DEVELOPED IN THE THROES OF OVER-TRAINING
For anyone involved in sustained resistance training activities, at certain times, short burst of overtraining are employed to reach certain goals. In this sense, the researchers cited above at Texas A&M University state that over-training can be a healthy part of training. However, when you factor in the daily stress load associated with the on-going psychological and physical stress associated with long-term resistance training efforts, one of the organ systems hit the hardest is the adrenal glands. Based on the comments in the opening remarks above, as an astute bodybuilder you are well aware of why, when, and what you eat, as well as how your workouts can manipulate various anabolic hormones. Because of this fact, a steady but silent decline of those anabolic hormones circulating in your bloodstream would be counterproductive to all your efforts to reach the short and long-term goals you have established for yourself. Correspondingly, although the recovery and care of the adrenal glands is one of the most under-publicized and under-practiced aspects of resistance training, sports medicine researchers contend that adrenal exhaustion can be definitively linked to the rigors of intense workouts.
Unfortunately, this mishap appears to be more pronounced in its development in cases of over-training, ironically a physiological syndrome that mirrors many of the symptoms associated with adrenal exhaustion. Nonetheless, despite this irregularity, adrenal exhaustion can become problematic to not only reaching individual growth and muscular development goals, but sustaining long-term health.
Hormones: Made In the Adrenals
The fact is, the adrenal glands produce over 50 varied hormones, including adrenaline (epinephrine), cortisol, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and testosterone. As you are well-aware of, all these dynamic hormones play a critical role in building a lean muscular physique. However, even more importantly here, the proper development and secretion of these hormones and many others also play a vital role in sustaining long-term health and well-being. Despite the contention that adrenal exhaustion isn’t recognized by the medical community as a basis for the development of illness and anxiety, the general decline in adrenal function is commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue and is caused by the body’s inability to handle its stress load.
This notion is avidly voiced by Dr. James Wilson Ph.D., the author of Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. Conversely, Dr. Todd B. Nippoldt, M.D of the Mayo Clinic states that the medical term for this disorder is adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease) and is caused by an inadequate production of one or more of the aforementioned hormones produced by the adrenal glands, however as a result of an underlying disease. For this reason, he maintains that any unresolved issues associated adrenal insufficiency should be thoroughly discussed with a healthcare professional.
Adrenal Glands: InternalInterna Stress Defenders
Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D., the nationally known women’s healthcare advocate maintains that the adrenal glands are the body’s primary shock absorbers. These two tiny organs that rest on top of each kidney, along with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland are all part of what is known medically as the Hypothalamus-Pituitary –Adrenal Axis (HPA). This axis regulates temperature, digestion, immune function, and mood and energy usage. Nevertheless, when lingering adrenal stress reduces hypothalamic and pituitary gland function, unfortunately this can also down-regulate the production of thyroid hormones.
As you know, thyroid hormones regulate your metabolism, which essentially determines how effective your body is able to break down food and convert it into energy, as well as burn body-fat. This double down-grade can make it hard to muster up a steady supply of energy to maintain those intense workouts of yours, despite the proper input of fuel. The problem here, under stress, physical or mental, a combination of nerve and hormonal signals are sent to the adrenal glands, which release a surge of anti-stress and anti-inflammatory hormones, the most abundant being adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.
By the way, cortisol when secretions are within normal ranges regulate several powerful innate systems that helps the body adapt and counteract negative psychological stressors and or exercise induced stress. However, when the adrenals are pushed to the limit, every organ and system in the body can be negatively affected as excess cortisol is generated and accumulated, essentially becoming a muscle wasting and destructive hormone. Also, in addition to the destructive processes cited above, although not conclusive here, when the adrenal glands are exhausted changes can occur in:
1. Your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, 2. Your fluid and electrolyte balance, 3. Your heart and cardiovascular system. 4. Lowering of your blood sugar levels and even your sex drive.
Additionally, waning adrenal function can cause changes at the biochemical and cellular levels in response to decreased production of adrenal hormones and cortisol. To this point, researchers of the Institute of Sports and Preventive Medicine at the University of Saarland in Germany found that individuals working out in the throes of the overtraining syndrome experience a substantial decrease in the maximum rise of pituitary hormones (corticotrophin, growth hormone), cortisol and insulin. In practical terms here, at this stage, blood lactate levels begin to continuously rise very rapidly
during workouts, as the body struggles to discard it. These researchers noted that these results were found in standardized comprehensive exercise test performed with an intensity of 10% above the individual anaerobic threshold. As a reminder here, individual anaerobic threshold, also termed 4.0 mmol.l-1 threshold (AT4) is defined as the highest metabolic rate where blood lactate concentrations are maintained at a steady-state during prolonged exercise.
Allusive Unresolved Signs
As stated earlier, any lingering or unresolved issues with signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency shouldn’t be simply ignored. For example, a consistent poor or non-existent morning appetite may be caused by higher than normal levels of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). Elevated CRH besides suppressing appetite also stimulates the synthesis of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which makes cortisol. This anomaly was confirmed by Finnish researchers in a 2012 study appearing in the journal Sleep Disorders. This study conclusively showed that even a stressful work environment and irregular shift work substantially increased cortisol excretion during sleep. Other signs and symptoms of adrenal exhaustion are abdominal pain, anorexia, brain fog (poor concentration), depression, fatigue, headaches, hypotension (low blood pressure), hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels), hypothyroidism ( reduced thyroid function), restless sleep, loss of menstrual periods for women, nausea, poor sex drive, sore muscles or joints, vomiting, water retention, weight loss and or adequate sleep with diminished energy levels. Ironically, many of the aforementioned problems as cited mirror the same symptoms associated with the over-training syndrome. However, although the above list of symptoms aren’t conclusive, Dr. James Wilson who coined the term adrenal fatigue, reminds us that over two-thirds of the entire US population experience some general form of adrenal fatigue. Unfortunately, researchers also estimate that 80% of the people who suffer from adrenal fatigue, also experience some form of decreased thyroid function. Harmoniously, this is why many forward thinking sports medicine researchers insist that the recovery and care of proper adrenal function become part of the resistance training recovery process. Dr. Konrad Krail N.D., the former President of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians states that there are a number of natural substances referred to as metabolic enhancers that can enhance the metabolic activity of the adrenal glands. As a point of clarification here, from a physiological standpoint, metabolic enhancers are substances that improve the performance of existing biochemical pathways by providing cofactors, catalyst and substrates (spare parts) that support the actions of the system without causing undue stress to its natural actions. Correspondingly, the synopsis below highlights some of those metabolic enhancers. Recharging Sluggish Adrenal Glands Naturally Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is one of the most abundant nutrients within the adrenal glands and plays a key role in proper adrenal function by stabilizing cortisol production. Other nutrients that help regulate adrenal function are the steroid hormone Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) which is manufactured by the adrenals and is often used to treat adrenal inefficiency. Despite this, Dr. Hans Kugler, the President of the International Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and the author of Amazing Medicines the Drug Companies Don’t Want You to Discover argues that the hormone pregnenolone would be a better choice here. He makes note of the fact that pregnenolone not only normalizes waning adrenal function that occurs as we age, it also helps produces DHEA and all the other hormones according to the body’s daily needs. Furthermore, because of on-going research by scientist at the Institute of Natural Medicine at Hallym University in South Korea, researchers now know that the herbs Siberian and Panax ginseng D-stresses stress (physical/ mental) by assisting in the stabilization of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis discussed earlier. Moreover, newer studies show that ginseng’s energizing effects occur by increasing ATP production in the mitochondria. As you know ATP essentially serves as the inter-cellular molecular batteries your body uses to store and transport energy. However, from a bio-chemical standpoint, researchers at the School of Chinese Medicine at Hong Kong Baptist University discovered that key active compounds found in Ginseng called ginsenosides regulates the tricarboxylic acid cycle, via enhanced protein expression to enhance cardiac energy metabolism. Apparently, panax ginseng activates multiple enzymes in this cycle, also known as the Krebs cycle, enabling mitochondria to extract concentrated amounts of energy in the form of adenosine-tri-phosphate (ATP). For example, scientist at the University of Tampa looked at the
effects of 12 wweeks of 400mg/d of oral ATP supplements on muscular adaptations in trained individuals. MusMuscle mass, strength, and power were examinedid att weeks 0,4, 8, and 12 to assess the continuing effects of ATP. At the end of this study ATP users increased total body strength (+55.3 ± 6.0 kg ATP vs. + 22.4 ± 7.1 kg placebo), increased vertical jump power (+ 796 ± 75 ATP vs. 614 ± 52 placebo) and greater muscle thickness (+4.9 ± 1.0 ATP vs. 2.5 ± 0.6 mm placebo). These researchers also noted that the benefits of ATP were further exhibited by reduced protein breakdown.
Adaptogens Re-Energize and Stabilize Adrenal Function
Some other well-known supplements that help regenerate ATP energy molecules, that ironically have an extremely short life span (10 seconds) are CoQ10, creatine, glutamine and ribose. Distinctively, because of their ability to calm down and re-stabilize internal systems, scientist label many of these supplements as adaptogens. Incidentally, an adaptogen is defined as a nontoxic substance that has the ability to increase the body’s capacity to resist the damaging effects of stress, by promoting or restoring normal physiological functioning. Equally, researchers at the Swedish Herbal Institute Research and Development Center in Sweden state that adaptogens possess anti-fatigue and anti-stress activities that can increase mental and physical workload performance in the midst of intense fatigue or stress. Many of these adaptogens are found in the plant or herbal kingdom. For instance, other well-know and widely utilized adaptogens to stabilize adrenal function are: Acai berries, Ashwagandha, Cordyceps sinensis, Deglycyrrhizanted Licorice Root (this form doesn’t raise blood pressure), Holy basil (lowers excess cortisol), Lycium (Goji), Magnesium, Magnolia, Rhodiola Rosea, Reishi Mushroom Schizandra Root. As a reminder here, the consensus among researchers in reference to adaptogenic compounds is that they work best during a 3 to 4wk on and off cycle to re-stabilize a compromised or down-regulated system or organ.
The pressure to perform physically and mentally are part of everyday life. For someone fully engaged in the rigors of resistance training, this fact is amplified 10-fold. Finding ways to naturally help the adrenal glands function better on a daily basis is just prudent and a very easy way to maintain both your physical and mental well-being. The take home message here, train smarter, not necessarily harder, and as stated by Marcelle Pick, the author of Is It Me or My Adrenals? “One thing I can promise you is that when you heal your adrenal glands, you’ll see results on every physical and emotional level, and your whole body will thank you for it!”
stacy o’connell Tymon Mcbirney