[Transcript] – 7 Signs Your Cortisol And Adrenals Are Broken

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Podcast from:  https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/hormones-podcasts/7-signs-your-cortisol-and-adrenals-are-broken/

[00:00] Introduction

[01:42] About Christopher Kelly and Dr. Jamie Busch

[03:12] How Chris Got Into Functional Medicine

[07:43] How Chris Convinced Jamie to Get Her Adrenals Tested

[12:48] The Biohealth 205 Test

[15:08] Why Jamie Took the 205 Test Before She was Burned Out

[17:05] Other Factors to Consider for Taking an Adrenal Stress Test

[24:46] Chris on Competing While in Ketosis

[28:28] End of Podcast

Ben:  Hey folks, it’s Ben Greenfield here and I’m joined today by two of the founders of a functional medicine practice called Nourish Balance Thrive and that’s at nourishbalancethrive.com.  The reason that I wanted to get these two folks on is because I get so many complaints, from the athletes that I work with, from podcast listeners, from folks who I talk with at conferences and face-to-face and via email and via phone, about this whole recovery issue.  Not recovering as fast as you wanna recover, getting pain and anything that ends with the word –itis basically on almost a weekly basis during your training, feeling like you’re getting tired during the day or unable to maintain the energy levels that you want to.  And experiencing all these things, it seems like you shouldn’t actually be experiencing when you’re going out and playing and doing what you love to do, and it can be frustrating.

So the folks from Nourish Balance Thrive have kinda… they kinda specialize in looking into what is actually causing these type of issues, whether it be the adrenal fatigue or the overtraining or the constant injuries or the inability to sleep or to recover.  And the two folks I have on the call today from Nourish Balance Thrive are Christopher Kelly, who’s a pro mountain biker, a certified functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner, and a graduate of the Kalish Institute which is one of the United States’… really the world’s most premiere institutes when it comes to really digging into what’s going on in the human body.  And with him is Dr. Jamie Busch who’s also a pro mountain biker, and Jamie is board certified in family medicine, and by the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine.  So these two put together obviously don’t know very much at all [laughs] and they’re also probably, as pro mountain bikers, not very active either.  So I’m sure that they have no clue what’s going on with folks when it comes to this adrenal fatigue/overtraining issue, right?

Christopher:  Right. [laughs]

Ben:  So let’s start here, Chris.  Pro mountain biker, certified functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner, graduate of the Kalish Institute, what’s your background?  How’d you get into all this?

Christopher:  Well, I’ve been tucking my whole life but I really became competitive in about 2008, so a little while ago, and mostly I just went out and I rode, charged hard.  And initially I made some really great gains, and I got faster and started winning races and having tons and tons of fun, but slowly but surely I started to fall apart.  My health was really suffering from the training, or at least that’s what it seemed.  My digestion was getting really bad and it’s taking longer and longer to recover from each workout.  People were calling on me to move up, go to the next category and I just was frightened by that prospect.  Races were longer in the higher categories and I just didn’t feel like I could do it, and so I started looking around for solutions and I stumbled across a book that I’m sure you’ve heard of, “The Paleo Diet for Athletes” by Joe Friel.

Ben:  Yeah.

Christopher:  And so I’m the sort of person that can just do something cold turkey, and so I did it.  I ate exactly as that book described and a lot of the things that I’ve been suffering from like horrible brain fog and fatigue and inability to recover from training and terrible digestion, all of that stuff it kind of improved quite dramatically.

Ben:  Hmm.

Christopher:  And I got excited by that because for the first time, I realized that this wasn’t just genetics, there were root causes at play here and there was stuff that I could do.

Ben:  Right.

Christopher:  Yeah, so that really kind of got me interested and I started listening to tons of podcasts and reading books, and actually this was one of the main podcasts that really got me into this stuff.  And so yeah…

Ben:  I’m glad somebody was listening.

Christopher:  Yeah, [laughs] definitely helped me and then I realized that I probably needed a doctor’s assistance in order to get all the gains that I wanted to make.  And so I went to my doctor and it was a really frustrating process where I would describe some symptoms like “I got allergies” or “my sex drive has just completely vanished” and I would leave his office with a prescription.  With allergies he’d say Allegra and he’d try to write me a prescription for Viagra and I was like “well, this doesn’t seem quite right.”  And so I kept digging, and in the meantime he sent me to a gastroenterologist coz really that was my main problem, my digestion was just horrible, just terrible bloating.  And so I went to the gastroenterologist and she wasn’t interested at all in what I was eating.  I tried to tell her about the paleo diet, she was not interested.  All she wanted to do was run some more labs which came back with occult fecal blood, it was actually blood in my poo, and…

Ben:  Wow.

Christopher:  Yes, a really high, elevated levels of C-reactive protein so obviously my digestion was a mess and…

Ben:  Yeah.

Christopher:  She actually said “well, what you should do is a colonoscopy and then if that comes back and confirms what we already know then I’ll have to put you on some steroids.”  And my wife Julie’s a food scientist and she really understands digestion and the gut microbiota and how everything works down there, and she was aware of the risks of colonoscopy.  And so she started doing some research and found the auto-immune paleo protocol.

Ben:  Right.

Christopher:  And that was about the same amount of help again as the standard paleo, it really, really improved my symptoms.  That was when I really saw in labs a really positive change.

Ben:  Yeah.

Christopher:  It was that got me thinking even more what else is possible?

Ben:  Right.

Christopher:  And then we stumbled across a book by Dan Kalish and did one of his protocols, and the main and most important test that he did for me was the 205, the adrenal profile.  It’s a saliva test.

Ben:  Okay.

Christopher:  Four vials, you’re probably aware of it, you spit into a vial four times in one day and it comes back with… it defines your circadian rhythm.

Ben:  That’s pretty similar to the ASI, the adrenal stress index, or?

Christopher:  Exactly, yeah.

Ben:  Okay.

Christopher:  So he ran actually five labs in total but I’d say that one was probably the most important.  And he just found I was completely burned out, not just… people know that high cortisol’s not good but we’ve been testing a lot of people now and it’s not normal finding people are burned out completely.  And so I had low cortisol, low testosterone, low progesterone, low melatonin, low everything.  I was just totally burned out.

Ben:  Wow.  Now Jamie, what role did you play in this?

Jamie:  So Chris and I actually met through the cycling community at a bike race and he got to talking about all of his experiences with his health and his training and his racing and recovery or lack of recovery.  Well, I wasn’t having overt symptoms either coz I myself race in the elite field and I’m pretty well known nationally, professional mountain biker myself.  I hadn’t necessarily experienced near the symptoms that he had experienced, but he got to talking, he got me thinking about me and my own athletic performance.  And I think as an athlete, any athlete, I think that we’re all looking for ways of improving our athletic performance and improving our race results and our time, and he was actually the one that prompted me and convinced me to go ahead and get my hormones tested, my adrenal axes tested.  And surprisingly enough, my results were a fair bit unusual; they actually came back as being… my cortisol levels being very much elevated.  So in most of those individuals or athletes that come to a physician or a functional medicine doctor would be already experiencing symptoms, sort of like what Chris was having.  So fortunately for me, I feel that we caught that hormonal imbalance early enough in the game that I’m able to address that problem.  This was months ago, a few months ago, and I had since been reestablishing the proper hormone balance and I’m actually seeing some improvements in my own training and recovery since then.  Maybe the important part was that we caught it before I started to get into the adrenal fatigue.  And this is really interesting because my formal training is in family medicine indeed, and I have also recently obtained board certification in integrated and holistic medicine so that’s sort of always the focus.

Ben:  Hmm.

Jamie:  But my interest in functional medicine has really stemmed from my overall dissatisfaction in the present mode of health care delivery.  As a medical doctor, I am extremely familiar with the limitations of the standard model of medical care, that is sort of diagnose a disease and match a disease with the corresponding drug.  And as Chris described in his experiences with all those physicians that he has been through, unfortunately as physicians we’re typically limited in our ability to practice.  That’s based on our scope of knowledge, the way we were trained and of course time constraints, operating under this umbrella of regular and normal allopathic medicine, I found myself and my practice simply writing prescriptions and managing symptoms, not really ever getting to the root cause of the problem.  And practicing like that was very disheartening, not only for myself but for the patients, as Chris had described…

Ben:  Yeah.

Jamie:  And I think while our motto of care works very well for acute diseases, trauma, and emergencies, I think it sadly fails miserably in the care of chronic diseases that affect most people.

Ben:  Right.

Jamie:  And most of the patients I have treated over the years have ongoing chronic conditions such as digestive issues like Chris described allergies, hormonal imbalances, fatigue, depression, anxiety, stress, neurological problems.  All these conditions that many people, Americans in particular, suffer from on a daily basis, not just your athlete.  Most of those conditions can be very difficult and can vary off and outside the realm of traditional allopathic medicine, so regular medicine doctors just don’t have the time to take that individualized approach to the patient.  So that is one of the many reason why I’ve become very frustrated with our traditional approach to health care.  I don’t think it’s neither helping nor caring and unfortunately, it’s your cookie cutter so… as Chris has described, his journey back to optimal health, it’s a wonderful example of the shortcomings of traditional medicine and why functional medicine sort of plays a role in optimal health for the individual and the athlete.

Ben:  Right, right.  Now in terms of this Nourish Balance Thrive practice, is that something that you and Chris are now doing together?

Jamie:  Yes, indeed.

Ben:  Okay, gotcha.  And tell me about this test that you’re running or the kind of tests that you’re running on these athletes that you’re seeing who have these issues, who are coming at you with some of the issues we’ve talked about.

Jamie:  Umm, Chris do you wanna take this question?

Christopher:  Yeah sure.  So the first and most important test is the Biohealth 205, the adrenal stress profile or adrenal stress index it’s sometimes called.  It’s just the name of the lab but that’s definitely the one to do first.  If you’re an athlete, I think really you’re up against, in terms of managing stress.  You’re putting so much stress on your body on a daily basis, it seems almost impossible to believe that you can maintain cellular hormone balance unless you do some really special, intimate interventions to balance that stress.  So yes, a really simple test to do, you can go on and order online yourself, you just spit into a vial four times in one day, and then we’ll know exactly what’s going on with your steroid hormones.

Ben:  Okay, just basically dripping saliva into a tube four times a day and then what do you do, ship it off afterwards?  Is it all done remotely, like people don’t actually come into your clinic or whatever?  They order this test and then they ship it off?

Christopher:  Yeah, it’s that simple.

Ben:  Okay.

Christopher:  Now you order online, I send you the kit, you do the test, it comes with a FedEx mailer, you drop it off at FedEx, it goes to the lab, results come back electronically.  It’s super simple, I don’t… we’ll talk on the phone but there’s really no need for us to meet in person.

Ben:  Okay.  Now what kind of things are you finding out as you’re testing athletes?  What are the main issues that seem to be popping up?

Christopher:  Low metabolites across the board, so you’ve almost certainly heard of the precursor pregnenolones.  Everything that’s derived from pregnenolone is usually low in someone that’s being exposed to chronic stress.

Ben:  So that’d be like testosterone, cortisol, everything?

Christopher:  Absolutely, everything.  So this is really important for health, you can’t really be healthy without steroid-hormone balance so it’s not just important for athletic performance.  If you wanna perform in life then you need steroid-hormone balance.

Ben:  Gotcha, okay.  Anything else that you’re noticing on these results like patterns, things of that nature?

Christopher:  Yes, so what we’re finding is that, especially in that early phase, I think what really happens here is there’s an early phase when people are excited and really motivated that they have high cortisol, like Jamie.

Jamie:  Hmm.

Christopher:  I intervened, I wouldn’t wait until she was burned out for her to do this test.  I actually persuaded her to do it, so that’s why she’s quite an unusual case.  Usually people with high cortisol, it feels good and people don’t complain about feeling good, right?  And they don’t want to do a test to prove that they feel good, they know it, and I think everyone goes through a phase like that.  And then the high cortisol, it lowers immunity and you pick up an infection that otherwise your immune system would normally be able to brush off.  So another important test that we’ve been doing is a stool test.

Ben:  Hmm.

Christopher:  So it’s not that much fun, you have to collect poop for four days and then send that to the lab.  You’ve probably done one, and what we’re finding is these people that are burned out, they’ve also got pathogens so we’re finding things like blastocystishominis, cryptosporidium parvum, we found c. difficile, I had some weird amoeba, a pinworm.  The different types of parasites are very wide and vary but the root cause is always the same: chronic stress and lowered immunity.

Ben:  Yeah, it’s amazing.  And I’ve actually seen some of that stuff myself in the gut tests that I’ve done, and I’ve interestingly also seen in my own testing, some of the things you’ve talked about as far as adrenals go, especially when I’m in the throes of Ironman training in particular.  You’d expect, for example, cortisol to be really high but I think a lot of people don’t realize you can get to a certain point where it drops low because you just can’t make it anymore.  Now in terms of kinda knowing if you should be doing an adrenal test like this, are there certain things qualitatively that might point out to people that “Hey, you should think about doing this kinda test.”  You talked about bloating, you talk about fatigue, are there a few other things that people might be feeling that would influence them to get a test like this done?

Christopher:  Yeah, so very low cortisol in the morning, you should feel a smooth level of energy throughout the course of the day.  Even though cortisol is highest the first thing in the morning and lowest at night, your perceived level of energy should be the same throughout the day.  And quite often, what we see is people reduce enough cortisol or nearly enough cortisol to get them out of bed in the mornings, but then by the afternoon they’re really struggling to get the cortisol to give them an appropriate level of energy.  So the afternoon is like a really common time for people to feel really tired, like 2-3 o’clock in the afternoon, and this manifests itself, you start looking to food for that energy, right?  It’s like kind of normally, that’s what you normally associate with energy, it’s like eating.  So people look to either sugary or salty or fatty snacks.  For me, doing the paleo diet, I knew that I shouldn’t be eating sugar, and so nuts was my go to snack of choice in the afternoons.  I just couldn’t get through the afternoon without a second cup of coffee and a big old handful of nuts. You know something’s wrong.

Ben:  Yeah, wow.  So once you actually get someone in, and they do a test like this, what’s the next step?  Are you doing certain protocols?

Christopher:  Yeah, so the protocols, there’s multiple parts to it and it involves a lot of time and energy and a relationship with you.  It’s very different from the doctor’s office where you just walk away with a prescription.  I already know through personal experience that doesn’t work.  I can’t just tell you to take a bunch of supplements coz that’s not gonna fix this.  So what we find that is the best solution is a more holistic approach, so diet is definitely the first and most important part.  We’d been finding that the paleo diet works the best for most people, and my wife’s a food scientists, she’s really good at debugging food diaries.  So we get people to do a food diary, we work through it with them, we spot lots of problems, usually there’s a lot of repetition in what people are eating, which is not good.  So we really customize the paleo diet to work perfectly for that individual.  And then we look at rest, so sleep is like the most important thing for recovering from adrenal fatigue, so it’s essential that you’re getting, especially as an athlete, at least 8 hours of sleep.  I don’t know anyone who can get by on less.  And selling sleep should be like selling sex.  It should be really easy.

Ben:  Ahh. [laughs]

Christopher:  And if it’s not happening, we’ve got some more tests that we can figure out why.  And normally the cause is blood glucose dysregulation, we’re finding people with unstable glucose just don’t sleep well, so that’s the next most important part.  And then exercise, more is not more.  With athletes, that’s something we normally can’t change, a professional athlete we can’t tell them to slow down, we just have to support them in the best way we can.

Ben:  Okay.

Christopher:  And then stress reduction is huge.  So I’ve heard you talk about HRV and mindfulness meditation and yoga and anything, all of these things are really good at lowering cortisol, taking a load off the adrenal glands.  Anything you can do to reduce your stress in other parts of your life will give you additional stress budget to spend on training.

Ben:  Okay, got it.  So you’ve got these protocols that you put people through and what have the actual outcomes been like?  What do you see, an immediate reversal of symptoms, does this take weeks, months, a year, what can people expect if they get a test and kinda start into these protocols?

Christopher:  It really varies by individual.  It has… some of the supplements we’re using are really effective and I sometimes get a text message from someone four hours after they’ve started a protocol saying “I know what’s in this, but it’s fantastic, I can’t believe how much energy I’ve got.”  But the truth is, it’s usually, if your cortisol’s super low and you’re burnt out, I think realistically it’s kinda of a six month project to fix that.

Ben:  Six months, okay.

Christopher:  Yeah, six to twelve months is quite typical, but it’s not forever.  You can expect to come off supplements completely after that period of time and as long as you don’t do whatever you did to get yourself into that situation in the first place, you’re then done with the supplements for life.

Ben:  Okay.

Jamie:  Yup, although I would interject to say we have worked with a few athletes that seem to have been so adrenal fatigued that within a week or two, they’ve been seeing results already.

Ben:  Hmm.  Wow, yeah.

Jamie:  It’s definitely a long process but some of our athletes have seen results really quickly.

Christopher:  And sometimes they see something unexpected, like they come to me with anxiety or migraines, and suddenly their cramp goes away.  It’s like that wasn’t even the original goal to solve that, I thought that was just another symptom that was just a thing.  Maybe they thought they were very fast-twitch dominant athlete that was very prone to cramp.  Again, it’s just not true, you improve digestive health, and all of a sudden these symptoms just mysteriously vanish, fantastic.

Ben:  Okay, so I’m right now, just went over to nourishbalancethrive.com and I can get this… I’m looking over right now.  So I can go over here, I can click on lab testing, and then once I order this test… like if I wanna do this for myself, would I order the… I’m looking at all the different tests that you have here.  You tell me, if I’m somebody who has all these issues that we’ve just been talking about, there’s 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, there’s like 8 different tests here from elemental analysis to metabolic profile to GI pathogen screening.  For the folks who are kinda interested in the overtraining/stressed-out type of profile, what do you recommend, which of these tests?

Christopher:  Definitely start with the 205.

Jamie:  Mmhmm.

Ben:  The 205.

Christopher:  We can’t… There’s really no point in you doing…

Ben:  Okay, that’s the one that says adrenal stress profile 205?

Christopher:  Exactly, adrenal stress profile.  If you’re not sure, like I said, everyone’s an individual.  We also see on the left hand side of the website, there’s a free consult.

Ben:  Right.

Christopher:  You can just order that and then we can spend 20 minutes on the phone to figure out what it is that’s gonna work best for you.

Ben:  Okay then, so somebody could just call.  They’d go over there to Nourish Balance Thrive, do the consult, then you’ll tell them where to go?

Christopher:  Exactly, yeah.

Ben:  Okay.

Christopher:  Some people, if you’re really into performance, the more tests that you do, the more information we have, the faster you can get better.  So people, they just don’t care, they’re like “I’m done with this, I wanna perform better, how do I do it?”  And so we do everything they want, we fix their diet, we reduce the stress, we do all the tests at once, we fix everything we find, and those people get the best results in the shortest period of time.

Ben:  Right.

Christopher:  Others, they like to take it more slowly, just take the adrenal stress profile, and then see how that goes.

Ben:  Got it, so as far as getting the most bang for your buck, it’s the adrenal stress profile that seems to kinda be the best place to start.

Christopher:  It’s absolutely, yeah.

Ben:  Okay, that one’s called the Biohealth 205.  Awesome, well I mean I get questions all the time from people about which tests, where to start, so this is really helpful.  So go to nourishbalancethrive.com if you’re listening in, you wanna check that out.  But I actually do not want to end this podcast right now because Chris, you actually are also doing something that’s near and dear to my heart, and that is that you’ve been competing this year in pro mountain biking, eating a ketogenic diet, and I’m curious how that’s been working out for you.

Christopher:  Yeah, it’s been great.  I have to say that listening to your podcast has been one of my inspirations, actually.  I know maybe for you it wasn’t all completely positive but it’s just a compelling idea, I just had to do it.  I sort of graduated from being really quite sick, and I think it’s important that you start this.  If you’re gonna do it, you have to be healthy first, right?  Don’t try and do this if your digestion is a mess and you’re in adrenal fatigue, it’s probably not the right decision.

Ben:  So what’s a sample day of eating look like for you?  Like if you’re gonna have a typical training day.

Christopher:  Uhh, you know, it’s really not as important as it used to be.  People ask me that all the time, “what you eat before a race?” and I’m like “it doesn’t really matter because I’ve already got all the fuel I need on board”, right?

Ben:  Right.

Christopher:  I start the day “what’d I have today?”  I had bone broth for breakfast and I had a little bit of US Wellness Meats in it, and then four egg yolks and then some beef tallow and some coconut oil.  So super high calorie, probably like 1000 calories in there, mostly fats, 80% of calories is an awful lot.  And yeah, I’ve been having fantastic results with it.  The mountain bike, so, so much climbing up and down all the time, so that’s normally where the race is won and lost, and so weight is everything.  It’s really important to be light, and I was already pretty lean but I got a lot lighter.  I was 66 kilos and now I’m 62-63 so that’s kind of a big difference for me.

Ben:  Yeah.

Christopher:  Yeah, just fantastic in the races.  I just have this incredible mental clarity that persists.

Ben:  Uhuh.

Christopher:  Normally people feel pretty good and pretty excited at the start of the race, but my mood doesn’t change throughout the course of the race.  I just have less fatigue, and you have these amazing experiences when you look at people as you pass them on the second lap, after hour two or hour three.  And you look into their eyes and you just see a fog.  Just like suffering fog, and you don’t feel any different from when you were warming up.

Ben:  Yeah.  I experience the same thing when I did, especially Ironman Canada last year in full on ketosis.  I was motoring on through that 112 mile bike ride and I was one of the first age-groupers off the bike and most of that happened in the last 30 miles where I was just passing people right and left and felt like I was on jet fuel.

Christopher:  Yeah.

Ben:  It was pretty crazy, so…

Christopher:  It’s great.  I watch people reach for their back jersey pocket for another gel and that’s kinda like my cue to pass.

Ben:  [laughs] Yeah.  You’re like “I got lots of gels on board in the form of adipose tissue.”

Christopher:  Exactly, yeah.

Ben:  Cool.  Well this is really fascinating stuff and I would encourage folks to go over to nourishbalancethrive.com.  I mean if anything, just do a consult, figure out what it is, what direction’s gonna be right for you.  And Chris and Jamie, I wanna thank you guys for your time and for coming on the call and kinda walking people through all this.

Jamie:  Thank you.

Christopher:  Yeah, thank you for having me Ben, it’s like a real privilege to be on the show because I’ve learn so much from you.  It’s super cool to be on.

Ben:  That’s great, very cool.  Alright folks, until next time, this is Chris, Jamie, and Ben signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.  Be sure to check outnourishbalancethrive.com and have a great week.



You spend countless hours training, working out, eating right and buffeting your body…

…and hundreds or even thousands of dollars on gym equipment, training equipment, health supplements, healthy food, and if you’re a triathlete, marathoner, cyclist, adventure racer, obstacle racer or anything like that, travel and race entry fees too…

…but if you’re overlooking your hormone health, you’re often either taking two steps forward and one step back, or stagnating in your performance and fitness, or worse yet, backsliding in your results!

Go take a look at the results from your last workout or event.

What was the time gap between you and the top of your category, beating your last workout, or making the progress you wanted?



Here’s the important thing you need to know – your hormones could be holding you back. And an optimal level of cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, progesterone, estrogen and melatonin could easily be the difference that changes your body, your sleep, your drive, your energy and your training and racing season.

It’s time to learn how to make a difference, and to discover the 8 signs that your cortisol and adrenals may be broken.

So in today’s podcast, I am joined today by two of the founders of the functional medicine practice Nourish Balance Thrive.

Christopher Kelly (pictured right) is a Pro mountain biker, certified Functional Diagnostic Nutrition practitioner and a recent graduate of the Kalish Institute. Along with Christopher, I interview Dr. Jamie Busch, also a Pro mountain biker. Jamie is board certified in Family Medicine and by the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine.

During this episode, you’ll learn about how to recognize adrenal stress, how to test adrenal stress, and what you can do about it. Christopher has also given you seven simple signs below that can help you decide if it’s time to get to know your adrenals a little more intimately.

7 Signs Your Cortisol And Adrenals Are Broken.

  1. Reduced interest in all things sexy.

Been a long time since you woke up, um, excited? Finding yourself coming up with lots of reasons you really need to just ‘get some sleep?’ Yeah, it’s not fun, and it’s not normal, even for athletes.

Sex hormones pay the price of increased adrenal hormone output, which is directly affected by proper digestion, nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, sleep patterns, amount of training, pretty much everything. Testing your adrenals along with your sex hormones tells you exactly what you need to do to get yourself back on track.

  1. Uneven energy throughout the day.

You drag yourself out of bed but really you’d rather hit the snooze button. A coffee outage is a major crisis. The rest of the morning is not too bad, but fatigue sets in soon after lunch. What a wonderful time to take a nap! You don’t get as excited about working out as you used to, but feel much better after a really long warm up.

These are all signs of cortisol dysregulation. Cortisol follows a diurnal rhythm, highest first thing an hour or so before sunrise, reaching a nadir a couple of hours after bed, but that doesn’t mean that first thing should be your most energetic time of the day, instead you should perceive a consistent level of energy throughout.

  1. Sudden onset sugar and carb cravings.

You’ve just had lunch and yet you’re still hankering for another handful of nuts or maybe one of those gluten-free Paleo bars. You have a standing date with the office snack pantry and coffee machine at 3PM.

Cortisol affects carbohydrate and fatty acid metabolism, and low cortisol nearly always means low energy. Eating for symptom relief always leads to weight gain, especially in the presence of other hormonal imbalances.

  1. Disrupted sleep.

On rest days you sleep like a baby, but every other day is pretty hit or miss. Race day? Forget it, no rest for the wicked. Wired and tired. All.Night. Long.

The half life of cortisol is hours, and high cortisol means high energy and low melatonin, the sleep hormone. In addition, training might not be your only source of stress. High nighttime cortisol can also be associated with an infection, or GI pathogen like H. pylori or Blastocystishominis.

  1. Slow or little muscle gain despite strength training.

You’re losing interest in strength training because you’re just not seeing the gains. If you really go for it the delayed onset soreness affects your other training for days.

DHEA and testosterone are essential for long term muscle building projects, and over producing cortisol will always lead to low levels of both because they are produced from the same precursors. It makes perfect sense to favor the stress response over building new lean muscle. Your body doesn’t need new muscle if you might not even survive the day.

  1. Injuries. A lot of them.Most of them ending in ‘itis.’

You’ve started collecting more insurance bills than race medals every season. You keep getting injured, and you don’t even know how.

Cortisol is hormone designed to liquidate your assets, and overproducing it leads to excessive breaking down. Too much breaking down leads to injury. Not to mention the inflammation and reduced ability to recover from said injuries.

  1. Less than stellar digestion.

Really dreading that race food.Runner’s trots. On the bike isn’t much better. Oh the bloating, the bloating is the worst.

In the presence of stress, digestion is inhibited. There isn’t enough time to derive the energetic benefits of the slow process of digestion so why waste energy on it? Chronically over producing cortisol leads to chronically poor digestion, sometimes through lowered immunity and infection.

What You Need To Know About Testing

Any one of these scenarios can be the start of a vicious cycle. Athletes and busy, hard-charging individuals alike place a heavy burden on the adrenal system, so it’s even more important to figure it all out. Establishing a baseline can save you tons of time trying to pinpoint every little sign and symptom, it will allow you to start and end the season at a place of health. The best part? Figuring it out isn’t hard.

This one simple saliva test that we discuss in today’s podcast, and the help of a well trained practitioner, allowed me to design a diet, lifestyle and supplement protocol which after just six months showed some quite remarkable improvement. For example: DHEA-S ng/ml: before 1.75 after 7.6 (+434%), Testosterone pg/mL: before 62.9 after 109 (+173%).

As regular readers of BenGreenfieldfitness will know, long term supplementation with hormones is a bad idea. Supplement with testosterone, and first you’ll get disqualified if you are racing or competing, and next, your body will downregulate its own endogenous production and sensitivity to it.

A more intelligent solution then would be to uncover and address the root causes of the stress that appears on the test result. Each individual is unique, but a good protocol should take into account eating to maximise nutritional density, getting sufficient rest, a well thought out training program, and lab-based supplementation.


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