Are Cortisol And Estrogen Pure Enemies of Muscle Gain?

Hormones are chemical messengers that affect countless facets of daily living, including mood, metabolism, and sleep. Athletic performance, recovery, and muscle growth are also greatly impacted by hormone levels.


Testosterone is the hormone that’s most closely associated with muscle growth (especially in men), but a host of other hormones also factor into the muscle-building equation, including cortisol and estrogen.


Today, we’ll take a closer look at these two hormones, and see if they truly are only robbing you of your gains.

Cortisol & Muscle Growth

Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone, released whenever we encounter a threat be it physical (i.e. resistance-training), mental, or emotional.


While cortisol is often blamed for a host of things (including fat gain and muscle loss), the reality is that cortisol is valuable, in small doses. It’s part of the fight-or-flight response and helps with energy mobilization during acute periods of stress (e.g. during a workout or when you’re being chased by a predator).


Where cortisol goes “bad” is when your body is in a constant state of stress. As a result, cortisol levels never return to baseline, and this leads to a whole host of metabolic malfunctioning, including:

  • Disrupted sleep
  • Poor mood
  • Decreased motivation
  • Increased catabolism
  • Decreased anabolism
  • Fat accumulation
  • Reduced fat burning
  • Impaired nutrient partitioning


But, if you’re on top of your stress-management techniques, it’s really not going to be the boogeyman that a lot of fitness marketing has made it out to be. It’s more a case of “the dose makes the poison.”


In other words, so long as you’re not chronically stressed and/or constantly overtraining/under-recovering, cortisol likely isn’t going to be the limiting factor in your muscle growth.

Estrogen & Muscle Growth

Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone, yet men do produce a certain amount of it (primarily from the aromatization of testosterone), and men need it to be healthy. Estrogen actually has a rather profound effect on muscle function as well as bone density. In musculoskeletal tissues, estrogen[1]:

  • Improves muscle mass and strength
  • Increases the collagen content of connective tissues


Moreover, some research into supplements (such as ecdysteroids), indicates that activation of estrogen receptors facilitate hypertrophy![2]


Again, it’s a case of the “dosage making the poison.” For instance, high estrogen levels are known reduce power output and performance, and it may also make women more prone to ligament injury.[1]


Conversely, too little estrogen can:

  • Lower sex drive
  • Decrease bone mineral density
  • Increase risk of fracture
  • Lead to joint pain

One of the best ways to keep estrogen in check, for men in particular, is to keep an eye on body fat percentage. Aromatization, where testosterone is converted to estrogen, occurs in fat cells. Therefore, the more body fat you have, the more estrogen that will be produced. Additionally, greater estrogen production is likely to suppress natural testosterone production, only exacerbating the problem, and hastening fat accumulation.


Thus, keeping body fat levels in check is key to warding off the potential deleterious effects of estrogen on muscle growth.


Upon closer inspection it seems that both cortisol and estrogen are not purely catabolic hormones that need to be eliminated from the healthy hormone profile. They prove to be necessary and, at most, under control to allow for optimal performance and muscle gain. Like most things in life these hormones need to be properly balanced to maximize their positive effects and minimize their negative effects.


Maintaining healthy body fat levels, getting consistent good quality sleep, having a well rounded high protein diet, and regular resistance training with focus on progressive overload are your ultimate tools for keeping these hormones in check. For added muscle building support and help encouraging a more favorable hormonal environment, check out AlphaMax.


AlphaMax is our best-selling natural, extreme testosterone support supplement that includes powerful supplements to promote healthy levels of cortisol and estrogen, including KSM-66 Ashwagandha and Pine Bark Extract.

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  2. Parr MK, Zhao P, Haupt O, Ngueu ST, Hengevoss J, Fritzemeier KH, Piechotta M, Schlörer N, Muhn P, Zheng WY, Xie MY, Diel P. Estrogen receptor beta is involved in skeletal muscle hypertrophy induced by the phytoecdysteroid ecdysterone. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014;58:1861–1872

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