Stress and Athletic Performance

I’m a stressed mess right now. In addition to life’s normal level of stresses, I’m studying for the CISSP exam (which it is turning out to be much more intense than I anticipated) and I’m I short handed at work (if you are an entry-level developer in the NH Seacoast area contact me!). I’ve been here before though, so the occasional sleepless night and general grumpiness is expected. What’s apparent to me for the first time though is how this is clearly effecting me physically.

I’m a consistent gym-goer. I work out at a local CrossFit gym, which means my workouts are somewhat random. This makes an accurate measure of my performance over time difficult. However, I work out with the same group most mornings and measuring how I do against them is a fair enough measure and it is clear my performance has been declining.

It’s well documented that exercise is a good tool to help manage stress. However, apparently, if my anecdotal evidence is to be believed, the opposite is true as well (stress causes athletic performance to suffer). This seems like common sense: when your stressed, your cortisol levels are high for a prolonged duration which leads to all sorts negative effects on the body.

It follows that if stress (and the resulting high levels of cortisol) is causing a decrease in muscle tissue and gain fat, then athletic performance suffers. But, as is my wont, I wanted to find some solid research to back this up. I want to know that my performance drop wasn’t solely caused by sleepless nights and poor food choices from emotional eating.

The effects of stress on athletic performance is one of those long-held beliefs I’ve had so I was surprised when I tried to find something concrete in Google on the subject and came up nearly empty. I did find this quote from Lyle MacDonald in a reply to someone asking about the link between stress and performance:

Nothing jumps immediately to mind but you have to keep in mind that all stress (including mental) feeds into the body. If stress from one place increases (work, school, relationship), something else (e.g. training) will suffer.

And I found the abstracts on these two studies:

Which, I guess, proves my thesis enough for my own satisfaction but I would have really liked to see something comparing the stress-relieving benefits versus stress-induced problems of exercise or at least some guidance on a tipping point between the two. If anyone has their hands on this type of information I’d love to hear from you.


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