We are a stimulant addicted planet. In fact, two of the top three beverages consumed worldwide contain stimulants (coffee and tea) but are they helpful or harmful? Truth is they are both!!
There are many studies supporting the health benefits of both tea and coffee. A number of these benefits come from the anti-oxidants found in both and not necessarily from the stimulants directly. So why do we continue to consume stimulants?
- Increase Energy: It is true, stimulants (otherwise known as catecholamines) boost hormones and neurotransmitters that increase energy or reduce the perception of effort. They allow us to feel energized or mentally alert when we would otherwise be tired due to lifestyle, dietary or stress factors.
- Enhanced Mood: Not only do stimulants boost norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline) but they may also increase dopamine (mood enhancing neurotransmitter). This surge of dopamine helps us feel motivated, determined and happier.
- Appetite Control: By boosting neurotransmitters you may also experience a suppression in appetite. This reduction in calories and the increase in movement from extra energy may result in body fat loss. However, is it permanent?
It all sounds pretty good so far. We get increased energy, elevated mood and a reduced appetite that when combined may help us lose body fat. The problem is the results may not be maintainable.
What is the underlying reason for this? Is there something in the stimulants that causes weight gain or do we simply become immune to their benefits?
Stimulants release adrenal hormones like nor-epinephrine and epinephrine but at the same time they release another adrenal hormone called cortisol. When we have excess cortisol, we tend to be more stressed, store more body fat and breakdown more muscle.
The big question is how do you know if you have too much cortisol or if your cortisol rhythm is performing correctly (high in the morning and lower at night). There are many telling symptoms…
- Fatigue or Poor Sleep: One of the most obvious symptoms of cortisol dysfunction is a wired and tired effect. You often wake up tired and when you want to get to sleep you are wired or can’t switch off.
- Weight Gain: Often around the mid-section/stomach.
- Anxiety: Often with an increase in cortisol comes and increase in anxiety and stress, then the cycle repeats by producing more cortisol in response to the anxiety and stress. You can begin to feel like a mouse on a wheel.
- Lowered Sex Hormones: When cortisol and other stress hormones demand the supply of pregnenolone, then there is less of this master hormone available to assist with our sex hormone production. This is called “the pregnenolone steal”. It may result in further muscle loss and body fat gain along with lowered libido and mood.
Note: Not all these stress related symptoms are associated exclusively with stimulants but if we are not careful they may make the problems worse and not better.
How do we get the benefits of stimulants without the side effects or negatives? Is this possible?
Turns out there is hope!!
Here are the top 7 steps to minimising cortisol dysfunction and maintaining the fat burning, energy boosting and mood enhancing benefits of your stimulants.
- Improve Your Gut Health: Your gut is responsible for close to 95% of the production of your serotonin. Serotonin is a calming neurotransmitter and is released when you do fun stuff or are happy. More serotonin means less stress and anxiety so your gut health can help break the cycle.
- Meditate: Is a wonderful way to calm your mind and body so you are not over producing excitatory neurotransmitters. If you are constantly producing stress hormones your body can become less sensitive to them. It’s similar to type II diabetes, where one becomes insulin resistant from over producing insulin. You can become adrenaline resistant from over producing due to a combination of stress and stimulants.
- Cycle Your Stimulants: For the same reason, as above. You can become desensitised to the stimulants you use so they no longer provide the benefits in energy, focus and fat loss they once did. Having 2 days off a week or 2 on and 1 off is a great way to maintain the benefits without overwhelming your body.
- Have More Fun: This is a sure-fire way to calm the mind and reduce the over production of cortisol. It’s hard to be stressed and have fun at the same time.
- Use Adaptogens: Adaptogens are a class of compounds that help reset your sensitivity to stimulants and reduce the over production of cortisol. The most popular options are Ashwagandha, Schisandra, Rhodiola, Ginseng and Holy Basil. One study performed on Ahwagandha saw a 32% decrease in cortisol and a 52% increase in strength.
- Consume Sufficient Protein/aminos: Aiming for 2g/kg (target bodyweight)/day is the ideal amount of daily protein. Often this is difficult to achieve from food alone. If you are exercising regularly then cortisol may be increased to breakdown muscle tissue and provide energy. An Essential Amino Acid product with a concentrated Master Amino Acid Profile (MAAP) that provides the equivalent to 30g WPI but only 18 cal would be ideal.
- Consume Sufficient Fats: Fats are essential for life and a healthy body. They are certainly essential for a healthy hormonal balance as cholesterol is the starting molecule for almost all hormones. If you don’t eat the right fats or you are on statins you may not have sufficient starting material to make enough sex hormones. We recommend organic coconut oil, MCT oil and olive oil as great sources of fat.
Stimulants can be helpful. They can assist in weight loss, hunger control, energy metabolism and focus. However, chronic use without some sort of adrenal support can become a problem.
Instead of becoming dependant on stimulants before your workout, perhaps take a break and try Ketones which have been shown to increase focus, alertness and energy. You won’t get the same kick as caffeine or other stimulants but you may feel better long term as ketones may help lower inflammation and improve mitochondrial function. Ketones may also improve GABA signalling, which may lead to a better state of relaxation when you are ready to sleep.
Using adaptogens like Ashwagandha and Schisandra will help reduce the side effects of chronic stimulant use or abuse. It can help manage the symptoms of chronic cortisol production from physical, emotional or psychological stress. We all have stress and it is possibly the most toxic thing our body has to deal with so give it a little support.
At least try putting down the pre-workout, thermogenic, coffee or latte after midday. Caffeine has a 6 - 8 hour half life. This means 6 - 8 hours later 1/2 of the caffeine from your product is still in your system.
While you think you can't feel it and you may get to sleep fine. It will be disrupting the delta and gamma waves of sleep resulting in greater tiredness the next day and so the cycle repeats.
Disclaimer: The above article is merely a guide and is in no way a recommendation or a treatment protocol for any health conditions or diseases. You should always consult with a qualified health care provider before changing your supplement, training or nutritional strategy. Supplementation should not be attempted by pregnant or breastfeeding women, anyone on prescription medication or children under the age of 15 unless advised by your qualified health care provider.