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Reduce cortisol levels with a few cups of the stuff your grandmother drinks
By Tabatha Elliott, PhD
February 4, 2010
You should, by now, be well aware of the havoc the catabolic hormone cortisol can wreak on your physique. You should know that it can compete with testosterone receptors in muscle cells, as well as block testosterone production by the Leydig’s cells in the testicles. Cortisol also can increase the breakdown of muscle protein for use of its amino acids, which get converted to glucose for fueling the body.
Fortunately, several supplements are available that can suppress cortisol levels. Those include nucleotides (see “Nuclear Reaction” elsewhere in Advanced Nutrition), phosphatidylserine and, according to new research, branched-chain amino acids. Yet, few bodybuilders realize that the simplest way to put the brakes on cortisol is by drinking tea.
Researchers from University College London asked 75 healthy men to consume either four cups of black “tea” (a drink that had the active components of black tea, but was masked for taste and smell) or a placebo (a caffeinated drink that tasted the same as the other mixture, but didn’t contain the active ingredients of tea) per day for six weeks. Both groups underwent challenging and stressful tasks during which their cortisol, blood pressure, blood platelet and self-rated levels of stress were measured.
The tasks triggered significant increases in blood pressure, heart rate and subjective stress ratings in both of the groups. Fifty minutes after completing a task, cortisol levels in men drinking the tea had dropped by 47% as compared to a drop of just 27% in the placebo group. The researchers concluded that regular tea consumption appears to influence the effectiveness of post-stress recovery. This has important implications for hard-training bodybuilders, as weight lifting is a stress that jacks up cortisol levels. The researchers weren’t sure which components of the tea offered the cortisol-blunting effects, but speculated it could be polyphenols or a number of other ingredients in tea. Although researchers used black tea, it is fairly safe to assume that other varieties of tea may offer similar benefits.
If you are a regular tea-drinking bodybuilder (drinking about four cups of tea per day), you can expect to have lower cortisol levels after workouts. This means there will be less negative impact on testosterone levels after training and, therefore, you’ll be in a more anabolic environment, allowing more muscle growth.