November 30, 2012
Christopher Walker has a crazy story.
When Christopher (a very good triathlete, runner and all-around extremely active guy who I interview in today's audio episode), was in his mid-20's, he discovered he had a brain tumor that was pressing up against his pituitary gland and stopping his body from making testosterone.
As a result, Christopher ballooned up to 221lbs and began to experience all the very unpleasant effects of a significant hormone balance.
You're going to hear Christopher's fascinating story in today's audio, but in the article below, Christopher is also going to give you 10 steps that he has discovered which will help you balance your hormones, even while training hard.
10 Steps To Balance Your Hormones While Training Hard
The endocrine system, and its interplay with your brain, are inherently complicated.
Undertaking the task of optimizing your hormonal balance may seem like a daunting task, full of complicated science and unorthodox training techniques.
Luckily, it isn’t.
In fact, many of you may be surprised, and possibly even a bit disappointed, at how simple it really is. No magic pills. No secret tricks. No voodoo onion soup.
And to be honest, I wish I could say that I used some special formula or crazy secret technique to beat my brain tumor without medication or surgery, but in reality, all I did was take things back to the basics: I got in touch with my body at its basic level and gave it what it really needed at the time.
Your body is inherently intelligent, and when given the opportunity to facilitate its own healing, will undergo some absolutely unreal improvements in a very short amount of time. It just needs the go ahead, the green light so to speak.
Give Your Body The Green Light
The podcast attached to this article goes into depth about my personal struggle with an out-of-whack endocrine system and how I brought my body back to its basics to overcome some very serious issues. You’ll get a small taste of my background and hear a little bit about what I am doing right now to try and help as many people I can to overcome their problems through natural means.
In this article, however, I would like to focus our attention on a more specific group of athletes – multisport athletes – and the best steps you can take in your training and day-to-day lives to optimize your hormonal balance.
As a former serious triathlete & duathlete, I know exactly what most multisport athletes deal with every day. From the chronic fatigue, muscle soreness, low drive, low muscle mass, and bone density issues, to adrenal fatigue, overtraining, blood sugar swings, sleep issues, and ravenous hunger, the everyday life of a devoted endurance athlete can be quite the grind.
The reality is this: those problems are all either caused or influenced, in some way, shape, or form, by your endocrine system. Several key hormones play roles in these processes but the biggest culprit, in terms of endurance training, is cortisol.
Training is a stressor to your body.
The nature of multisport training has athletes out on the road or in the pool between 1-6 hours a day. Now, don’t be mistaken, cortisol is not an inherently “bad” hormone; balanced levels are responsible for baseline vital functions in the body.
However, an excess or dearth of cortisol both indicate an unbalanced system: too high or too low. They are both bad in their own ways. As an athlete, you must take care to mitigate prolonged, or chronic, exposure to stressors, lest your endocrine system, particularly your adrenal glands, become overworked.
The following are my recommendations for steps you can take in your training, right now – they are simple to implement – that will, over time, lead a more balanced endocrine system: which will keep you strong, lean, and happy.
1. Train Your Mind:
Before we get into the physical steps, let’s talk about thought processes. This is where it all begins. If you approach your training with patience and your nutrition with balance you will:
a. Be able to sustain the positive improvements easily.
b. Drastically lower your mental stress levels, which can have a significant effect on your cortisol levels & wellbeing in general.
2. Create A Marked Dichotomy Between Going Hard And Recovering
In your training you will want to really focus on recovery when you are recovering and on going hard when you do your interval work. People say it all the time but it’s still very common to overlook and most of us tend to continue slogging away as a one-speed athlete somewhere in the middle.
There is no shame in going easy on your rest days. Race during the race. Train intelligently so you will have a good race.
3. Train Explosiveness
My 16 year old brother, a high school runner, is looking to get his times into the mid-15’s for 5km and 4:12-18 for the mile this year. He has great inherent talent and speed, however, as we look toward bringing him to the next level (i.e. sub-15 and low-4 min), we are placing a large emphasis on training his explosive power in his entire body (including upper body).
Beyond the fact that the training we are undertaking is going to increase both his stride rate and length (which equals increased speed), and deeply strengthen the muscles in his core (back & front) and quads, we are also looking to create a noticeable increase in circulating testosterone & growth hormone release over the coming months, while simultaneously decreasing cortisol levels. Training fast-twitch muscle fibers has long been scientifically-correlated with increased levels of testosterone and growth hormone, both of which have been found to have antagonistic effects on excess cortisol – especially with regards to breakdown of adipose/fat tissue.
4. Train In The Afternoon/Evening
This may be a big change, but I recommend sleeping in (#8) and undertaking your training in the afternoon or evening. Research has shown that, because some hormonal secretions tend to be influenced by circadian cycles, subjecting your body to training stress in the morning, a time when your circulating cortisol levels are naturally high, may be counterproductive for those trying to reach a balance.
5. Mitigate Free-Radical Exposure
Large amounts of exercise are known to create an imbalance between levels of antioxidants and free radicals, a process known as oxidative stress. If you are training heavily, you’ll want to supplement your diet with some common antioxidants: vitamins A, C, E, glutathione, and flavonoids being the easiest to get your hands on.
6. Train Using Volume…And Quality
Lots of people – coaches, gurus, & weekend warriors alike – love to draw lines in the sand. We all love to think that our way is the best way. Multisport culture has been fixated on this forever-old training debate regarding quality versus quantity.
I’m here to tell you that you should do both. In the effort of balancing your endocrine system, you must take a balanced approach to many other things, including training.
Repping out hard interval workouts 4 or 5 times a week is just as unhealthy as slogging 110 mile weeks at 160bpm. Refer back to #2 and take that idea and apply it to your training. When you go out for a recovery run, makes sure it’s rejuvenating. Shoot for a constant low heart rate, even if it means walking up hills. Walking is so underrated. Recover.
And when you do hit the track or the hills, really punch the gas. It’s good for you.
7. Become Fat-Adapted
Increased HPA activation, cortisol secretion in particular, has been implicated in visceral obesity and the accumulation of stomach fat. Becoming fat-adapted as an athlete – teaching your body to call upon its fat stores for energy, as opposed to its glycogen and sugar sources – will allow you to not only decrease your levels of circulating cortisol over time, but also limit hunger, decrease body fat levels, increase insulin resistance, and maintain lean muscle mass.
8. Sleep As Much As Possible
Sleep is one of the body’s finest homeostatic regulatory mechanisms: give it the opportunity to do its work. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to catch some Z’s if you’re looking to reach a balance. Sleep is also wonderful for memory consolidation. Lack of sleep has been found to dramatically elevate cortisol levels over the following day.
9. Practice Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a wonderful thing. And nowadays there is a ton of good information on it all over the internet. For most sugar-burning endurance athletes it will be near impossible to make the switch to daily fasting while still maintaining your current training load. That is why it’s so important to train your body to become fat-adapted.
I’ve found that personally I can now go well into the afternoon with a fast, then do an entire workout (even had a period where I would do a routine 8 mile run fasted), before eating my first meal (and it was a BIG one ;D ). This is fat-adaptation. My workouts are great, and I have tons of energy all day, because my body burns a high percentage of fat for fuel, not sugars.
Intermittent fasting, even without a decrease in overall caloric intake, has been shown to significantly decrease cortisol concentrations.
10. Be Incredibly Patient
You didn’t get out of whack in day so don’t expect to fix it in a week. The process of balancing your endocrine system is long and slow, requiring constant implementation of these simple changes. The best method to induce sustainable change is to integrate them into your lifestyle so they’re second nature.
Author Christopher Walker owns “NoGym.net“, where you can discover how to lose body fat, build muscle, and get that powerful & lean physique you’ve always wanted – without ever stepping foot in a gym.
Are you experiencing any symptoms of endocrine imbalance? If so, or if you have any questions, please just drop a line in the comments section below and I’ll try to help!
37 thoughts on “Are Your Hormones Out-Of-Whack? 10 Steps To Balance Your Hormones, Even While Training Hard.”
Hi all! This is very late and not sure if there is the chance for a response, hopefully! :)
Thank you guys so much for this article and responses, I cannot thank you enough as I am continuously battling and trying to understand what my body has been going through the last ten years. To be brief, I am a former college athlete and have definitely dealt with the stressors that come with it in reflection to my endocrine system. NOW! I am not an athlete anymore, I am a very healthy and active individual but have been struggling with my body’s up and down issues that have been making it difficult to find a solution. I struggle with constipation, low energy, fatigue, and it feels as though my body slows down or becomes depressed in a sense (even when I don’t feel depressed mentally). Then I will go through waves of feeling good, my body may be back on track with my digestion, I can feel my energy increase. But that is very much short lived as I go through the week(s) feeling my body slow down once again, even if I am still staying consistent with my lifestyle and eating habits. I have been following a lot of the recommendations that you state by avoiding wheat/gluten, avoiding dairy, HIIT exercises, plenty of sleep (7-8 hours), I take magnesium, turmeric, ashwanganda, avoiding excess sugars (no soda or processed foods). So you can imagine the frustrations if everything is somewhat in place but my body is not reflecting that in the slightest. I have also done a colonoscopy because I wasn’t sure if it was purely a digestive issue. Turns out my colon is fine and dandy so I am crossing off certain boxes but still stumped on what I can do. Anything helps and I appreciate the response.
I hope I'm not too late in trying to get a response to my comment here. I just listened to the podcast. I wonder if you could give any suggestions to my situation. I used to be a pretty good runner, I ran 5 days a week, and had a PB of 1.46. But through the past year I couldn't understand why I kept gaining weight-especially as I was trying to lose- and I started to be tired all the time and was coming up with constant overuse injuries. Even though I did train a lot, it wasn't really excessive. But I ended up overtrained, for which I took 3 frustrating weeks off and just walked. Shortly after I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. A part of me was relieved, because at least I had a reason why. So I started on thyroxine, and that's where it all started to get a lot worse. I eventually had several more increases in dosage, which has improved my energy levels but thrown other things out of balance. I now run about 30-45 sec p/km slower with my pace (which is a lot), and when I do run my HR is usually really high, often in the 170s. This in turn makes it feel really awful, and clearly creates far too much of a stress response. My breathing when I run has gotten so much worse too. I already used to hyperventilate in races, but now it's my lungs that hold me back. Sometimes I'll have a hyperventilation episode just in a training run. As I'm now working as a personal trainer it is so frustrating to deal with this, and to know the different approaches to training and nutrition, and the changes they should make, yet with me I stay the same. I've recently switched to eating along Primal guidelines, which feels really good. But still no change in my weight either. Any suggestions?
The very best place for you to start would be here, Anita:https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2012/05/what-to-do-when-you’re-overtrained/Hope that helps, and I'm happy to do a private consult with you here if you'd like https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/coaching
I have a question but am unsure where to ask it. Regarding my daughter, 29 years old, very fit from yoga, running, cycling, swimming, weights, though she is not competitive. But she has not had menstrual cycle in over a year now and very worried about this. Some body changes obvious to me. Is there a way I could get some suggestions?
I would recommend consulting a doctor: http://bit.ly/2JB1IG4
Strange…I too, was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor back in 2005. My prolactin levels were skyhigh. With the right meds, It shrunk to a micro size. Now I'm struggling with estrogen levels.
Amy, focusing on doing the right things to optimize your body's natural hormonal balance should help with your estrogen levels. A couple things I've found particularly helpful and that, when done consistently over the course of 6+ months, should almost certainly create a noticeable improvement, are:
1. Cut out/down on grains in your diet (especially wheat gluten)
2. Drastically reduce sugars (not necessarily carbs esp if you're an endurance athlete)
3. Work on fat adaptation
4. Intermittent fasting a couple times per week
5. Increase amount of red meat and eggs in diet (make sure your sugar intake is low when increasing these foods)
6. Resistance training with compound movements and explosion
Hope this helps!
Thank you for the information in this article. I have recently been diagnosed with a pituitary tumor as well and found the info. in your article very helpful. Did these strategies actually shrink your tumor? Did you have elevated prolactin levels? Any other tips for me? I am a nurse, personal trainer, and wellness coach and commend you for your all-natural approach. Thank you for sharing! Would love to hear from you.
Hi Tara, Glad you found the info helpful. According to the MRI results, these strategies did not shrink the tumor itself; but they did eliminate it's influence over my pituitary gland. It's a null cell tumor so it merely blocked secretion and didn't secrete hormones itself. Because of that my prolactin levels were always normal. What type of pit tumor do you have? You may find my reply to Alan above helpful as well.
Thanks for the comment!
Hi Ben and Chris, and thanks for the episode-I was actually going to ask Ben a question about training with a macro prolactinoma but didn't want to do it audibly which is the only easy way I've seen on the website and prefer better anonymity.
a few months ago I was diagnosed with a macro prolactinoma and had a few questions based on my studies, your podcast, and the advice from my endocrinologist. So people know it's actually much more common- study of cadavers shows than 25% of people have some pituitary micro-adenoma, but only 1/7000 have one that is symptomatic(ie: affects hormone levels enough to be noticed)… (and a head tumor vice a brain tumor-meaning surgery less invasive and wouldn't damage brain for most cases).
1) Do you have a prolactinoma? I'm guessing yes since most common, and what was the size? (This can affect treatment options, etc.). What was your prolactin level prior to starting treatment?
2) you mentioned starting medicine and hormone replacement therapy (surprised hormone replacement-my endocrinologist said no replacement therapy as the body would restore once prolactin secretion stopped by medicine (cabergoline or dostinex was his recommendation). How long did you take medication and what kind before you stopped-didn't hear those specifics and think important to understand what prolactin and testosterone levels were when you ultimately stopped meds-for a micro probably ok, but a macro has an 80% chance of recurrence-and was told because my tumor is huge I likely will need meds and. Can wane off but most likely hormones will get messed up pretty quickly despite good diet and exercise.
3) Curious about symptoms and remedies due to atrophy, granted think mine went much longer undiagnosed than yours as I'm now 40 but had symptoms for years. Size 2.3cmx1.8×1.7, prolactin level 1700
I've had chronic upper back and neck pain for over a year and the Dr says unlikely it's related but am surprised aS I think I have increased cortisol but they haven't tested for it, which I think is wrong. Physical therapy isn't working. Also felt structurally frail running like bones, joints, everything felt really weak. Did you have any of these symptoms and what to remedy?
4) curious why taking cla and yohimbe if you quit all medication and hormone therapy-seems contradictory, no?
5) I'm a fitness and nutrition nerd and fighting this tumor I'm looking forward to asking more questions and hopefully all of us improving our lives!
Hi Alan, Those are some really interesting figures, thanks for sharing them. Unfortunately it seems as though we are in slightly different situations. However, I'll try and answer your questions as well as possible:
1. I do not have a prolactinoma. It is 10mm, so right on the line between micro & macro. It is what's referred to as a null cell adenoma because it doesn't secrete hormones, instead blocking them from being secreted. My gonadotropin (LH & FSH) levels, growth hormone, and testosterone were all abnormally low along with some blood markers that I don't fully remember. My prolactin levels have always remained normal.
2. The hormone replacement therapy recommendation was suggested to compensate for the low levels above. SSRI's were prescribed for depressive symptoms (caused by the low hormone levels). I followed the doctor's guidelines for a couple months before realizing that these solutions were not actually going to help me: they were only going to put a band-aid on the symptoms, not get to the root of the problem, hence the shift away.
3. In terms of physical symptoms, I did have general weakness like you describe but it was not a crippling as it seems yours might be. I also had incredibly irritating insomnia: I could go three days and nights with absolutely no sleep before crashing then repeating. All symptoms of severe clinical depression were present.
4. I take CLA and Yohimbine purely for stubborn fat loss purposes due to my career. Again, I try to avoid drawing lines in the sand when they're not necessary and will almost always take a moderate approach if it makes sense. CLA and Yohimbine are merely temporary dietary supplements.
Hope this all helps Alan!
Caution to this story for those who may try to follow these guidelines; as a health care professional myself, this type of plan can be very dangerous for most people, especially women! Seek more guidance before you try this. Good story though.
Fascinating story. I listened twice.
Hi guys, thank you both so much for this episode. I've just come from a month off all training after a nice combination of too much training and nowhere near enough sleep. The result? A nice case of shingles, non existent sex drive and just feeling like crap. It's way too easy to go too hard for too long and I'm bringing things into balance now. This podcast helped a lot, as it was applicable to my situation.Thanks again.
Glad it helped, Ian!
I stopped doing HIIT for 1.5 years and started agin recently. I started with very few 3 reps at low intensity to acclimatize even after having a decent endurance base. Last HIIT workload I did ;
Warm up for 10 – 15min.
5 times, 2min on 3min off. Intensity level is at 75-80%.
Cool down 10 min.
I also practice Dr. Kruse cold thermo since late June of this year. I got many positive results with it but still not with HIIT.
Hey Marius, do you notice a difference in how you feel during the day itself after these workouts? Or is it only a sleeping issue? For example, anxiety, headaches, or just being a little more "wired" than usual? It sounds like your sympathetic nervous system has a difficult time 'coming down.'
Also, in line with Ben's recommendation, have you tried an ice bath immediately after the session? Cup of tea, a magazine, and tub full of ice for 15-20 mins has usually helped me 'reset.' Also, do you have a particularly stressful job or daily travel requirements/commuting?
To clarify – I'm referring to an ice bath immediately following the workout as opposed to later in the day b/c taking one close to sleep will also effect your sleep patterns; it's very difficult to sleep when your body isn't back at a normal temp.
I usually feel very relaxed for a few hours, I could sleep during this time but after these couple hours light exiety kicks in. I treat it with magnesium.
Then when i'm in bed trying to sleep I feel part of the brain wanting to go into sleep mode but something is blocking it, from this I get a mild hedache. I cannot explain feeling any better.
Please help me with resolving the issues that I have with HIIT workouts. Every time when I do HIIT workouts on the bike or run, following 3, 4 nights I have trouble going to sleep, staying asleep or getting quality sleep. This occurs even if I do such workout late morning or early afternoon.
Some info about myself that may help you provide me better advice ; I always get 7, 8 hours of sleep. Eat a low carb, moderately high good fat and protein diet. No supplements except whole food vitamins which I don't take every day and magnesium. I do not overtrain, my maximum workout load in a week is 7, 9 hours a week, this being in summer months only dropping down to 3, 4 hours in the winter months.
Thank you in advance.
Great article Chris. I gotta agree, fasting everyday was probably the greatest decision I've ever made in my life. My energy is off the charts and I always get my most productive work done while fasting.
Hey Keith, yeah fasting has been such a positive change overall. I totally find the same thing to be true – during a fast my mind is clearer which really helps channel creative energy. I saw an article on this recently. Literally the starving artist = more creative.
Hi Christopher and Ben, Thanks for this post. It's comforting to know I am not alone in my struggle. I, too, suffer from a pit tumor (microadenoma from elevated levels of prolactin). I exercise approx 10 hours per week (alternating pilates, step classes, weight lifting classes, and aerobics). No matter what I do thru diet or exercise, I cannot get rid of my belly fat. I have toyed with taking cortisol blockers but have my reservations — though I'm hitting my wit's end. Do you have any dietary suggestions aside from fasting that could help? Thanks again.
Hi Ann – I can totally empathize with your struggle. If you'd like, you can send me an email at [email protected] and maybe you can explain your story a little more then I can try and help you in whatever way possible. These tumors can be very irritating so if I can help you let me know..
I'll get an email off to you soon, Chris, with more details on my personal situation. Thank you!
Thanks for sharing your stories, Chris and Ann. I similarly had suffered vague symptoms, and it took a while to finally diagnose a pituiary macroadenoma. I had to have surgery due to the size and the tumor impacting my vision (which I had not even noticed!) I started employing some of the same tactics as Chris postop as far as exercise goes, I eat a Primal diet, and I have seen great results. I blog about my experience and about stress management/wellness at Practicebalance.com… check it out b/c I think especially Ann could benefit from reading my story. I was also featured on Mark's Daily Apple. Ann, I think your resistant belly fat could be due to too much cardio on top of the fact that you're at a disadvantage to lose belly fat due to the prolactin – I also had issues with fat loss before mine was removed. Good luck!
Somehow my link didn't work… here is the actual link ti the MDA story of my tumor… http://www.marksdailyapple.com/a-doctor-finds-pri…
And you t can get to my blog bybclicking on my name here.
BTW, I really liked the tips, like being patient and listening to your body. Good stuff!
Hi Dawn, thanks for the helpful contribution. I remember reading your story over at MDA a while back and checking out your blog. I'm curious – have you run into any issues post-op or was it like removing a clog and now everything is running well with no problems?
Thanks, Chris. In some ways, surgery did solve a lot of mental and physical problems – namely an insatiable appetite, poor sleep, fatigue, and depression. But Due to the tumor size and extensive resection, I have some residual problems. I have some vision loss in the left eye, And some of the hormones that go through the pituitary still do not work correctly. I still have to take low doses or hydrocortisone to support my cortisol production, and I still do not ovulate. Docs think the estrogen was so low for so long that it could take years for that to increase. But honestly it's all oretty manageable and could be much worse. I feel pretty good and continue to see gains in training, rock climbing, and fat loss maintenance… but I do owe that mostly to lifestyle at this point I think (weight training and primal eating, less stress at work). Good luck to you!
Dawn, thank you so much for your post. I will check out your blog today.
I will check this out today, thanks!
Great show Ben and thanks for sharing your story, Chris. Ben – I’m sure you have many such success stories. Love to hear more. Chris mentioned Yohimbine HCL. Haven’t heard you address this supplement before. Searched around on the web for it and it seems to be one of those obscure, somewhat scary body building supps that may not be the best for you. What’s your take? Is there a brand you’d recommend?
Chris – What brand of Yohimbine HCL do you use? Found Primaforce Yohimbine HCL at iHerb that looks sound. How do you use it? Dosage, frequency and with meals? I've found good fat reduction results with CLA over the years and I'm intrigued with Yohimbine you mention.
Jeff, the only thing I’ve used Yohimbe for is sex. And it works quite well for that (primarily at the risk of a ‘too much information’ hardness and sensitivity)…but I haven’t used it for a long period of time then measured free testosterone or anything like that…I just used a supplement from Walgreen’s for that…don’t remember the name…
OK, now I'm really intrigued ;-) Think I'll try a bottle of the Primaforce HCL ($11) and give it a try. I'll warn my wife ahead of time!
Hey Jeff – yep, I use the Primaforce yohimbine hcl. Generally I’ll take 1-2 capsules on an empty stomach with a glass of water and/or cup of black coffee about 30-60 mins prior to doing a resistance or sprint workout.
Great thanks Christopher. Appreciate you sharing your compelling story. Certain you just helped a lot of people.