Cortisol and testosterone – one anabolic, the other catabolic – two steroid hormones on each end of the metabolic spectrum. When it comes to building muscle though, testosterone is perhaps what you should be primarily focused on. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t pay attention to cortisol.
That being said, this article is going to talk about what these two are, their relationship (how one affects the other), and a few ways to balance them for robust anabolism. Furthermore, I’ll include a list of testosterone boosters that, in my opinion, are the best in the market at managing cortisol levels. So, are you ready?
WHAT IS CORTISOL?
Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”, is your body’s way of responding to troubling situations. Essentially, when you encounter anything that stresses you out, your body responds by increasing your levels of cortisol.
The way this happens is through what’s called the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This is a system of glands that are in charge of releasing cortisol into your bloodstream. Furthermore, most of the cells in your body have cortisol receptors so when the HPA axis releases it, there are a lot of areas it can affect. According to the Endocrine Society and the Mayo Clinic, among its many functions include:
- Controlling blood sugar levels
- Regulating metabolism
- Reducing inflammation
- Memory formulation
- Controlling blood pressure (via salt and water balance)
- Altering immune system response
- Suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes
Cortisol influences these specific areas in response to fight-or-flight situations. When the stressor is gone, however, your HPA axis then dials back your cortisol levels and, normally, your systems go back to normal functioning, too.
But we’ll talk about the flip side later. For now, know that Cortisol plays a crucial role in keeping you alive and well, which brings us to the next question…
WHAT IS TESTOSTERONE?
If cortisol is the main stress hormone, then testosterone is the “male hormone”. In truth, however, it’s really just a single hormone among a group of male sex hormones known as androgens. These androgens include DHT, DHEA, androstenedione, and of course, testosterone.
Among these androgens, DHT and testosterone are the most prevalent and most potent. These hormones play a huge role in developing our male characteristics, such as:
- Voice depth
- Muscle mass and strength
- Bone density
- Facial and body hair
Now, although DHT and testosterone are both potent androgens, a little known fact is that DHT is generally 2.5-10x more potent than testosterone. With regards to developing skeletal muscle, however, testosterone is KING which, I think, is why it’s the more popular androgen between the two especially in the fitness and bodybuilding community.
This now brings us to the next part of this article.
WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MUSCLE, CORTISOL AND TESTOSTERONE?
Cortisol and testosterone are in a sort of push-pull relationship where if one of them increases, the other typically takes a dip. When it comes to building muscle mass and strength, however, it’s probably more important that you maintain a testosterone:cortisol ratio that’s less in favor of cortisol.
You see, your body recognizes exercise as stress and cortisol, being the main stress hormone, becomes elevated when you workout. Partly, this is a good thing because according to research, “cortisol’s release affects metabolism by attempting to help maintain blood glucose levels during physical exercise…stimulating the liver to produce enzymes involved in the gluconeogenic and glycogenetic pathways allowing conversion of amino acids and glycerol into glucose and glycogen.”
- I know it sounds a little complicated but basically, the elevation of cortisol in exercise helps give your body the right amount of sugar, and therefore energy, which is crucial to putting in a good workout. This happens thanks to cortisol’s interaction with insulin.
So, while elevation of cortisol can help you get through intense exercise sessions, the situation takes a drastic turn when it stays chronically high
Research suggests that hypercortisolism (excessive cortisol) can suppress testosterone secretion. On that note, when your cortisol levels stay high for an extended period of time, like it does in a lot of experienced lifters, it’s going to disturb the production of testosterone.
As an anabolic hormone, the disturbance in testosterone production can and will affect the rate at which your muscles grow and recover. Moreover, other fitness related side effects of high cortisol and low T include:
- Weight gain (fat along the upper back, chest, and face)
- Sleep disturbance
- Chronic fatigue
- Weak immune system
- Thyroid inhibition
That being said, this is where natural testosterone boosters can help. Or, more specifically, testosterone boosters that help regulate cortisol. So…
WHAT SHOULD MEN LOOK FOR IN A TESTOSTERONE BOOSTER THAT MANAGES CORTISOL?
Well, there’s quite a bit of things that you should consider when buying a supplement to help you regulate cortisol.
As you might already know, stress can come in many different shapes and colors. Regardless of what’s stressing you out though, they’re all going to ultimately end up elevating cortisol levels. That being said, you should look for a testosterone booster that uses effective and research-backed ingredients for not only boosting T, but also fighting stress.
However, choosing the right supplement with the right ingredients that caters to your particular your needs can be difficult — and that’s stressful, too! Which brings us to the next question…
WHAT FEATURES SHOULD A SUPPLEMENT FOR CORTISOL AND TESTOSTERONE HAVE?
This is where I and my experience with testosterone boosters come in. Here, I’ll be detailing a few features that I believe you should look for in a T booster if you want lower cortisol and high test (and more anabolism!) as well as scientifically backed ingredients that essentially make these features possible. This will make it easier for you to narrow down your choices. Let’s start with what I think is the most crucial.
As defined by the European Medicines Agency, the term adaptogen refers to “a substance which was claimed to increase ‘non-specific’ resistance to adverse influences to organism and stress.” Furthermore, stress here is defined as “a state of threatened homeostasis.”
In more simple terms, adaptogens are basically things that help your body resist or adapt to stress. Consequently, these adaptogens promote balance inside your body. In testosterone boosters, these can come in a wide range of herbs, vitamins, and minerals. We’ll talk about the vitamins and minerals in another section of this article but for now, grace your eyes on some of the best herbal adaptogens in the business:
- Ginseng – These are perhaps the most well-known adaptogens in the world. When it comes to fighting off fatigue and stress, Panax (Asian) and Siberian Ginseng have similar benefits. However, if you wanted better chances at higher testosterone, I believe Panax Ginseng is the better choice.
- Tongkat Ali – This herb is great for naturally improving sexual health but according to research, it also has the ability to lower levels of cortisol (-16%) while boosting testosterone (17%) in moderately stressed men and women.
- Rhodiola Rosea – From the high mountains of Siberia – yup, Siberia… again – this herb is a somewhat unique adaptogen where it doesn’t necessarily boost T and lower cortisol. Instead, it maintains the levels of both these hormones almost as if you were never stressed at all.
Honestly, I think this herb might be my favorite adaptogen. Since it’s here, it clearly has the ability to fight stress and lower cortisol but more than just that, it’s also what I consider the All-in-One Man Enhancer — because it virtually improves everything that men want!
Do you need more and better sperm as well as intense libido? Ashwagandha has you covered. Bolstered physical performance for the gym and daily life? Ashwagandha can do that, too. Oh, what’s that? You want more testosterone? That’s nothing a good dose of Ashwagandha can’t do.
Per Medscape, one of the major pathways where sleep can affect the release of hormones is through the hypothalamic-pituitary axes. Moreover, the hypothalamus and pituitary are two organs involved in the release of both cortisol (via the HPA axis) and testosterone (via the HPG axis). That being said, it’s not surprising to me how sleep deprivation can affect both these hormones and their subsequent functions on the body.
Specifically for cortisol though, research suggests that lack of sleep can elevate cortisol levels in the evening where it normally should be low to promote relaxation As a result, this rise in cortisol makes it harder to sleep; adding more stress to your already sleep deprived self.
And! Since the amount of testosterone you’ll have the next day is largely dependent on how much good sleep you get, the rise in evening cortisol levels can have bad effects on T, too. Having said that, I believe it’s a smart strategy to include ingredients that help with sleep in T boosters for regulating cortisol, especially if you’re not getting enough shuteye. Check these out:
- Melatonin – As the primary hormone in-charge of putting people to sleep, melatonin is perhaps the most well-known supplement for insomniacs. Basically, when your melatonin levels rise, your cortisol levels decrease which is partly how it helps rock people to sleep.
- Tea – Per research, tea consumption leads to lower cortisol and greater relaxation. This research specifically used black tea but I’ve read reports of green tea doing wonders for stress as well.
- Fish oil (Omega-3) – These products have been known for being healthy for the heart but as an added bonus, one research shows omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil inhibiting several stress parameters, including cortisol.
Although a healthy dose of sleep and lower stress levels promote higher testosterone, we’ve mainly talked about sleep aids and adaptogens for their benefits on decreasing cortisol. Now, it’s time we talk primarily about powerful, research-backed testosterone boosting ingredients that also happen to regulate stress. After all, what’s a testosterone booster without T boosts, right?
That being said, I think it’s quite fortunate that a lot of the best testosterone boosters this 2018 have these multi-tasking ingredients; largely because a lot of these are also some of the most effective ingredients in the T-boosting industry. Take a look:
- Zinc – This mineral is involved directly in the synthesis of testosterone. So, basically, no Zinc = no T. More than that though, it’s also one of the more powerful antioxidants with research showing it can inhibit cortisol secretion. Oh, and it’s pretty great for physical performance, too.
- Magnesium – Involved in over 300 metabolic process which, of course, includes the production of testosterone as well as muscle function. Similar to Zinc, however, a study states that “magnesium seems to be fundamental in maintaining the threshold of antioxidant capacity and the control of oxidative stress.”
- B Vitamins – These vitamins are involved in the concentrations of several hormones. When it comes to adrenal hormones (including cortisol), however, AdrenalFatigue says the three major ones are B3, B5, and B6. Personally though, I like to look specifically for Vitamin B6 since it’s also the most promising T booster among all the B vitamins.
- Vitamin D – Research suggests that men with higher levels of Vitamin D also produced healthier levels of testosterone. On the flip side, however, low levels of the vitamin are correlated with lower T as well as over secretion of cortisol.
- Mucuna Pruriens – Personally, I think this herb is among the most effective natural testosterone boosters. Thanks to its active ingredient, L-Dopa, the herb has the capacity to promote greater T production. Plus, it can lower cortisol and other markers of stress.
RECAP: THE BEST T-BOOSTERS FOR REGULATING CORTISOL
|T-Booster Supplement||My Review||Website|
|#1 – Performance Lab SPORT T-Booster||My Review||www.performancelab.com|
|#2 – TestoFuel||My Review||www.testofuel.com|
|#3 – EVL Test||My Review||www.evlnutrition.com|
|#4 – Ferodrox||My Review||www.kagedmuscle.com|
|#5 – Steel Hard||My Review||www.steelfitusa.com|
So, there you have it – the lowdown between cortisol and testosterone, the features and ingredients of best T-boosters at regulating cortisol, as well as a little bit of how both hormones can affect muscle growth.
Now, before you go scrolling off somewhere else, do know that the supplements you see here may not necessarily be the best for YOU. In my opinion, they’re currently the best at regulating cortisol while still providing a solid, if not powerful boost in testosterone. However, by no means are they the only good ones.
That being said, other testosterone boosters designed specifically for different purposes may fit you better. If you need help finding those, don’t hesitate to head over to the guides, research, or reviews section of this website for reference.