Fitness Improvement: The Crucial Role of Stress and Cortisol
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Fitness Improvement: The Crucial Role of Stress and Cortisol

Ari Horesh


In the realm of fitness and health, the role of stress and cortisol is often misunderstood. Dr. Andy Galpin and Dr. Andrew Huberman, in their insightful discussion, shed light on these critical aspects. This article delves into their conversation, exploring the complexities of cortisol, stress, and their impact on fitness.

Understanding Cortisol and Stress

Dr. Andrew Huberman emphasizes that cortisol, commonly known for its association with stress, spikes at various times during the day due to factors like cold water exposure and exercise. He points out the importance of cortisol returning to baseline or near baseline quickly.

Dr. Andy Galpin stresses that without a significant increase in cortisol, there will be no progress from exercise training. He argues against the notion of stress and cortisol being inherently bad, stating that trying to suppress cortisol can actually hinder adaptation.

Key Takeaways from the Discussion

1. Cortisol's Daily Cycle

  • Morning: Cortisol should rise quickly after waking.
  • Daytime: Normal to experience cortisol spikes.
  • Evening: Important to regulate and reduce stress before sleep.

2. The Role of Cortisol in Fitness

  • Essential for inflammation reduction and recovery.
  • Crucial for exercise adaptation - large spikes followed by rapid recovery.

3. Misconceptions and Mistakes

  • Misuse of supplements like ashwagandha and rhodiola can inhibit necessary cortisol spikes, leading to immunosuppression and hampered progress.
  • Over-managing cortisol without biological testing can worsen overall health.

4. Carbohydrates and Cortisol

  • Carbohydrates, especially at night, can lower stress and improve sleep quality.
  • Cortisol, as an energy signaling molecule, responds to carbohydrate intake by lowering, signaling the body's sufficient energy levels.

5. Coaching Your Cortisol

  • It’s possible to "coach" your body to regulate cortisol levels effectively.
  • Intentional practices, especially regarding supplementation, are crucial.

The Science Behind Cortisol Regulation

"The more you try to suppress cortisol, the more you suppress adaptation." - Dr. Andy Galpin

Dr. Galpin highlights the importance of understanding cortisol not as an enemy but as a necessary component of physical adaptation. This perspective is crucial for athletes and fitness enthusiasts who often view stress and cortisol in a negative light.

The Impact of Diet on Cortisol

Dr. Andrew Huberman points out that certain dietary choices, like carbohydrates, have a significant impact on cortisol levels. The discussion extends to how these nutritional elements interact with our body's stress response and recovery mechanisms.

Table: Carbohydrates and Cortisol Regulation

Time of DayType of CarbohydrateEffect on Cortisol
NightStarchy CarbohydratesLowers Stress & Improves Sleep
Post-TrainingAvoid Excess CarbsPrevents Cortisol Blunting

Practical Tips for Managing Cortisol

  1. Morning Routine: Engage in light exercise and expose yourself to bright light to boost cortisol naturally.
  2. Evening Wind-Down: Employ breathing methods and reduce psychological stress to help lower cortisol before bed.
  3. Supplement Wisely: Avoid unnecessary cortisol suppression through supplements unless clinically indicated.
  4. Dietary Choices: Use carbohydrates strategically, especially at night, to aid in cortisol regulation and sleep quality.


The insights from Dr. Galpin and Dr. Huberman reveal a nuanced understanding of stress and cortisol in relation to fitness. It's clear that these elements are not just inevitable but essential components of our physiological response to exercise and daily stressors. By adopting a more informed and strategic approach to managing stress and cortisol, we can significantly enhance our fitness journey and overall well-being.

Remember: Fitness is not just about the exercises you do, but also about understanding and managing the complex biological responses that come with it.

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