To understand this, we must first understand what cortisol is. Cortisol or hydrocortisone, is a steroid hormone that is the major circulating hormone of the outer layer of the adrenal gland. Cortisol is classified as a glucocorticoid (a hormone that predominantly affects the metabolism of carbohydrates and, to a lesser extent, fats and proteins. Glucocorticoids are made in the outside portion (the cortex) of the adrenal gland, cortisol is the major glucocorticoid); it stimulates liver glycogen formation while it decreases the rate of glucose utilization in the cells. A main effect of cortisol is to reduce the reserves of protein in all cells except cells of the liver and gastrointestinal tract. It also makes fatty acids available for metabolic use. Cortisol is synthesized and secreted by the adrenal cortex in response to the stimulating substance adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Cortisol is released in response to stress and is considered a major catabolic hormone. Catabolic means a tearing down process, it actually increases the loss of protein in the body. A “catabolic state” usually refers to the state in which you are burning protein instead of burning other types of fuel, such as carbohydrates. This is the exact opposite of what you want as a bodybuilder, athlete or fitness enthusiast! Looking again at the fact that cortisol is released in response to stress – this includes training! Training is a stressful, catabolic event! One of the key factors to building muscle is to maintain an anabolic state – this is usually referred to as staying in a positive nitrogen ( or protein) balance. So it's clear that the release of cortisol can have devastating effects on muscle growth. So then cortisol blockers are a rather limited category of products that will limit or block the production of the hormone cortisol.
The reported negative effects of cortisol are, as stated above, increased protein breakdown, potential fat gain due to the increase of glucose which, unused, can be stored as fat, it counteracts insulin ( remember that insulin is an anabolic hormone) and to an extent memory problems. The benefit of cortisol blockers are:
- Prevent muscle protein breakdown after your workout.
- Often sold as a diet or fat loss aid, it may help burn body fat.
- In some forms it is sold as a memory aid, it may help improve your memory.
- Reduces stress levels.
This is really a limited category with only a handful of products available. However, the main ingredient in most of these products is Phosphatidylserine or PS for short. PS is classified as a phospholipid. Phospholipids are fats that are found in every cell of the body. Phosphatidylserine can be found in high concentrations in the brain, where it is responsible for keeping cell membranes fluid and ready to process essential nutrients. PS is also an important support chemical for nerve tissue. As a support to the nervous system, PS aids proper release and reception of neurotransmitters in the brain. PS helps memory-related pathways function smoothly. This product is sold by itself, typically as a memory aid and usually comes from soy. Of the cortisol blocking products to choose from, most are marketed as fat loss formulas with only one that I could find marketed as having positive effects on muscle growth. These products come in tablets and capsules and in each case, each one presents different nutrients in the formula. As stated, the only constant in many of them is the use of PS or a PS complex. As is the case with many fat loss products, some of these contain caffeine which helps to speed up the metabolism allowing you to burn more calories. For me, a cortisol blocker should be geared more towards the muscle growth aspects, so I would pick one with that benefit. Timing of a product like this will depend on the type of product – is it a fat loss formula or a true cortisol blocking formula? For fat loss, take as directed on the label for both timing and dosage, as a cortisol blocking agent, I would take the suggested dosage about an hour before workouts and later in the evening on your off days. Of course, always read the label carefully before using.