I often get asked what the best time to train is. The answer comes down to Cortisol. The stress hormone Cortisol is naturally occurring in the body and plays a big role in training. It increases wakefulness, mobilizes stored energy, helps the body prepare to face stress, alerts the brain and central nervous system by converting noradrenaline to adrenaline. So we want to utilize it well as much as can. The problem is: Cortisol is in a scheduled release and if we overdo it, there are negative side effects.
This hormone’s cycle is amped up in the morning, as we wake, ideally with the sun, and slowly fades away as the day ends. When the sun sets, and our supply of Cortisol is low, our bodies go into parasympathetic state, also known as “rest and digest” state. This cycle is natural, but environment, sleep schedule, social stress and other factors can influence it. In an ideal world, every person would wake up with the sun, take about 2 hours to get some breakfast and go through a morning routine, then get their workout in. This way they can take advantage of the high concentration of Cortisol as they train, and once they’re done, they can move on to their jobs and slowly wind down throughout the day.
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The problem with working out as soon as you wake up, or in the late evening time, is that is your body is not ready for the stress you are about to put it through. If you lead a stressful job (physically or mentally) for, let’s say, 8 hours, your Cortisol levels have been high all day. When you are done and ready to “relax” you put your body through a tough workout. Stress hormone’s levels go right back up. Chronic levels of Cortisol can put you into a catabolic state, in which your body breaks down its own muscles for energy, among other destructive side effects like immune system suppression, blood sugar imbalances, cardiovascular disease and GI tract problems.
All of this does not mean that people should avoid training during those times. Any training is better than no training. Some people can pull off evening training sessions. Or workout as soon as they wake up, and still get results. Like I mentioned above, many factors can influence your Cortisol cycle. Sleep schedule, genetics and habits can help you get the most out of your training session even if it’s not within the perfect time frame. Nutrition can also help you. If you workout late, get some starchy food in you right after your workout. That will help you get into that “rest and digest” state a little quicker.
Now that you understand Cortisol a little better and how it affects training, you can try to respect your natural rhythm and improve your recovery and optimize your training. Keep in mind what your stress level is throughout the day and remember that training is another way of stressing your body. If you have trouble organizing your day, and figuring out the best time for you to workout, come by Celebration CrossFit and let one of your coaches know how we can help you!
by Coach Matt