The Role of Adrenals in Bodybuilding

Adrenals

AdrenalsHormones are secreted by the glands, which must be carefully regulated if you are to notice positive results from your bodybuilding workout. The adrenal glands in particular could adversely affect your muscle gains in a number of ways, particularly during stressful situations.

What are the Adrenal Glands?

There are two adrenal glands in the human body, one above each kidney. These glands are approximately 2.5 inches long, 1 inch wide, and yellow in color. Your right adrenal gland is triangular shaped, but the left is in the form of a crescent or half -moon. The adrenals make hormones such as cortisol (which affects how you deal with stress) and aldosterone (a hormone that regulates blood pressure), in addition to sex hormones in both males and females. These hormones are essential for life, meaning your body cannot do without them.

Effects of Cortisol

During exercise, the adrenal glands release even more cortisol than usual, something many people worry will destroy rather than build up muscle. After being secreted, cortisol begins breaking down muscle protein, causing amino acids to be released into the bloodstream. The release of amino acids then triggers the liver to synthesize glucose for use as energy. Normal levels of cortisol make it possible for the body to function properly, but when levels are elevated, the body can change from an anabolic or muscle-building state to a catabolic or muscle-losing one.

Results of a Catabolic State

According to Dr. Michael Lam, catabolism and anabolism are “integral and opposite parts of the metabolic cycle that require perfect balance to maintain a strong body, healthy weight, and stable muscle mass.” As such, whenever the catabolic cycle is extended, it can lead to a breakdown in muscle mass and make it more difficult for people to lose weight. This is why many bodybuilders wish to reduce the length of time they spend in a catabolic state, and attempt to do this by carefully controlling their cortisol levels.

Countering the Effects

Certain things can cause the adrenals to produce more cortisol than normal during a workout, leading to negative side effects that can include chronic adrenal fatigue, lightheadedness, and irritability. A few things that might affect the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenals include:

  • Excessive stress
  • Prescription medications
  • Pregnancy

Improving Adrenal Function

If you suspect that your adrenal glands are not functioning normally, a simple laboratory test will help you determine whether or not this is the case. Should you discover abnormalities, take measures to relieve stress and bring your cortisol levels back down to normal. Dr. Lam also recommends breathing and relaxation exercises, in addition to meditation and yoga. Avoid strenuous activities if your energy level is particularly low, as this could further stress the muscles and cause the adrenals to produce even more cortisol. You should keep from bending backwards if possible, as doing so has a tendency to stimulate the adrenal glands.

When it comes to building muscles, the adrenals play almost as important a role as diet and exercise do. To ensure your adrenal glands function properly, include stress management into your overall fitness plan.