Does prolonged exercise slow down muscle growth?

Many have heard that by stretching workouts for an hour or more, we risk falling into the clutches of “catabolism”. Find out why this old bodybuilding bike can be forgotten and forgotten!

One of the (many) accepted “truths” of bodybuilding is that if you work out for more than an hour, you go into a state of catabolism due to the increased release of cortisol.

Many people talk about it as if somewhere in our body there is a reservoir with this toxic and dangerous substance for muscles, and this reservoir is attached to a time bomb.

I understand where such an idea has its legs, and where its supporters come from. At first glance, everything is logical. Bodybuilders try to avoid cortisol by hook or by crook because it is a catabolic hormone, right? Although it may seem that everything is simple and obvious, the reality is much more confusing.

Cortisol is a catabolic hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. During times of stress, the release of cortisol helps the body to cope with an emergency and obtain additional sources of energy by increasing the breakdown of protein and slowing its synthesis.

A couple of decades ago, all muscle magazines circulated the sensational statement that you should not exercise for more than one hour, because it leads to increased secretion of cortisol.

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However, I have always considered these fears and concerns grossly exaggerated, and here’s why:

  • Exercising less than an hour, if intense enough, will also increase cortisol release.
  • Cortisol levels rise in response to intense physical activity, but so too do levels of anabolic hormones such as testosterone, IGF-1 and growth hormone.
  • For personal reasons, I followed the rule of “exercise no more than an hour to reduce cortisol release,” with poor results. When I switched to high volume workouts lasting much longer than sixty minutes, I saw tangible progress.
  • No one has proven the magical properties of a 60 minute time frame. Cortisol doesn’t wait on the start line to burst into the bloodstream after 60 minutes and fill the body from head to toe. Rather, cortisol production is more dependent on the degree of stress and intensity of the load, rather than the duration of the workout. Simply put, cortisol secretion will be higher after one failure set in squats than after lifting 2.5 kg of dumbbells for biceps for an hour and one minute.
  • Cortisol acts very slowly compared to many other hormones. This is not insulin, which binds to receptors on the surface of cells, instantly switches the switches of signaling systems and causes a rapid response. Cortisol acts at the DNA level and affects “transcription factors,” that is, it binds to specific DNA sequences to increase or decrease the level of their transcription into mRNA (matrix ribonucleic acid).

In general, the bottom line is that changes in mRNA transcription and the manifestation of the effect take much longer than in the case of fast acting hormones like insulin.

Moreover, a simple increase or decrease in the level of mRNA in a cell will not necessarily lead to any result, since the translation of mRNA into structural proteins is regulated by a host of other factors.

This may sound a little too clever for you, but suffice it to understand that a temporary increase in cortisol secretion in response to exercise alone does not have a catabolic effect.

Chronic, long-term increases in cortisol production caused by stress or illness can actually lead to catabolism.

Cortisol Science News

Even before my Ph.D., I was skeptical about claims of cortisol, but when I went to graduate school, I had the opportunity to dig deeper into the research results and find out what they were talking about.

Pretty quickly, I noticed a curious trend. Many of the training protocols that induce the most active muscle growth also provoke the maximum secretion of cortisol!

And when Dr. Stuart Phillips, a scientist at McMaster University in Canada, published his latest paper on the topic, I was extremely intrigued.

Dr. Phillips observed a large group of strength athletes and concluded that increased lean body mass, muscle hypertrophy (as measured by muscle fiber cross-sectional area) and strength (as measured by leg press) correlate with increased secretion of these hormones. like testosterone, IGF-1, growth hormone and cortisol. The discoveries that his laboratory made may surprise you.

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Scientists have found that among all the evaluated hormones, cortisol is the most closely associated with an increase in lean body mass and hypertrophy of type 2 muscle fibers. That’s right: muscle growth is closely related to cortisol. Not testosterone, growth hormone or IGF-1, but the supposed king of catabolism!

I’m not saying that cortisol is anabolic. Rather, the results indicate that exercise protocols that induce maximal hypertrophy also induce maximal cortisol secretion, which is likely due to an increased response to stress.

Yes, you need stress to progress. But in my opinion, it looks like the final nail in the coffin of the theory of the hourly training limit. It’s time for bodybuilders to stop worrying about short-term increases in cortisol when designing a workout program.

So feel free to train beyond the 60 minute mark, friends.

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