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How Stress Can Kill Any Workout

A great way to build muscle, lose weight, and improve overall well-being is through working out, preferably implementing a healthy mix of anaerobic and aerobic exercise. We also know that to build a muscular physique, you need to keep your body in a muscle-building state in and outside of the gym.

Stress can come for every which way and stress can really effect your metal and physical health.

The stress response, however, has the power to destroy and damage various aspects of your workout and, unfortunately, stress is something we all deal with from time to time.

Stress Is Catabolic

To understand how cortisol/stress affects your training, we need to realize the difference between anabolism and catabolism.

Being in an anabolic state is conducive to growth throughout the body, especially when it comes to muscle-building because anabolic hormones help the body build muscle strength and size. Catabolism is the flip side of the coin. Being in a catabolic state is when your body breaks down larger, complex molecules into smaller molecules.

When you are under different amounts of mental and physical stress, the adrenal glands secrete the stress hormone cortisol to respond to this feeling. But here’s the kicker: cortisol is a catabolic hormone.

High amounts of cortisol in the body wreak havoc on both your physiological and psychological well-being. Essentially, unbalanced cortisol levels can create a domino effect throughout the body.


Muscle Growth

Research shows that stress can result in the catabolism of muscle protein.1 This means that the body begins to inhibit the muscle-building process, breaks down muscle to preserve energy, and even mitigates weight loss – and no bodybuilder or gym goer wants this.

Amino acids in the muscles that would normally be utilized to help the muscle grow in size and strength are instead used as energy, and this will be detrimental to muscle-building results.

The time it takes to build muscle takes patience and a lot of hard work. Don’t let your physique progress be slowed by stress.

Workout Recovery

Stress doesn’t just negatively affect your muscle building and strength training results, it can also interfere with proper workout recovery, making it harder for your muscles to completely recover and prepare for subsequent training.

Research shows those who suffer from higher levels of chronic psychological stress aren’t able to recover as quickly as those with lower stress.

During one study, test subjects underwent intense resistance exercise and were observed over a 96-hour period. Muscular function in those with higher stress levels was impaired compared to those with lower levels of stress.2

Aerobic Capacity

Stress doesn’t just affect your resistance training, though. It can also have a negative impact on your anaerobic capacity and cardiovascular health.3

Unmanaged chronic stress can lead to atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of cholesterol and fats in the arterial walls, which restricts blood flow and can also lead to heart attacks.4

Additionally, for those cardio fiends out there, stress can also affect your aerobic performance.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, a study reveals that stress can affect your VO2 max (a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen consumed). Better and more oxygen utilization can positively affect athletic performance, but this study reveals that those with higher self-assessed stress levels experienced smaller improvements in VO2 max when compared to the other test subjects.5

Manage Stress for Optimal Performance


The stress hormone cortisol can put a damper on any workout, halting progress and wrecking your performance.

There are many things you can do to try and ameliorate chronic stress. Take time to relax and unwind as frequently as possible. Engage in a favorite hobby, or do something that you enjoy every day. Also, implementing a healthy diet and regular sleep schedule may also help give you an edge on stress management.

Whatever you decide to do to combat stress, know that you will be maximizing your results in the gym and improving your overall sense of well-being.

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Stefan R. Wilson
Stefan R. Wilson is a marketing professional, as well as a freelance author for nutritional supplements. He is based out of Salt Lake City, Utah and holds a BS from Brigham Young University. Stefan's expertise resides in the field of supplements to be used by athletes and bodybuilders while training.


  1. Gore DC, et al. Acute response of human muscle protein to catabolic hormones. Ann Surg. 1993 Nov;218(5):679-84.
  2. Stults-Kolehmainen, MA, et al. Chronic Psychological Stress Impairs Recovery of Muscular Function and Somatic Sensations Over a 96-Hour Period. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: July 2014 – Volume 28 – Issue 7 – p 2007–2017.
  3. Engler MB, Engler MM. Assessment of the cardiovascular effects of stress. J Cardiovasc Nurs. 1995 Oct;10(1):51-63.
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff. Arteriosclerosis/atherosclerosis. Mayo Clinic.
  5. 5 Surprising Ways Stress Messes With Your Workout. HuffPost: Healthy Living.


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