This Is How Cortisol Can Destroy Your Muscle Development

The good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of cortisol

There are so many different factors to building quality muscle mass. While you should definitely focus on aspects such as great nutrition, hard training, and supplementation, there are other factors that can certainly make muscle development a real headache. So many individuals have seen themselves train day in and day out, focus on their macros, and take all of the necessary supplements, only to end up with little to no results from all their hard work and dedication. It can get frustrating to say the least. But in some cases there is a reason for all that tireless work going to waste, which may be cortisol.

Let’s dive into exactly what cortisol is, how it effects you, and how to handle it.

Cortisol Overview

Muscle Growth and Recovery bodybuilding

Cortisol is a dreaded word in the fitness community as it is known as the “stress hormone“, and can be the reasoning behind a great many headaches people experience in their fitness journey. However there are both positive effects and negative drawbacks to cortisol, and it may not be as simple an issue as it may seem. Some people say to just lower your cortisol levels and everything will be fine, yet the truth of the matter is quite different and more complex than what you’d expect.

Effects of Cortisol on Muscles

For the most part having high levels of cortisol is going to have a negative effect on your physique. It can tend trigger a fight or flight response, which can lead to constant tension throughout the body. Higher cortisol levels also tend to lead to lower testosterone levels, and lower testosterone levels lead to increased belly fat, something no bodybuilder wants. This can also lead to the loss of muscle mass as well, which is an absolute nightmare scenario for a lifter. However despite the negative effects, that doesn’t mean you should drop your cortisol levels to zero either.

If your cortisol levels are too low however it can lead to chronic fatigue. Imagine having great nutrition, training hard, and doing everything right and still feeling sluggish all the time, like you don’t have the energy to make it into the gym. Lowered cortisol levels can hamper your progress just as much as higher cortisol levels do.

Other Bodily Functions

Other than being the stress hormone, cortisol also has an effect on the metabolism, which is a crucial component of any bodybuilder’s progression, as well as their overall wellbeing. Cortisol aids the metabolism, increases blood sugar, and even modulates the immune system. That being said, if you have increased levels of the hormone, you can be led to binge eating which is not good.

The worst part is, you are left craving sugary foods, which definitely does not help you develop the well rounded physique that you are seeking (although we love a good cheat meal every now and then).

How to Reduce Cortisol

There are some natural ways to cut back on your levels of this less than desirable hormone. Let’s take a look.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is a great way to keep that stress hormone down. Whether you are going to do some cardio such as walking outside or on a treadmill, or maybe you are hitting the weights and picking up some dumbbells and barbells for a little each day. As long as you continue to get your blood pumping, it helps to reduce the stress hormones that are floating around your body.

Reduce Caffeine

Caffeine intake is huge when it comes to elevated stress levels. Yes, pre-workouts and energy drinks are certainly great for keeping your energy levels up, and they are delicious. But, did you know that caffeine can increase cortisol levels? Specifically in people that are undergoing mental stress, an increased caffeine intake can spike cortisol levels. So, maybe put down that cup of coffee.


Sleep is key for muscle growth, just about everyone knows that. Your body generates testosterone and human growth hormone while you are getting some shut eye, and not getting adequate amounts of sleep will decrease those hormones, but increase your cortisol levels.



Now that all of those lifestyle changes for reducing cortisol levels have been addressed, what about supplementation? Are there supplements to take to reduce the hormone? Which ones are the best? Let’s take a look.


Magnesium is a great bodybuilding supplement for a variety of reasons, but in this case it is specifically for reducing cortisol levels. Magnesium helps to lower blood pressure and blood sugars, as well as provide better insulin control, which is responsible for sugar cravings. That being said, finding a good magnesium supplement may be a good idea for reducing cortisol levels.

Fish Oils

Another well known bodybuilding supplement for reducing cortisol levels are omega-3 fatty acids, commonly known as fish oils. Fish oils can help to reduce the amount of cortisol in the body.


This is a very well known bodybuilding supplement, as it is commonly seen as an ingredient in testosterone boosters. Ashwagandha is use to lower cortisol levels, which in turn allows the body to produce more testosterone. However, it is not going to work overnight, it will take some time before the results start to kick in, usually around 4-12 weeks is the estimated time frame.

Cortisol Wrap Up

Overall, cortisol is something that you certainly do not want too much of, nor do you want too little because that also will have negative effects. The biggest thing you can do is try to live as stress free as possible, and if taking supplements to help do so is what you have to do, then so be it.

There are plenty of supplements to take to lower cortisol levels, and being active is another thing that you should also try to focus on in order to manage your cortisol levels.

Has cortisol effected your gains?

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Dylan Wolf
I work mainly in content writing, focusing my free time on bodybuilding and strength sports. I was introduced to fitness in high school and after watching Generation Iron movies. I love to train. I have competed multiple times, even winning a junior title in classic physique. I have a bachelor's in criminal justice and business obtained through Alvernia University. When I am not focused on work or training, I enjoy watching films or reading about anything and everything.