Snowshoeing and Cortisol

Stress is widespread in our society. Stress is anything that causes mental or physical strain regardless of its origin and the consequences are far-reaching if it is not tamed. Our beloved sport is stressful—like it or not.

Hormonal balance has a profound impact in determining whether you will achieve your performance goals at the office or at your next snowshoe endeavor. The hormone responsible for this [cortisol] is secreted from two small triangular adrenal glands located on top of your kidneys. Improper management of this hormone will lead to a poor snowshoe outing and a horrible day. Period.

Cortisol is produced by our adrenal glands and secretion of it increases in response to physical and psychological stress during the ‘flight or fight’ response. It is commonly referred to as ‘the stress hormone.’ Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that helps the body respond to stress and keeps snowshoers alive. Its function and benefits are numerous:

During times of stress cortisol levels increase and accelerate the breakdown of proteins to provide the fuel to maintain body functions. It acts as a psychological antagonist to insulin by promoting the breakdown of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins,  to mobilize energy reserves.

Immune and inflammatory cells have their responses to the stress attenuated by cortisol. It is known to stimulate gluconeogenesis [the creation of glucose] to ensure an adequate fuel supply to the snowshoer. It makes fatty acids available for metabolic use. It increases the immobilization of fatty acids, making them a more available energy source, and decreases glucose utilization, sparing it for the brain.

Cortisol stimulates protein catabolism to release amino acids in use for repair enzyme synthesis, and energy production. Cortisol acts an anti-inflammatory agent. It depresses immune reaction, and increases the vaso-constriction caused by epinephrine. Cortisol reduces the reserves of protein in all body cells except cells of the liver and gastrointestinal tract.

The purpose of the adrenal gland is to help the body cope with stress. Each adrenal gland has two compartments. The inner [medulla] modulates the sympathetic nervous system through secretion and regulation of two hormones–epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones are responsible for the flight or fight response. These hormones are often referred to as  adrenaline. The outer [adrenal cortex] comprises 80% of the adrenal gland and is responsible for producing more than 50 different types of hormones—the most important is cortisol.

Cortisol is requisite for the stress response. DHEA is an anabolic hormone opposing cortisol in an effort to repair the body. It is imperative to delicately balance these hormones to allow both optimal breakdown to mobilize fuel and repair stressed tissue. Adrenal burnout is prevalent in our society. Chronic stress has been shown to have negative effects on our health such as those below:

*Impaired cognitive performance;
*Suppressed thyroid function;
*Blood sugar imbalances – such as hyperglycemia;
*Decreased bone density;
*Muscle tissue decrease;
*High blood pressure;
*Lowered immunity and inflammatory response in the body;
*Increased abdominal fat;
*Higher LDL [bad cholesterol] levels;
*Lower HDL [good cholesterol] levels;
*Increased incidence of heart attack, stroke, and related health problems;
*and more

There exists relief from the largest source of stress we endure. It is estimated that 40% of all stress is related to a poor diet. Nutrition plays a profound role in your recovery from each snowshoeing endeavor—from sport snowshoeing, backcountry excursions, and first-time snowshoers crossing the nearest frozen lake.

A properly implemented whole food, plant-based diet can help alleviate nutritional stress, while poor dietary choices will perpetuate it. Choose foods rich in a wide spectrum of  protein-forming amino acids such as leafy greens, hemp, and legumes. Ensure adequate intake of essential fatty acids, especially the elusive Omega-3s, found in hemp, flax, and chlorella.

Eat foods as close to their natural state as possible while avoiding processed foods that lack fiber or are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates. Nourish the adrenal glands to help regulate hormones. Maca is a root vegetable grown in Peru, and has been shown to do this and effectively curtail stress and provide energy absent stimulation. It is easy to pack nutrients into a liquid form which improves absorption and requires less energy to digest. Check the following sites for foods to tame the vicious cycle of adrenal mismanagement [;].

Other options to activate after a fight or flight response to ensure a healthy cortisol level include but are not limited to the following soft disciplines:

*and more.

Rest is important to optimal snowshoeing and functioning each day. Stress compromises the ability to sleep soundly—which exacerbates cortisol levels. Make certain your training allows your body to adapt to the stress at your own rate. Rest and recovery ensures the body is no longer in a catabolic state. This will provide the path to both your most prolific snowshoeing and optimal wellness.

The secretion of cortisol is inevitable during your snowshoeing endeavor and is normal. What transpires when you have finished snowshoeing is vital to your recovery and your health. Awareness of the effects this hormone has on your body will impact each snowshoe outing and your life.

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About the author

Jeff Kildahl, Wellness Editor

Jeff Kildahl is a writer, author, wellness consultant and philanthropist advancing preventive health care by synthesizing primary source nutrition and fitness as the principal components of the practice of medicine.

Kildahl is a sponsored vegan ultra-endurance athlete credentialed in bioenergetics, biomechanics, metabolic efficiency™ testing, sport nutrition, and natural medicine. He is a dynamic member of CUBE™ ~ a professional speakers group ~ empowering others to harmonize the "Keys to Living in the Song of Life."

He is the wellness editor at Snowshoe Magazine, United States Snowshoe Association columnist, and contributor to health, fitness and wellness sites, blogs and publications. He is a US-based ultra-endurance athlete and philanthropist for the 100 FOR 100 Movement ~

Kildahl is the creator and president of The Wholistic Edge® ~ a visionary firm providing synergistic solutions to transcend health, performance, and potential in life and sport from the inside out via the principles of Performance Medicine™ ~