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Managing Cortisol Levels as a CrossFit Athlete in Peri/Menopause/Post

Cortisol. A word that many Americans talk about on the regular.

The fight or flight hormone, the hormone that makes us store body fat on our bellies, and if chronically elevated increases our risks of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

It’s also a hormone that we have to have, in fact without it we would die. The problem is not with cortisol itself, but rather that in today’s society we are living with hundreds of things on the daily that stress us out, leaving behind a constant feeling of running away from the lion.

Add in declining estrogen and the rise of cortisol that comes with the menopause transition, and women managing perimenopause and menopause might feel like they’re fighting a losing battle.

Then enter CrossFit – a sport enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of women around the world. CrossFit, with it’s metcons/conditioning is often touted as the A Type personality’s favorite style of exercise – hard, aggressive, intensely rewarding.

But if you’re a woman trying to navigate the highs and lows of estrogen and elevated cortisol, CrossFit as prescribed might not necessarily align with what you need most at the moment.

So what’s a peri/menopausal Crossfitter to do?

First, you don’t have to give up your sport of choice. Yes metcons can be stressful on the body, but rather than cut them out completely, consider only going hard one to three times per week. If you’re participating in class workouts, talk to your coach about making some of the metcons additional strength sessions instead, or choose to go easy at least twice a week.

Second, get in the habit of performing some down regulation breathing post training session. Right after your metcon, lay down on your back with your feet up on a box or a bench, cover your eyes with a towel, set a timer for 5 minutes and breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breath out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, repeat. This helps you reset your nervous system to it’s parasympathetic state – the calm before the storm.

Next, sit down and figure out where the most stress in your life comes from outside the gym, and where there are places in your life to chill.

If you’re rushing to eat most of the time, this is a chance to actually relax (and your gut will be thankful for it!). Make yourself eat undistracted (no phones, computers, tv, etc) at least two times a day for 15-20 minutes.

Stuck in traffic on your way to the office and it leaves you in a frenzied state? Download a guided breathing app to listen to on your commute. Or consider listening to audiobooks or soothing music to help you stay feeling relaxed. *Also make sure the air recycler is on in your car, you don’t want to be breathing in the air outside while you’re on the road.

Have a habit of hitting up social media during break times? Being on your phone, even if it feels good in the moment, has been shown to increase cortisol levels (it’s “excitatory” after all), so consider WHEN you’re on it, and if you’re already in a stressed out state, think twice before you begin scrolling.

Lastly, consider supplements that support healthy, balanced adrenal function. Are you familiar with the term adaptogens? These are supplements that help support the body during times of stress. Popular ones are Ashwaghanda, Schisandra, Rhodiola, and Ginseng.

At the end of the day it’s not the spike of cortisol that’s the issue, rather that the spike stays UP and our bodies don’t get a break.

Find ways to get your cortisol back down throughout the day, find ways to eliminate or lessen things that cause you stress, add in ways to manage the stress you have, and support your body with good nutrition and supplements.

You might not be able to turn back the hands of time, but you can find ways to thrive with the time you have left!

Questions, comments, let us hear them! Need help with this? Check out the “Mastering Menopause” 4 Week Program Coach Shawna runs on a monthly basis!

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