Hormones and Performance Part 1

May 5, 2021

 by Thomas Sampson

Hormones and Performance : Part:1

If you have been working with us for any period of time you have heard us talk about hormones, sleep, water, and what kinds of foods and adaptogens you should be including in your daily intake to support healthy hormone levels and function.

But…, what the heck are hormones exactly and why are they so important? Well let’s chat about that a bit.

Hormone Actions

Hormones affect all tissues and organ systems of the body and are important from the time we are in our mother's womb to our death. Here is a list of just a few of the actions hormones support in your body.

  1. Fetal and Childhood Development: Hormones influence the development of the fetus and the child, affecting all organs and systems in the body. For example, cretinism results from severe deficiency of the thyroid hormone and dwarfism results from very low levels of growth hormone.
  2. Cell Growth: Hormones are important for the growth of a number of cell types. For example, estradiol stimulates growth of breast tissue, while testosterone stimulates not only muscle cell growth but also the growth of a man's prostate tissue. Compounds that block estrogen and testosterone action are used to treat breast and prostate cancers.
  3. Interaction with the Nervous System: Hormones can cross between the endocrine and nervous systems and act as neurotransmitters, which are signaling molecules secreted by neurons, quickly produced and just as quickly recycled. Hormones can regulate some functions of the central nervous system such as mood, memory and appetite.
  4. Immunity: Hormones are able to regulate the immune system. For example, high levels of the adrenal steroid hormone, cortisol, sustained over long periods of time, can suppress immunity. On the other hand, the sex steroid hormone estrogen has been associated with a stimulation of antibody production. Perhaps a good thing but, on the other hand, women tend to have a higher incidence of autoimmune diseases such as lupus, a disease that runs in families and severely affects many different parts of the body.
  5. Mineral and Water Metabolism: Hormones are involved in both mineral and water metabolism. The control and maintenance of calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood is critical to sustaining life. As we have seen, ADH, which is secreted by the posterior pituitary, is responsible for controlling water excretion, and blood pressure.
  6. Nutrition and Metabolism: Hormones regulate metabolism of all the body's nutrients including carbohydrates, fats and protein. Many hormones are involved in this process including insulin, glucagon, thyroxine, epinephrine, growth hormone and several others.
  7. Bone Health: Hormones can affect the constant, exercise-related, dynamic building up and breaking down of bone. Bone-affecting hormones include parathyroid hormone, IGF-1 and vitamin D.
  8. Cardiovascular Function: Hormones help regulate cardiovascular events such as heart rate, contractions and blood pressure as well as the development of the cardiovascular system. Estrogen has been associated with protection against heart disease and stroke.
  9. Kidney Function: Hormones influence kidney function including blood flow, filtration rate and the transport of many substances.
  10. Reproductive Function: Estrogen and testosterone are essential for reproduction as well as development of sexual characteristics and sexual behavior.
  11. Hormone Releasing Function: Hormones affect one another by acting as 'releasing' and 'stimulating' agents. For instance, as we have seen, the pituitary hormones act on other endocrine glands to produce hormones.

Now that we went over some of the basic functions that hormones support. You can see that it goes without saying your nutritional intake is very important for maintaining healthy hormone levels and function.

But how do Macros, types of foods, and timing come into play here???

Distribution and Amount of Calories

Experts recommend that your daily diet should aim for 60% of the calories from carbohydrates, 15% from protein and 25% from mostly unsaturated fat. Besides caloric distribution, nutritionists recommend that the number of calories be geared for your age, gender and lifestyle to allow you to maintain a healthy weight.

There are several very popular weight loss programs available to the public ranging from diets containing nearly all protein and fat (The Zone and the Atkins diet), diets containing moderate protein and fat (Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig), or diets containing very little protein or fat (Pritikin and Dean Ornish). Argue as you will about the scientific basis for each of these, but the bottom line is that it is the total calories that counts. The common denominator is "Just eat less, no matter what you are eating".

Even though experts agree it is better to focus on a healthy weight rather than severe sliminess, there are hormonal dangers associated with significant weight gain. Excess weight can cause:

  • A decrease in growth hormone
  • Unusually high estradiol and testosterone levels in women
  • Low testosterone levels in men
  • An increase in cortisol levels (not good for bone health or the immune system)
  • An increase in leptin with an accompanying loss of appetite control
  • An increase in risk for Type 2 diabetes (insulin desensitivity)

Caloric restriction, when necessary and done in moderation, can be very healthy - decreasing disease risk and increasing energy and vigor. But if too much weight is lost too fast, there is a drop in thyroid hormones that can take away energy and leave you feeling cold and drained all the time.

Food is fuel and when the body is deprived, another long list of hormonal hazards crops up:

  • A drop in TSH which upsets energy levels and can result in chronic fatigue
  • An unhealthy increase in cortisol levels as fasting is stressful for the body (bad for bones and immune system)
  • A loss of fat accompanied by a loss in protein which causes a decline in muscle strength and mass
  • Appearance of ketosis if fat breakdown is too rapid over too long a period
  • Immediate drop in male testosterone levels
  • Irregular menstrual cycles as levels of estradiol and progesterone drop

You always hear me say, slow is smooth and smooth is fast. The longevity of an individual should always be placed before FAST results.

Although macro nutrient ranges can vary from person to person depending on their age, weight, activity level and type of activity. One thing we can all agree on is your daily food consumption should primarily consist of meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. The more vegetables you can include the better, stay away from processed foods and keep your fats primarily unsaturated.

Just focusing on some simple things will certainly give you an edge and ensure that any hormonal imbalances that might be due to poor nutrition are avoided.

Focusing on real foods will ensure your body has what it needs to keep its hormone levels within a desired range, keep your body weight at a healthy level and keep you feeling good.

Thomas Sampson CFL-3, USAW-2, Sports Nutritionist

International sports science association. Sports nutrition. 5th edition. 2018 carpinteria CA

International sports science association. Hormones and Performance 2019

Nancy Clarks Sports Nutrition Guidebook. 4th edition. 2008 champaign IL