The Connection Between Managing Stress and Building Muscle

Are you stressed out?

You just had an argument with your significant other. You’re stressed out every time you drive in rush hour traffic. Maybe you’ve got a lot going on at work, or you don’t get along with your boss.


And then there’s money problems, relationships, a death in the family, or some other unexpected circumstances that throws your day-to-day or even your life for a loop.

Any of that sound familiar?

Everybody experiences stress from time to time.


And you might think stress has nothing to do with building muscle, losing weight, and making gains.

But it does.

If you’re not making progress, losing weight, or building muscle like you think you should, it makes sense to look at every aspect of your plan.

A lot of times it’s easy to spot.


  • You’re skipping workouts. You’re just going through the motions and not training with enough intensity or trying to level up from week to week.


  • You’re on the diet. Then you’re off the diet.


  • You hit your calorie and macro goals during the week. And then your diet on the weekend looks more like you’re trying to land a gig on a Major League Eating team, not eat clean to build muscle, shred fat, and transform your body.


But what if your diet and training is on point?


What if you’re following the plan perfectly, and it seems like you’re not making any progress?


Or worse, you’re losing ground on the gains you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Number one. It’s incredibly frustrating. Nobody wants to put in days, weeks, or even months of hard work in the gym, follow the meal plan and end up getting nowhere.

But more importantly, if diet and exercise aren’t the problem, how can you tell what’s getting in the way?

You have to look beyond those two variables, and zero in on other lifestyle factors that may be getting in the way.

And for a lot of people, that roadblock to making gains is chronic stress.

Here are some ways your body responds to chronic stress:


  • Cortisol levels spike and stay elevated. Higher levels of this stress hormone negatively impact blood sugar levels, digestion, metabolism, fat storage, and the immune system.[1]


  • Energy levels drop as insulin production is interrupted and blood sugar levels change rapidly. So you start skipping workouts, or don’t give your best effort when you hit the gym.


  • Hunger and cravings increase, especially for simple carbohydrates because of hormonal changes in the body. The result: You give in to the chocolate cake craving, and instead of having a slice, you gobble the whole thing.[2]


  • Catabolism increases, breaking down muscle to use as energy, while the body increases fat stores. And you slowly see your muscle gains wasting away.


  • Gastrointestinal problems develop that can negatively impact absorption of nutrients and digestion. And it gets harder to eat clean and bounce back after a workout, if your body isn’t getting the fuel it needs.


  • The thyroid gland slows production of two key hormones needed for metabolism. It’s one reason you might hustle in the gym, stick to your diet, and still not tip the scale in the right direction.


  • Inflammation throughout the body increases, limiting muscle repair and growth and increasing the risk for other health problems.


  • Sleep patterns are compromised, adding to feelings of tiredness and fatigue. And pretty soon, you’re too tired to workout.


6 Ways to Manage Stress to Get Back to Making Gains


If you’re stressed out, you can’t ignore it if you want to build muscle, shred fat, or transform your body. You have to do something about it to reduce cortisol levels that can stall your progress.

1. Keep your workouts short. Aim for under an hour. But keep the intensity level high. You’ll avoid spikes in cortisol levels this way.

2. Cut back on cardio. I know. It’s a great way to burn extra calories and shred fat. But if you’re doing too much cardio, guess what? Cortisol levels go up.

3. Eat more often. Take a look at your schedule and figure out how you can eat 5 to 6 smaller meals throughout the day instead of a couple of big meals. It’s another way to keep cortisol levels under control.


4. Take a chill pill. Actually, there really isn’t such a thing. But you can take time to relax. Go for a walk. Meditate. Get a massage. Shoot some hoops with your friends. Read a good book or watch a funny show. Do something you enjoy that helps you relax, feel happy, and most importantly stress less.

5. Get your Zzzs. If you’re not getting enough sleep (7 to 8 hours is best), it messes up hormone levels linked to hunger, metabolism, appetite, and sets you up for failure, no matter how hard you’re working in the gym or eating right. Set a bed time, create a routine, and get some sleep to get back on track.


6. Take a break from caffeine. You might find it hard for the first few days, but stick with it for at least week or two. Caffeine can cause spikes in cortisol levels. Once you’re feeling better and back to making gains, gradually reintroduce caffeine.


Need help with managing stress to build muscle, shred fat, and transform your body? Check out my Facebook page for more tips, strategies, and support to get back on track.




  1. Comana, F. (2012). Stress, consequences, and overall health. National Academy of Sports Medicine. From:


  1. Tomiyama, J.A., et al. (2011). Comfort food is comforting to those most stressed: Evidence of the chronic stress response network in high stress women. Psychoneuroendocrinology. From: