Hormones facilitate training and growth, contributing to sustainable endurance levels in athletes who train effectively. They stimulate proteins in the body that are responsible for building muscles and controlling glucose levels in cells.
In order to maintain optimum performance, athletes should pay particular attention to their hormones. Hormones can have such a wide-ranging impact on a person’s ability to go about their daily life with so much of our lives affected by hormones. This could be immunity, fertility, wellbeing, a general feeling of wellness, and most importantly here, performance in sports. So, without at least some consideration, hormones can be imbalanced when placed under strain.
You might think that cycling is a cure for stress, and sure, in some ways, it is. But exercise puts the body under another kind of stress and impacts hormone production. Cyclists can experience stress in a variety of ways, be that the physical act of pushing your body, the mental impact of enduring a race and, of course, the impact of everyday life. When a person experiences stress – whether physical, mental, perceived or actual – the body produces cortisol.
In the context of cycling, the level of cortisol produced will depend on a variety of factors: the current state of wellness, the energy exerted, and the rest in between efforts. Cortisol helps athletes through whatever training session they’re experiencing, whether that’s a long, endurance ride, a steep ascent of a seemingly never-ending 15% incline or an interval session on the turbo.
It’s possible, however, to produce too much cortisol and there are three key elements to consider when the aim is to maintain well-balanced hormones. These are load, nutrition and recovery. Stress can accumulate, and when cortisol is produced in excess, the body goes in search of ways to make more cortisol. In effect, it steals it from elsewhere and stunts the production of other hormones. This then causes an imbalance.
Without proper nutrition and rest incorporated into a training routine, the body responds with either a cortisol resistance or a depletion of cortisol and low progesterone. The result can be low moods and high anxiety, affecting recovery including sleep and muscle growth. It can also impact periods by increasing susceptibility to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and irregular periods as well as decreased fertility. In essence, it causes burnout.
Firstly, you should ensure you are sleeping more than 7 hours a night and consistently eating a good diet. When it comes to controlling your hormones and their impact on cycling, this is down to the individual. There is no one-size-fits-all training plan to optimise your hormones and their performance impact.
It may help to record any physical and mental symptoms and changes over a period of a few weeks or months alongside your training schedule. You will likely identify trends and patterns according to your training and may alter your load or switch up training sessions depending on those patterns. For example, for a female, you might notice that your anxiety levels are higher during a certain week in your menstrual cycle and so you would avoid higher-risk scenarios that would increase your levels of stress.
If it’s something you’re concerned about or even intrigued by, you can get blood tests specific to understanding the impact of your training routine on your hormones. This short insight is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring how your hormones will impact your training. If upping your game is something you’re serious about, then hormones are an important consideration and should be explored further. It can be an interesting learning process on your journey to understanding your body and ensuring you feel your best throughout your training schedule, especially if that involves incorporating an extra hour’s sleep!