Cortisol (or hydrocortisone) is a steroid hormone mostly known for its negative effects it can have on the body. That’s why many (especially bodybuilders) are seeking ways to suppress its secretion. Carbohydrates perform many roles in living organisms. They are a common source of energy; however, carbohydrates are not essential for humans because body can obtain all its energy from protein and fats.
Many previous studies have shown that cortisol has counterregulatory effects. That is why it is greatly feared in bodybuilding circles. However, according to bodybuilding.com: “bodies adapted to the weight training stimulus over time and release less and less cortisol, even without any nutritional intervention.” But still, heavy resistance training often produces hypersecretion of cortisol . Attenuation of catabolic mediators, such as exercise-induced cortisol could be essential for greater skeletal muscle hypertrophy response to resistance exercise.
Cortisol management with carbohydrates and essential amino acids
In 2003, Paddon-Jones and others  demonstrated that oral supplementation with 15 grams of essential amino acid stimulates protein synthesis and maintains protein balance in the presence of acute hypercortisolemia (high amounts of circulating cortisol). Further investigation, also by Paddon-Jones et al.  showed that this effect can be further potentiated by the addition of carbohydrates. Combination of carbohydrates and essential amino acids enhanced net muscle protein despite acute hypercortisolemia. Therefore, the combination of carbohydrates and essential amino acids stimulates positive protein balance by increasing extracellular amino acid availability and insulin secretion as well as suppressing exercise-induced cortisol release. Stephen P. Bird and associates  examined the effects of four 675 ml liquid solutions (6% carbohydrate solution, 6 g EAA, carbohydrates + EAA and placebo) on acute hormonal response. Data collected by this study indicate that carbohydrates + essential amino acids enhances muscle anabolism following resistance training to a greater extent than carbohydrates and EAA ingested separately. Post exercise cortisol increased for placebo group, it remained unchanged for essential amino acids while carbohydrates alone and in combination with essential amino acids showed decreases (P<0.05).
When looking at the big picture of your training and nutrition, the effect of this catabolic hormone should not be overlooked. Cortisol is an indicator of good workout, however, you should still do your best to control it.
Westman, Eric C. “Is dietary carbohydrate essential for human nutrition?.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 75.5 (2002): 951-953.
Long, C. N. H., O. K. Smith, and E. G. Fry. “Actions of cortisol and related compounds on carbohydrate and protein metabolism.” Metabolic Effects of Adrenal Hormones. Ciba Foundation Study, Group 6 (1960).
- Mike Roussell. “Cortisol And Muscle-Building: Does It Even Matter?” – http://www.bodybuilding.com/ Retrieved 23. March 2013
Reeder, DeeAnn M., and Kristin M. Kramer. “Stress in free-ranging mammals: integrating physiology, ecology, and natural history.” Journal of Mammalogy 86.2 (2005): 225-235.
Paddon-Jones, Douglas, et al. “Hypercortisolemia alters muscle protein anabolism following ingestion of essential amino acids.” American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism 284.5 (2003): E946-E953.
Paddon-Jones, Douglas, et al. “The catabolic effects of prolonged inactivity and acute hypercortisolemia are offset by dietary supplementation.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 90.3 (2005): 1453-1459.
Bird, Stephen P., Kyle M. Tarpenning, and Frank E. Marino. “Independent and combined effects of liquid carbohydrate/essential amino acid ingestion on hormonal and muscular adaptations following resistance training in untrained men.” European journal of applied physiology 97.2 (2006): 225-238.