What is Cortisol and Why Reducing it is Good

Do you find yourself constantly tired, stressed and not enjoying things you previously did? Are you experiencing unexplainable weight gain even while adhering to a solid diet and workout regimen?

What you’re experiencing, most likely, is high cortisol levels. Not familiar with this hormone or why having high cortisol levels is a bad thing, especially in terms of fat loss and muscle gain? Don’t worry, we’ve got all the information on this important hormone ahead as we look in-depth at all there is to know about cortisol.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is your primary “stress” hormone. It’s released when you’re faced with any sort of threat, attack or perceived harmful event. Following this acute stressor, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system which ignites the “fight or flight response.”

At times, cortisol is a very necessary and useful, i.e. when getting chased by a cheetah in the wild. However, when cortisol levels get out of hand and are elevated for prolonged periods of time, that’s when things start to go awry.

Problems with High Cortisol Levels

Over the last 15-20 years, science has revealed some rather alarming side effects as a result of chronically high cortisol levels, including:

  • Fatigue

    Cortisol interferes with normal production of other hormones, which disrupts sleeping patterns and leads to physical and mental fatigue. [1,2]

  • Impaired Brain Function

    Elevated cortisol levels contribute to “brain fog” or mental cloudiness. It can also interfere with memory formation and recall too. [3]

  • Illness

    Cortisol hinders immune system function, making your more susceptible to illness, disease and infections. [4]

  • Accelerates Aging

    Not only does stress increase your chances of getting sick, it also accelerates the aging process at the cellular level. The telomere is the outermost part of the chromosome. As you age, the telomeres gradually shorten over the years. Telomere length has also been associated with age-related diseases and longevity.

    New research shows that individuals experiencing high levels of depression or chronically elevated cortisol levels exhibit shorter telomere lengths than control groups, leading researchers to the conclusion that stress plays a contributing factor to accelerating the aging process. [5]

  • Chronic Complications

    Being stressed all the time is also a contributing factor in the development of several severe chronic health complications including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. [6]

  • Weight Gain

    Last, but not least, worrying all the time and being stressed increases appetite, encourages unhealthy eating habits, and perhaps worst of all, signals your body to shift your metabolism from burning fat to storing it [7,8], thereby making that “stubborn” fat all the harder to lose

As you can see, being stressed and having high cortisol levels is no laughing matter. Now, let’s look at few ways to keep cortisol levels in check and promote better fat burning and health.

How to Reduce Stress

  • Exercise

    Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and for many people a daily means to getting away from pressure. In the short term, exercise does temporarily increase cortisol levels, but it’s an essential part of the muscle-building process and will return back to normal in the ensuing hours following your workout.

    The key to managing exercise and cortisol is in the amount of exercise you do. If you’re overtraining and under recovering (i.e. training 3x per day and not sleeping), your cortisol levels will become chronically elevated since you never give your body the down time it needs to restore homeostasis. Following a properly designed exercise routine ensures you’re getting all the benefits of exercise (and cortisol), with none of the drawbacks.

  • Learn to Relax

    Sometimes the best way to deal with stress is to just chill out and relax. What do we mean by relax? We’re talking about using various relaxation exercises as a means to lessen cortisol levels and gain a little bit of self-control so that you’re not as easily stressed out when things go sideways in life.

    Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, massage therapy, yoga, listening to calming music, drinking tea, and even reading have been shown to dramatically reduce cortisol levels.[9,10,11]

    Not a fan of yoga, that’s ok, there are countless relaxation techniques out there, try one until you find one that suits your fancy and practice it regularly.

  • Supplements

    The final “easy” fix to help get cortisol under control is by using supplements proven to help lower the cortisol response. Specifically, we’re talking about adaptogens. These potent herbs are old-world remedy that have modern science backing proving their efficacy at improving the body’s response to various stressors and significantly lowering cortisol levels.

    Adaptogens including ashwagandha, rhodiola, maca, and eleuthero are some of the most effective and popular options for those seeking to reduce stress but don’t want to turn to prescription pharmaceuticals. Adding these botanicals to your daily supplement regimen can do wonders for your health and stress-response. Both Steel Core™ and Steel Hard™ are formulated with clinically proven KSM-66® Ashwagandha.


Cortisol is an essential hormone, but left unchecked can spell bad news for even the healthiest individuals out there. Fortunately, there are methods for dealing with stress safely and naturally. All it takes is some time and effort on your part to work around your stressors and find a more peaceful way to deal with them.


  1. Pistollato F, Sumalla Cano S, Elio I, Masias Vergara M, Giampieri F, Battino M. Associations between Sleep, Cortisol Regulation, and Diet: Possible Implications for the Risk of Alzheimer Disease. Advances in Nutrition. 2016;7(4):679-689. doi:10.3945/an.115.011775.
  2. Powell DJH, Liossi C, Moss-Morris R, Schlotz W. Unstimulated cortisol secretory activity in everyday life and its relationship with fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic review and subset meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013;38(11):2405-2422. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.07.004.
  3. Het S, Ramlow G, Wolf OT. A meta-analytic review of the effects of acute cortisol administration on human memory. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2005;30(8):771-784. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2005.03.005.
  4. Buford TW, Willoughby DS. Impact of DHEA(S) and cortisol on immune function in aging: a brief review. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab = Physiol Appl Nutr  Metab. 2008;33(3):429-433. doi:10.1139/H08-013.
  5. Mikael Wikgren, Martin Maripuu, Thomas Karlsson, Katarina Nordfjäll, Jan Bergdahl, Johan Hultdin, Jurgen Del-Favero, Göran Roos, Lars-Göran Nilsson, Rolf Adolfsson, Karl-Fredrik Norrback. Short Telomeres in Depression and the General Population Are Associated with a Hypercortisolemia State. Biological Psychiatry, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.09.015
  6. Chiodini I. Clinical review: Diagnosis and treatment of subclinical hypercortisolism. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011;96(5):1223-1236. doi:10.1210/jc.2010-2722.
  7. Spencer SJ, Tilbrook A. The glucocorticoid contribution to obesity. Stress. 2011;14(3):233-246. doi:10.3109/10253890.2010.534831.
  8. Vicennati V, Pasqui F, Cavazza C, Pagotto U, Pasquali R. Stress-related development of obesity and cortisol in women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009;17(9):1678-1683. doi:10.1038/oby.2009.76.
  9. Matousek RH, Dobkin PL, Pruessner J. Cortisol as a marker for improvement in mindfulness-based stress reduction. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2010;16(1):13-19. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2009.06.004.
  10. Perciavalle V, Blandini M, Fecarotta P, et al. The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurol Sci  Off J Ital Neurol Soc  Ital Soc Clin Neurophysiol. 2017;38(3):451-458. doi:10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8.
  11. Riley KE, Park CL. How does yoga reduce stress? A systematic review of mechanisms of change and guide to future inquiry. Health Psychol Rev. 2015;9(3):379-396. doi:10.1080/17437199.2014.981778.

How to Optimize Muscle Soreness

We’ve all felt the thrill (and relief) after crushing a workout. You hit PRs, you made gains, and worked up one heck of an appetite. You feel large, in charge, and on top of your fitness game; that is until, the debilitating soreness from that intense workout slams you in the face!

Yes, the feeling of utterly dominating your workout is indescribable, but those miserable DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) are accompanied by some many expletives that even a sailor would blush.

Isn’t there some way you can rock a hardcore workout, yet still be able to get out of bed without feeling immense soreness in the days after? Of course there is! It’s all about optimizing recovery!

Ahead, we’ve got several tips and tricks for you to crush soreness just like you crushed your workout. With these tips, you’ll recovery faster enabling you to get back in the gym day after day and keep those gains coming.

First Things First

Before we get to the recovery hacks, it’s important for us to stress that these recovery hacks won’t be nearly as effective as they could be if you’re not already doing the things you should be doing. We’re talking about eating the proper amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats your body needs to repair and build muscle along with getting a full 8-9 hours of sleep each and every night. Without those two things, the rest of these tips won’t do much good.

So, make sure to properly fuel your body before and after training. And, make sure to get a solid night’s rest every night. Those two things go a long way to ensuring adequate recovery, but for those days when you really take it to your muscles at the gym, these tips will be a life saver.

Recovery Hacks to Crush Soreness

  • Ice Baths

    Following a grueling workout, you’re drenched in sweat. What better way to kick start the recovery process, and cool off at the same time, than taking a dunk in an ice bath?! The reason ice baths accelerate recovery is that immersing your body in ice cold water constricts your blood vessels and reduces swelling. Once you get out of the ice bath, your body immediately begins to warm up, blood vessels dilate, and fresh nutrient rich blood rushes into your muscles, delivering the essential amino acids they need to repair and grow while simultaneously removing metabolic waste products. Research confirms this too, noting that cold water therapy aids recovery and reduces markers of muscle damage. [1]

  • Foam rolling

    Foam rolling, a.k.a. self-myofascial release (SMR), is a fancy way of describing a self-administered remedy for sore muscles. Utilizing anything from a tennis ball to a PVC pipe, foam rolling works by applying pressure to the “trigger” points in your muscles that are causing the aches and pains. “Rolling” over them, or remaining on those painful spots until they loosen, helps restore the smooth, supple, elastic nature of the muscle.

    Exercise breaks down and knots up your muscles. Foam rolling is used to return them to normal. You can do foam rolling before or after your workout, or the days following your workout for when those knots that accumulate during the week.

    Just be careful if you’ve never done any sort of foam rolling before, it can be rather excruciating at times. For this reason, it’s best to start with the softer foam rollers and tennis ball and gradually work your way up to the lacrosse ball and PVC pipe.

  • Massage

    Similar to foam rolling, getting a deep tissue or sports massage can do wonders for relieving muscle soreness in the days after a tough workout. Make sure drink plenty of fluids following your massage, as deep tissue massages in and of themselves can leave you just as sore as your workout did!

  • Compression Gear

    No doubt when watching sports, you see athletes of all kinds wearing compression sleeves on their arms and legs. You’ve probably wondered why in the world, they have these goofy looking sleeves on.

    It’s because compression sleeves (“garments”) can aid recovery. They also can boost performance too. The reason these sleeves work is that they increase circulation by squeezing and compacting (“compressing”) the muscles in your arms and legs. Doing so delivers more oxygen and nutrients while aiding waste removal. Research has shown benefit to using compression garments, but there’s also so showing it doesn’t offer too much benefit. [3,4,5]

    If you’ve exhausted all other options for enhancing recovery, then compression sleeves might be just the thing you need.

  • Active Recovery

    While the thought of doing additional exercise while your crippled with soreness sounds as pleasing as a root canal, doing some form of light exercise the day after your workout can help offset soreness. Performing light, active recovery activities such as hiking, walking, or even yoga can help promote increased blood flow, which helps flush out soreness.

    Bear in mind though, that you don’t want to push the envelope too hard with these active recovery days. The goal is to just get moving, get the blood flowing, and mildly elevate your heart rate. You’re not trying to break any records here, folks. Going too hard on your active recovery activities only serves to hinder the natural recovery processes of the body, prolonging the amount of time you’re sore.

  • BCAAs

    We mentioned food being a critical component of optimizing recovery up top, but we need also need to discuss the role supplements can play in alleviating muscle soreness. One of the most well-researched and proven supplements you can use to stave off soreness and accelerate recovery are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

    BCAAs are a special group of amino acids primarily responsible for stimulating protein synthesis in the body. Numerous studies have shown that consuming BCAAs around your training can limit exercise-induced muscle damage, promote muscle protein synthesis, and accelerates recovery. [6,7] BCAAs can also help preserve lean muscle while training, due to the fact that exercise breaks down muscle tissue. This makes BCAAs all the more vital to optimal performance, recovery, and growth!

Accelerate Recovery with Steel Fuel

Recovery needs to be taken just as seriously as your training. Choosing the right recovery tools and supplements can be the determining factor in avoiding or facing soreness. Steel Fuel provides 5 grams of BCAA per serving in the research-backed 2:1:1 ratio that boosts endurance, reduces fatigue, supports muscle repair. Combined with a host of vital electrolytes, Steel Fuel provides the required fuel your body needs to perform and recover to the max!


  1. Ingram J, Dawson B, Goodman C, Wallman K, Beilby J. Effect of water immersion methods on post-exercise recovery from simulated team sport exercise. J Sci Med Sport. 2009;12(3):417-421. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2007.12.011.
  2. Engel FA, Holmberg H-C, Sperlich B. Is There Evidence that Runners can Benefit from Wearing Compression Clothing? Sports Med. 2016;46(12):1939-1952. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0546-5.
  3. Born D-P, Sperlich B, Holmberg H-C. Bringing light into the dark: effects of compression clothing on performance and  recovery. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013;8(1):4-18.
  4. Hamlin MJ, Mitchell CJ, Ward FD, Draper N, Shearman JP, Kimber NE. Effect of compression garments on short-term recovery of repeated sprint and 3-km running performance in rugby union players. J strength Cond Res. 2012;26(11):2975-2982. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182711e0b.
  5. Stickford AS, Chapman RF, Johnston JD, Stager JM. Lower-leg compression, running mechanics, and economy in trained distance runners. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2015;10(1):76-83. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2014-0003.
  6. Negro M, Giardina S, Marzani B, Marzatico F. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation does not enhance athletic performance but affects muscle recovery and the immune system. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2008;48(3):347-351.
  7. Howatson G, Hoad M, Goodall S, Tallent J, Bell PG, French DN. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012;9:20. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-20.