Injuries and overtraining due to high cortisol levels

High-performance training, as is common in professional sports, but also moderate physical training in addition to a stressful lifestyle can quickly lead athletes to the limits of their ability to cope with stress. Since training impulses have to be processed, regeneration is always the key factor to success. But this is precisely where the challenge lies for athletes. Intensive physical training promotes the release of the stress hormone "cortisol". This has a catabolic effect (muscle degrading). Frequent intensive training quickly leads to an increase in the blood cortisol level. If the body is no longer able to break down this cortisol naturally due to too intensive stress, a lack of nutrients or other stress factors, then a so-called Hypercortisolism, also known as Cushing's Syndrome, a chronic rise in blood cortisol levels can occur. 


This leads to what is known in the sports world as "overtraining".  An excessively high cortisol level leads to an increased loss of muscle and bone mass, the walls of the blood vessels become thinner and more fragile, adrenal glands and thyroid gland are overloaded. Further consequences are immunodeficiency, hyperacidity, fluctuations in blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, hair loss and sleep disorders. This naturally has an effect on performance and is a breeding ground for injuries. 

Hypercortisolism leads to

  • increased breakdown of muscle protein
  • increased degradation of bone mass
  • Reduction of connective tissue in the entire body
  • instability of blood vessels
  • Water retention in the entire body
  • blood glucose fluctuations
  • increased build-up of body fat
  • chronic acidosis
  • insomnia
  • Overload of the adrenal glands
  • increased resting pulse and blood pressure
  • disturbed processing of training stimuli 
  • reduced regeneration
  • listlessness
  • reduced performance
  • mental illnesses and depressions
  • burnout syndrome

Cortisol - the stresshormon Number one

In order to keep the human organism alive, it has regulation programs. The balanced function of these programmes is also known as homeostasis. The basis of a functioning homeostasis is a functioning endocannabinoid system, but also a balanced hormone system. As soon as we leave the state of homeostasis or it gets out of balance due to a stimulus, our survival is more or less in danger.


Food deprivation, sleep deprivation and phases of increased stress and exertion bring people out of homeostasis and are life-threatening in the long run. For a while the body is also able to live without food and without water, but from a certain point this is no longer possible. 


The human organism has always been designed in such a way that it can react to sudden situations and conditions. While this was the attack of wild animals in ancient times, nowadays it can be everyday situations that can end and threaten our lives in a few seconds. Even in sports, there are always situations that occur suddenly and can be dangerous to human health, life-threatening or even fatal. Accident situations, serious injuries or even normal competition situations. 


In these moments massive stress arises, immediate action and an immediate reaction are necessary to get out of this situation unharmed. In these cases, immediately available energy is needed in our muscles. The heart and skeletal muscles must immediately provide maximum performance, our breathing must be increased so that all muscle cells are sufficiently supplied with oxygen, the energy-providing systems must also immediately mobilize stored energy to supply the muscle cells.


To make all this possible in a few seconds, the stress hormone No. 1 "cortisol" is released immediately when stress of any kind is registered.


Cortisol is a glucocorticoid and is produced by the adrenal cortex. It is released during increased physical and psycho-emotional stress, whenever our body experiences stress on a neurological and metabolic level. Cortisol has the task of releasing energy from the cells in the event of a sudden stress situation so that the heart and muscles have sufficient energy available in a "combat or escape situation". In the past, sudden life-threatening stress only occurred when an enemy attack was imminent or when our survival was suddenly in danger, e.g. through drowning or suffocation.


In addition, a certain overexploitation is calculated, muscle cells are "sacrificed", muscle protein is burned to energy if not enough other nutrients are available. In contrast to testosterone, HGH, insulin and IGF-1, cortisol belongs to the catabolic, muscle protein degrading hormones.


In prehistoric times, these threatening scenarios did not occur as frequently as they do today. Even if the nature of the threat has changed, today it is mainly the mass of "small" threats and strains that drive people from homeostasis and into hypercortisolism. When a stress situation was successfully overcome, the body began restoring homeostasis. After a short period of stress, the body was able to fully recover. 


harmful permanent stress

As described above, the basic task of homon cortisol is to provide all available energy in extreme situations in order to survive them undamaged. However, our system is not designed to continuously release large amounts of cortisol. But even the lifestyle of non-athletes in "modern everyday life" is sufficient to cause too high a permanent release of cortisol. Important causes of permanent stress are:


  • Intensive training
  • sleep deprivation
  • existential fears
  • Electrosmog, radiation exposure
  • medicines, alcohol
  • Macro- and micronutrient deficiency
  • Workplace overload
  • sensory overload
  • Hectic lifestyle



CBD as cortisol-inhibitor

The fact that cannabidiol (CBD) has a positive influence on regeneration can also be attributed to the fact that CBD regulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol. A placebo-controlled study conducted as early as 1993 showed that the administration of cannabidiol led to a significant reduction in the stress hormone cortisol compared to the placebo group.


Bodybuilders and strength athletes who take anabolic steroids do so for the purpose of increasing muscle gain. However, since these substances have strong side effects and are also on the WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) of banned substances, it is understandable that athletes are looking for ways to achieve this effect in other ways. If it is not possible to strengthen anabolic (muscle-building) processes in the body, at least one can try to reduce catabolic (muscle-degrading) processes in the body. By inhibiting the release of cortisol, these catabolic processes in the body are reduced and the training impulse can be optimally processed.