How Stress Can Prevent You From Building Bigger Muscles and Getting 6-Pack Abs

Woman measuring her stomach.

Stress, along with diabetes, has rightly been termed a ’silent killer’. Stress causes deterioration in health and affects every part of the body. People, nowadays are more stressed out than their ancestors. The world has become so fast-paced that whoever does not keep up with the race gets left behind and no one would like that. In the process, health is the main casualty and one of the primary reasons for this, is stress.

Specifically speaking, stress and ageing are co-related and by the following reasoning we can see how stress affects your muscle building efforts.

As one grows older, the metabolism of the body slows down and fat starts to accumulate around the stomach. Along with this natural ageing process, a sedentary lifestyle, bad eating habits and stress contribute to that belly fat. This fat, also called visceral fat is the most dangerous fat in the body. Since this fat is located behind the abdominal wall, it has the fastest access to the heart and other important organs of the body.

This abdominal fat is not content with simply resting on the stomach. It is very active, releasing substances into the organs which are very harmful to the body. Free fatty acids are released into the systems which impair the functioning of the body. Belly fat is bad for everyone but, it can have dire consequences especially for men. The amount of abdominal fat one carries is a sure indicator of heart disease risk.

Although behavioral response to stress is the main cause of weight gain, there are physiological reasons also. Under stress, the body lets go of a hormone called cortisol.

This hormone is also known as the ‘fight or flight’ hormone because of its ability in increasing blood pressure and blood sugar to help us run away from or fight a stressful situation. When anyone faces an adverse situation, the immediate response is to overcome it and this is propelled by cortisol. These responses use a lot of energy, so cortisol simultaneously tells other important physical functions to either slow down or shut down. These functions maybe digestion, physical growth, reproduction, immunity and they combine to put fat on the stomach.

Cortisol is a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands and is a major age-accelerating hormone. It also interferes with learning and memory.

It doesn’t stop there.

In the body, the release of Cortisol is a signal to increase appetite and store fat. This means that whenever we are stressed out, the hormone in our brain tells us that we are hungry while simultaneously instructing our fat cells to store as much fat as they can. Unfortunately, most of this fat is stored in the midsection.

In small amounts cortisol is essential for the body to control carbohydrate metabolism. But, too much of it spells doom for the body because it tends to cause a build-up of abdominal fat and this is how stress thwarts your [thirstylink linkid=”3671″ linktext=”6 pack quest” class=”thirstylink” title=”6 pack quest”] and muscle building efforts.

People who experience daily stress like work deadlines, family demands, traffic, less sleep, very strict dieting are more prone to falling prey to an increased waist line. If workplaces opportunities are increasing, stresses are also increasing side by side. When people get so consumed with their work that they start ignoring their emotional needs, then the stress hormone kicks in and conspiring with other factors contributes to weight gain in the abdomen. In these various ways we see how stress affects belly fat.

When we are feeling low and stressed out, our appetite increases due to the kick-start of the stress hormone which causes us to invariably reach for food without realizing whether what we are eating is right for us or not. If this happens often enough, gradually fat deposits start building up on the stomach and this is also how stress affects belly fat.

So how do you combat this?

Don’t worry, there’s some good news.

To combat cortisol, you just need to learn to produce 2 other hormones : DHEA and Melatonin.

DHEA is also produced by your adrenal glands. DHEA is a precursor, or source ingredient, to virtually every hormone your body needs. DHEA level is a key determinant of physiological age and resistance to disease. When levels are low, you’re more susceptible to aging and disease; when they’re high, the body is at its peak—vibrant, healthy, and able to combat disease effectively.

DHEA acts as a buffer against cortisol, which is why as you get older and make less DHEA you are more susceptible to stress and disease.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (December 11, 1986) found that a 100 microgram per deciliter increase in DHEA blood levels corresponded with a 48% reduction in mortality due to cardiovascular disease—and a 36% reduction in mortality for any reason! So DHEA is very important.

Melatonin is a hormone that helps to create restful sleep. We make less of it as we age, and since during sleep many important rejuvenating substances are created in the brain, the inability to sleep soundly can dramatically affect the quality of your recovery period and therefore your muscle building ability. (Not to mention decreasing the quality of your life and greatly accelerating your ageing process!).

So how do you produce more DHEA and Melatonin?

By learning to relax!

Great Ways to Relax and Deal with Stress

Stress can be controlled by doing things that make you happy, relaxed or any activity you find fun to do. Watching silly but funny things on the internet might also work for you.

You can also try meditation, yoga, art…whatever takes your fancy. Of course you need to couple these with good dietary habits, regular exercise, adopting a more positive, relaxed attitude, and having a more holistic (or dare I say Spiritual) approach to life. Knowing how to control your emotions and thoughts by having a calm and positive outlook will enable you to deal with any challenging situation without necessarily losing your cool.

If you adopt these along with sensible eating habits and regular exercise, there is no reason why the benefits of a fit stomach cannot be enjoyed!

You can get more information on how to achieve a set of flat abs by signing up to the Muscle4Hardgainers newsletter. Just go at the right hand top section of this page and enter which email address you want us to send it to.

Clément Yeung

Founder & Fitness Nerd

Founder of Muscle4Hardgainers. Loves to experiment and teach others the best ways to reach their physical goals.

1 Comment
  1. Good points…I agree that stress is a ‘silent killer’. I used to stress out quite easily and I learned to better deal with it by not worrying as much. I think stress goes hand in hand with worrying. The more you worry about something, the more stress builds up in it. So with a hakuna matata attitude, you have a more relaxed and less stressful life :)