Does Stress Affect Muscle Growth? Your Hormones and Muscle Loss

hormones that cause muscle loss

Let’s break it down quickly… You cannot effectively build muscle when in an overly stressed state.

Okay, when you go to the gym and lift weights you’re putting your body into a stressed state – this is true.

But too much stress and you’ll only end up going around in circles, never building the muscle you’d hoped for.

Does this sound familiar to you?…

Outside of the gym, you’ll eat well, sleep, and take supplements for muscle growth – but things just aren’t working the way you’d like… right?

Your muscles are flat, your recovery is taking forever, and you just don’t feel like your energetic self.

You might even be suffering so much that you have weak erections, or worse still, you have no sexual desire at all – this is a bad place to be.

This could be due to acute stress plaguing your recovery and muscle growth.

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Your Answer: 

Technically you can build muscle while stressed (or in a stressed state). This is due to your body experiencing small stresses put upon itself during and after weight training. When your muscles are sore, this is when your body is in a stressed condition that’s trying to repair itself – in other words, you’re catabolic at this point. 

So yes, you can build muscle while stressed, but stressed out not just physically but also emotionally?… that’s another matter altogether. I’ve done some research to show you what effects cortisol has on muscle growth. Read on to discover more about muscle building while being in an overly stressed state. 


Acute Stress and Muscle Growth

Acute stress is when your mind and body may be experiencing higher levels of stress over a prolonged period of time – more than recommend.

Like we’ve already discussed, a little stress cannot be avoided when lifting weights for muscle growth, as you’re breaking down muscle to then be re-built with a solid recovery plan.

However, there may be times when we experience too much stress from external sources, either in or out of our control.

Now that you understand what could be holding back your muscle growth, let’s look at the hormones responsible for hindering your progress:

Physical Stress and Muscle Loss

If you’re anything like me, you love the feeling of lifting heavy weights. The confidence it gives you, and the sensation you get after a good workout could be described by some as ‘cumming in the gym every day’ – Arnold Schwarzenegger.

With that said, sometimes it’s easy to get carried away. We might lift too much, or train too frequently – not letting our body’s recover properly, sound about right?

This is a huge factor in muscle loss or wastage, simply because you’re training too hard or too frequently to let your body recover.

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The additional stress you’re putting on your central nervous system will find it difficult to recover if you don’t back off.


So, how do you mitigate this?

You simply take time away from the gym, do more recreational activities that are less stressful such as walking or yoga for example – both great for the body and mind.

As for nutrition, drink plenty of water, eat food that has plenty of colors such as fruits and vegetables, and also lean proteins.

Emotional Stress and Muscle Loss

Now that we’ve covered the damaging effects of too much physical stress, let’s have a look at what emotional stressors have on muscle loss.

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While physical stress can burn out your central nervous system, causing cortisol levels to rise, taking you from an anabolic state to a catabolic state, emotional stress has a very similar response.


Lift too much weight, too often without enough recovery time and you’re going to feel like crap…

On the other side of things, if you are constantly stressed out mentally, arguing with your partner, co-workers, the daily grind is taking its toll, then again, cortisol levels will begin to rise.

cortisol lowers muscle growth

Good Cop Bad Cop

It’s when your cortisol levels form emotional stress begin to rine to much that testosterone begins to be pushed out of the picture.

You see, when cortisol is present, testosterone is not – both work hand in hand, like a good cop bad cop partnership.

When one comes into interrogating, the other takes a back seat – it’s really that simple.

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QUICK TIP: the hormone cortisol is anabolic to fat cell growth, and Testosterone is anabolic to muscle cell growth. Both enable us to grow cells, but which one depends on which hormone is present.


How Cortisol Prevents Muscle Growth

When stressed out, like you’re about the hit the ceiling and tear down the walls, it doesn’t take a doctor to tell you this isn’t good for your health.

When you’re in this state, a steroid hormone is rushing through your body – this steroid hormone is cortisol.

A study published by the EMGO Institute, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands said:

“A relationship was found between both morning and evening salivary cortisol and loss of grip strength: participants in the highest quartile of cortisol concentration had a twofold higher risk of loss of grip strength than participants in the lowest quartile.” (01)

This means; those with higher levels of cortisol in their system – the less strength they had. Less strength means a lowered ability to gain muscle.

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Hard training is catabolic, in that you inflict damage on your muscles and break them down. But after training, your body almost immediately becomes anabolic and starts healing up that damage. (02)


How Cortisol Creates Fat Mass

Also, another study by the Stanford University School of Medicine in the US found a hormone called Adamts1, is responsible for fat cell growth and formation.

Here’s the interesting part…

This hormone called Adamts1 is secreted by fat cells when cortisol is present. (03)

It’s Adamts1 job to make the body create more fat, both visceral fat (the fat under the skin on organs) and fat on adipose tissue (under the skin).

Taking this information into account, it’s no wonder so many people are overweight as stress levels are on the rise with high pressured jobs and the fast pace society we live in today.

Increase Muscle Growth With Testosterone

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Testosterone, which is the key hormone you want in abundance, disappears when cortisol is present.


When testosterone levels are high, so will be your muscle quality, energy levels, and lust for life, among other things if you get my drift… But when cortisol is high, muscle growth is non-existent.

Not only that, cortisol works to create fat mass. Think of it like this, when you have high levels of testosterone, you’ll naturally build more muscle.

But, when you have a lot of cortisol running through your veins, your body works to create more fat cells.

Maybe this was a stress response to protect us from famine when we were hunter and gatherers.

However, in our modern life, cortisol if nothing but a nuisance for muscle growth and healthy testosterone levels.

How To Reduce Cortisol For Muscle Growth

Read carefully; to lower cortisol, you need to lower your stress levels, it’s really that simple.

Do you have bad habits that you know are leading to higher stress levels but you’re doing nothing to change them? Then, it’s no wonder you aren’t building muscle.

Drinking too much coffee, staying up late and not sleeping properly, or living and working in a toxic environment can all have a damaging impact on your testosterone levels.

So, what can you do to lower your stress levels?

The first thing you need to do is highlight all of the things that you might think be causing you stress and make an effort to reduce them, or better still get them out of your life completely.

I’ve put a simple list together for you to follow – as these are the most common causes of stress:

how to reduce cortisol for muscle growth

Drink less caffeine

Caffeine raises cortisol, the more caffeine you drink, with additionally added stressors to your day will raise cortisol, making it virtually impossible to build muscle the type of muscle you want.

Spend less time indoors

Staying indoors means less activity, less fresh air, and less vitamin D from the sun. When you go for a walk, bike ride, or just relaxing in the sun you’re allowing yourself to be immersed in nature, which has shown to reduce stress levels. (04)

Remove toxic people from your life

Find yourself arguing over stupid things with your partner all day, or you work in a toxic environment where your co-workers are a pain in the ass… then it might be time to move on. Allowing more positive people to come into your life can help you create balance and ultimately reduce stress. (05)

Eat a balanced diet

A diet that’s high in refined sugars has been shown to increase stress, and also lower testosterone. (06) Also, a diet that is low in fiber, allowing for healthy gut movement has also been shown to cause unwanted health issues relating to internal stress in the gut. (07)

Have a sleeping routine

Not sleeping enough? Are you finding yourself walking through the day like an extra from the Walking Dead? Then you might want to re-think the late night TV and large coffees before bed.

A lack of sleep has been shown to cause serious illnesses, while also raining stress levels significantly over prolonged periods of time – not ideal for muscle growth.

How Testosterone Builds Muscle

how testosterone builds muscle

As we’ve already discussed, when your cortisol levels are high causing you to feel stressed, your testosterone levels are low – this basically means you cannot build muscle efficiently.

But what if your body was surging with testosterone…

Would you then build more muscle? Damn, right you would!

Having more testosterone means more lean muscle mass, stronger erections and a higher sexual drive – along with more self-confidence.

But how does testosterone build more muscle? We’ll get into that now.

The Science: How Testosterone Builds Muscle

A study published by the Department of Neurology, University of Rochester USA showed how testosterone increases muscle mass.

They measured that “muscle mass estimated by creatinine excretion increased in all nine subjects” when given testosterone – highlighting the response testosterone has on muscle formation. (08)

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Testosterone levels stimulate protein synthesis within the body. Basically, this means that your muscle building mechanism is turned on when testosterone is in abundance. (09)



There you have it, I hope this answers your question on whether or not you can build muscle while being in a stress state.

Let’s quickly recap:

Yes, you can build muscle while being in a stressed state, as any type of physical training puts stress on your body. Where it then needs time to recover with a good sleeping and dietary routine.

To build muscle efficiently, you need low levels of cortisol and higher levels of testosterone which stimulate protein synthesis – the muscle building mechanism.

If you’ve followed this article closely, you’ll see there’s one underlying issue that you need to control before you can build muscle, and that is; you need to lower your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

I hoped this article helped, if not, hit me up with a comment below, or why not check out the articles and guides below.

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01 – The relationship between cortisol, muscle mass and muscle strength in older persons and the role of genetic variations in the glucocorticoid receptor. (source)

02 – What Is Muscle Protein Synthesis? (source)

03 – Researchers discover the role of hormone in ‘creating fat’. (source)

04 – It’s official — spending time outside is good for you. (source)

05 – Ways to boost happiness. (source)

06 – Abrupt decrease in serum testosterone levels after an oral glucose load in men: implications for screening for hypogonadism. (source)

07 – Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. (source)

08 – Effect of testosterone on muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis. (source)

09 – The relationship between cortisol, muscle mass and muscle strength in older persons and the role of genetic variations in the glucocorticoid receptor. (source)


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