hormone release over the coming months, while simultaneously decreasing cortisol levels. Training fast-twitch muscle fibers has long been scientifically-correlated with increased levels of testosterone and growth hormone, both of which have been found to have antagonistic effects on excess cortisol – especially with regards to breakdown of adipose/fat tissue.
4. Train In The Afternoon/Evening
This may be a big change, but I recommend sleeping in (#8) and undertaking your training in the afternoon or evening. Research has shown that, because some hormonal secretions tend to be influenced by circadian cycles, subjecting your body to training stress in the morning, a time when your circulating cortisol levels are naturally high, may be counterproductive for those trying to reach a balance.
5. Mitigate Free-Radical Exposure
Large amounts of exercise are known to create an imbalance between levels of antioxidants and free radicals, a process known as oxidative stress. If you are training heavily, you’ll want to supplement your diet with some common antioxidants: vitamins A, C, E, glutathione, and flavonoids being the easiest to get your hands on.
6. Train Using Volume…And Quality
Lots of people – coaches, gurus, & weekend warriors alike – love to draw lines in the sand. We all love to think that our way is the best way. Multisport culture has been fixated on this forever-old training debate regarding quality versus quantity.
I’m here to tell you that you should do both. In the effort of balancing your endocrine system, you must take a balanced approach to many other things, including training.
Repping out hard interval workouts 4 or 5 times a week is just as unhealthy as slogging 110 mile weeks at 160bpm. Refer back to #2 and take that idea and apply it to your training. When you go out for a recovery run, makes sure it’s rejuvenating. Shoot for a constant low heart rate, even if it means walking up hills. Walking is so underrated. Recover.
7. Become Fat-Adapted
Increased HPA activation, cortisol secretion in particular, has been implicated in visceral obesity and the accumulation of stomach fat. Becoming fat-adapted as an athlete – teaching your body to call upon its fat stores for energy, as opposed to its glycogen and sugar sources – will allow you to not only decrease your levels of circulating cortisol over time, but also limit hunger, decrease body fat levels, increase insulin resistance, and maintain lean muscle mass.
8. Sleep As Much As Possible
Sleep is one of the body’s finest homeostatic regulatory mechanisms: give it the opportunity to do its work. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to catch some Z’s if you’re looking to reach a balance. Sleep is also wonderful for memory consolidation. Lack of sleep has been found to dramatically elevate cortisol levels over the following day.
9. Practice Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a wonderful thing. And nowadays there is a ton of good information on it all over the internet. For most sugar-burning endurance athletes it will be near impossible to make the switch to daily fasting while still maintaining your current training load. That is why it’s so important to train your body to become fat-adapted.
I’ve found that personally I can now go well into the afternoon with a fast, then do an entire workout (even had a period where I would do a routine 8 mile run fasted), before eating my first meal (and it was a BIG one ;D ). This is fat-adaptation. My workouts are great, and I have tons of energy all day, because my body burns a high percentage of fat for fuel, not sugars.
Intermittent fasting, even without a decrease in overall caloric intake, has been shown to significantly decrease cortisol concentrations.
10. Be Incredibly Patient
You didn’t get out of whack in day so don’t expect to fix it in a week. The process of balancing your endocrine system is long and slow, requiring constant implementation of these simple changes. The best method to induce sustainable change is to integrate them into your lifestyle so they’re second nature.
Author Christopher Walker owns “NoGym.net“, where you can discover how to lose body fat, build muscle, and get that powerful & lean physique you’ve always wanted – without ever stepping foot in a gym.
Are you experiencing any symptoms of endocrine imbalance? If so, or if you have any questions, please just drop a line in the comments section below and I’ll try to help!