I have gained 8 lbs since I started working at SST. My body fat has remained more or less the same. I credit this to a number of variables but the most significant one is the dramatic decrease in the amount of cardio exercise I am doing. I’ve gone from riding 2 to 3 hours a day to doing 1 or 2 cycling classes a week. Doing 15-20 hours of cardio training a week is stressful on the body and causes a dramatic increase in the amount of cortisol that the body releases and, since cortisol helps the body liberate energy from protein, I wasn’t growing very much when I was riding in the summer.
I have been aware of the theoretical implications of excessive cortisol secretion for a while, this is just the first time that I set out to eliminate it. When I was bulking last year, I cut out most of the cardio and dramatically increased the amount of resistance and strength training that I was doing but did so much of it that I don’t think there was as big a decrease in cortisol secretion as there has been recently (heavy lifting is very stressful on the body and it causes a release of cortisol). I’m doing about 4 hours of lifting with one hour of cycling per week vs about 10 -12 hours of lifting last year.
Given the time of year and the dramatic drop in temperature recently, I don’t miss riding so much because I’m used to having to stop. I also don’t miss doing hours of indoor riding. In fact, I enjoy the one class I teach a week MORE than ever because I have enough energy to give it 100%. The intensity is much higher when you have had enough time to recover completely and I am more authentic on the bike – when the choreography calls for breathless I am able to get to breathless which makes the participants work that much harder – a big change from the summer when I was teaching 7 or 8 classes a week, most of them in the evening after riding the trails for a couple of hours.
The approach I am taking this year is smarter because I have a lot more support from the coaching team at SST. They have filled in many of the gaps I had in my understanding of how the body functions and what I need to do to get more growth out of it. Their insistence that I eliminate most of the steady state cardio to decrease cortisol secretion and keep testosterone levels high has made my body more anabolic, and their suggestion to change my diet to replace most of the grain carbohydrates with fish oil and protein has helped me avoid gaining fat.
I know the summer will return and I’ll race again next season, so I’ll be back on the bike again next spring. But for now I’m enjoying the changes in my body composition that the decrease in cortisol and the off season bring.